(Scroll down to read an excerpt and find book club questions.)
“Filled with sweet humor and all the eye-rolling moments of jumbled yet ultimately loving family relations, romance, and coming into one’s own, this women’s fiction is a definite pleaser” – Booklist
Deirdre Griffin has a great life; it’s just not her own. She’s the round-the-clock personal assistant to her charismatic, high-maintenance, New Age guru brother, Tag. As the family wallflower, her only worth seems to be as gatekeeper to Tag at his New England seaside compound.
Then Deirdre’s sometime-boyfriend informs her that he is marrying another woman, who just happens to be having the baby he told Deirdre he never wanted. While drowning her sorrows in Tag’s expensive vodka, Deirdre decides to use his massive online following to get herself voted on as a last-minute Dancing with the Stars replacement. It’ll get her back in shape, mentally and physically. It might even get her a life of her own. Deirdre’s fifteen minutes of fame have begun.
Irresistible, offbeat, yet with a thoroughly relatable and appealing heroine, Wallflower in Bloom is an original and deeply satisfying story of one woman who’s ready to take a leap into the spotlight, no matter where she lands.
“Cook’s penchant for hitting the emotional sore spot and combining it with humor hits the mark. … A thoroughly enjoyable and amusing read, this story is sure to delight.” –New York Journal of Books
“A fun-filled romp of a middle-aged woman coming into her own. Through Claire Cook’s skilled narrative, [readers] won’t realize till the very end they’ve been taught a wonderful lesson. It is never too late to find your place in the world.” –San Francisco Book Review
“Cook has a light, fun voice and always infuses her stories with great wit and heart.” –Cape Cod Times
“The perfect summer read . . . Showcases Cook’s ability to create likable, realistic characters who are placed in situations in which they must do some serious soul searching–and the reader will love the results.” –Examiner.com
Excerpted from Wallflower in Bloom by Claire Cook
Copyright © Claire Cook. All rights reserved.
Who will buy the cow if you give away the milk for free, yet once you get a taste of the milk, who can resist coming back to the cow?
My brother was dazzling, as usual. “Do. You. Have. Passion?” he roared. His white teeth gleamed. His elegant hands beckoned. His bedroom eyes twinkled. The sold-out mostly female audience drooled.
My brother’s eyes were a big part of his It Thing. You couldn’t look away. They were blue. Endless blue. Deep, glittery blue, like the ocean when the setting sun hits it just the right way.
Of course, luck of the gene pool and all that, my own eyes were wallflower brown.
I watched my famous brother scan the room, somehow appearing to make contact with each and every set of seeking eyes in the audience. “The Ancient Greeks asked only one question at a person’s funeral: Did. He. Or she. Have. Passion?”
When he lifted his palms to the heavens, his crisp white tunic exposed just the right amount of muscular forearm. “Find yours. See it clearly in your mind’s eye. Design the life your passion desires. And remember, passion doesn’t sleep. It is always there, waiting for you.”
Everywhere I looked, people were scribbling in notebooks. Some of them were surreptitiously videotaping with cell phones and tiny flip cameras, even though they weren’t supposed to. The whole point was to get them to buy the videos. But the world was changing at lightning speed, and now we were even posting our own video clips on YouTube and Facebook in the hopes they’d go viral. I mean, on one hand, who will buy the cow if you give away the milk for free, yet once you get a taste of the milk, who can resist coming back to the cow?
Ohmigod, I was starting to sound like my freakin’ brother.
He was really getting into it now. “The voice of passion. Is. Not. A book. It’s not a feature film. It’s short and direct, like a haiku straight to your heart.”
You could hear a cliché drop. Some people were nodding, but most were leaning forward in their seats, waiting for The Answer.
“But if you start from a place of self-criticism, of self-rejection, you’ll never hear what it’s saying to you. Accept yourself. Start where you are. And the voice of passion will speak to you. It will come like a bolt of lightning. And you’ll know. Your. Life’s. True. Purpose.”
When I stood up and dimmed the fluorescent lights from the back of the room, preselected audience members rose to light candles circling the front lip of the stage.
My brother reached behind the curtains at the back of the stage and pulled out a battered acoustic guitar. He plugged it into the amplifier, straddled a high wooden stool, crossed one distressed jean–clad leg over the other.
And then he actually sang “O-o-h Child,” that old ’70s song by the Five Stairsteps, the one about how things are going to get easier. And brighter.
Mine were the only dry eyes in the house.
“Hold the fort,” my father had said before he and my mother left me to babysit the concession table while they took their usual place in the front row. My parents stood up now, flicked on matching Bic lighters, and waved their arms high while they rocked side to side in time to the music. From the back, in their tie-dyed T-shirts that proclaimed tag! in fluorescent green, they could have been twins, except that my father’s gray curls dead-ended just over his ears, while my mother’s continued up to the top of her head.
My brother getting famous was the best thing that had ever happened to them. They’d been recreational Deadheads since the ’60s, and once my sisters and brother and I were born, they just threw us into the car whenever there was an outdoor Grateful Dead concert anywhere within striking distance. I grew up thinking summer vacation meant standing in a field somewhere, jumping up and down to “Sugar Magnolia.”
My parents took it hard when Jerry Garcia died. They’d been counting on becoming full-time Deadheads in their retirement. For a few years they followed tribute bands like Dark Star Orchestra halfheartedly, then they took up bowling. No one was happier than they were when my brother became the family rock star a few years ago.
Like everything else in his life, the whole guru thing had pretty much landed in my brother’s lap. One minute he was just another guy playing his guitar, with a gift for inspirational gab between sets. Then a fan put a snippet of one of his over-the-top motivational orations up on YouTube, and a week later a producer from The Ellen DeGeneres Show was on the phone booking him. And of course, my brother being my brother, he was a big hit. And the rest is history.
I yawned and stretched and got ready for the onslaught. Once my brother did his thing, his followers would buy anything that wasn’t nailed down. My parents handled this end of things, both online and at events like this one, and earned a retirement-friendly commission on every item sold. I straightened a pile of T-shirts packaged in little boxes shaped like guitars. I moved the CDs and DVDs a little closer to the books because they were blocking the energy beads.
A short group meditation was followed by deafening, mountain-moving applause. My parents hurried back and slid next to me behind the table.
My mother adjusted the No. 2 pencil behind her ear and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. “I think that was his best job ever,” she said, like she did every time.
“That’s my boy,” my father said. He alternated this with “way to go.”
“How’d I do on the lights?” I asked.
My father laughed. “What a card,” he said, as he swung his arm over my shoulder. I noticed we were almost the same height now. Either he was shrinking, or I was having a vertical growth spurt to match my horizontal one.
I kissed my father on the cheek and ducked out from under his arm. I had to make my way up to the front fast so I could herd my brother to the signing table before his rabid fans waylaid him.
“Single file,” my mother was saying to the people already approaching the table as I walked away, “and no pushing. We’ll start when you’re ready.” There was no mistaking my mother’s former profession. She still had that fifth-grade teacher’s vibe going on, and everybody always obeyed her and funneled right into a single line. Two security guys from the hotel crossed their arms over their chests for reinforcement.
I entertained myself by turning sideways and chasséing through the crowd, homing in on Tag by the booming, melodious sound of his laugh. “Excuse me,” I said when someone wouldn’t get out of my way, and when that didn’t work, I used a discreet elbow.
“Unbelievable,” I heard my brother say. “What a blast from the past! What are you doing in Austin?”
I worked my way up to him, fully expecting to see some woman he’d once slept with and whose name he was frantically trying to remember. I knew the drill. I’d stick out my hand and introduce myself so she’d have to tell me her name. And then my brother would pretend he’d known it all along.
“Dee,” my brother said, turning to me. “You’ll never guess who showed up. Steve Moretti. I went to UMass with him.”
I swallowed back another yawn. The more famous my brother became, the more old friends came out of the woodwork.
“Steve,” my brother said, “this is my sister Deirdre.”
And then the Austin crowd parted to reveal the guy who’d last seen my underpants.
Wallflower in Bloom Book Club Questions
1. Discuss the sibling relationships in Wallflower in Bloom—how does birth order influence Deirdre and her siblings’ personalities? How they treat one another? What is the worst thing one of your siblings has ever done to you?
2. How does Deirdre’s own self-pity hold her back? What do others see in her that she does not see? Did you identify with any of her insecurities? If so, which ones? Did you think any of the traits she felt insecure about were actually assets?
3. Deirdre realizes she and Tag remember many of the same events from their shared past in different ways. What has shaped each of their perceptions? Have you ever encountered something similar with your own siblings, or even your friends?
4. Deirdre and her family use chiasmus—a figure of speech that inverts meaning to prove a larger point—throughout the book. Look back at the beginning of each chapter. Which do you think is most applicable to Deirdre’s life? To your own life? Can you think of a chiasmus Claire might have used in the book?
5. In what ways do Deirdre’s close ties to her family ground her? In what ways do they hold her back? How has Tag manipulated Deirdre through the years? Do you blame Deirdre for letting him have so much control over her life?
6. Compare Tag to other celebrity gurus, like Tony Robbins or Deepak Chopra. What do you think makes their philosophies so popular? Who is your all-time favorite guru?
7. Discuss the differences between Steve and Mitchell. Do you think Deirdre’s new relationship will play out better than her previous one? Why or why not?
8. How did Ilya, Fred, and Ginger, form a support system for Deirdre in Los Angeles? Were you surprised by Deirdre’s reaction when the goldfish died? Why did that put her over the edge? Have you ever reacted that strongly to the loss of a pet?
9. What is it about dancing that gives Deirdre the strength to reclaim her independence? How is the act of dancing tied to her younger self? Why is that important? Did Wallflower in Bloom inspire you to dust off any dreams of your own? Have you signed up for a dance class yet?
10. Can you identify a specific moment in the novel where Deirdre, the self-proclaimed wallflower, begins to bloom? Do you think there’s a bit of a late-bloomer in all of us?