This reading group guide for We Are Not Like Them includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.Introduction
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Jen and Riley have been best friends since childhood. But one event severely tests the deep bond they share. Jen’s husband, a city police officer, is involved in the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager. Six months pregnant, Jen is in freefall as her future, her husband’s freedom, and her friendship with Riley are thrown into uncertainty. Covering this career-making story, Riley wrestles with the implications of this tragic incident for her community, her ambitions, and her relationship with her lifelong friend. Told from alternating perspectives, this novel is a powerful and poignant exploration of race in America today and its devastating impact on ordinary lives.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. What emotions did you experience while reading the prologue? Why do you think the authors chose to open with this scene?
2. How did you interpret Kevin’s behaviors after the incident? Did you feel any sympathy for him, and do you think he deserved everything that happened after? Who do you blame for what happened?
3. Did you find yourself torn over how to feel about any of the characters’ reactions or decisions in the novel? What moments were particularly controversial to you, and how did they challenge your perceptions?
4. Discuss how this novel exhibits instances of prejudice based on privilege, class, and race. What about instances of unconscious bias?
5. Riley says to Jen: “I didn’t want to be the Black girl always talking about race. That’s no fun. And I don’t know what your reaction would be if I told you about all the shit I have to deal with because I’m a Black woman. What if you didn’t have the right reaction?” (page 246). How might we be able to more openly discuss our feelings about these sensitive issues? Do you think there’s ever a reason these things should be left undiscussed? Have you ever struggled to express a feeling or observation about race out of fear of being dismissed or misunderstood?
6. Did Jen and Riley’s alternating voices highlight any important similarities or differences about their experiences during the novel? Did you relate to one character in particular?
7. Riley and Jen are pulled between their friendship and their commitments to their careers, families, and communities. Do you think they made the right choices? Have you ever felt caught between your obligations to others and yourself?
8. Jen struggles with supporting her husband and her complicated feelings about his actions and innocence. Do you think she’s too afraid of his family to question him more? How does family influence your descisions?
9. How did you interpret the reactions from the media and social platforms throughout the novel? How are these mediums helpful or harmful to the people at the center of the story?
10. The tragedy that sparks the divide in Riley and Jen’s relationship exposes some fault lines in their shared history. When is a friendship worth hanging on to, and when is it time to let go? How did their bond change by the end of the novel, for better or worse?
11. Were there parts of the novel that made you uncomfortable, and why?
12. What do you think of the book’s title? What does it encapsulate about this story? Who are “We” and “Them” in the title?Enhance Your Book Club
1. “What we didn’t understand is that adulthood would be a relentless series of beginnings” (page 14). Discuss how you invisioned adult life as a kid? What is something that you were not expecting to experience—a new city, new job prospects, or a different lifestyle?
2. Riley tells Jen, “It’s a privilege to never think about race” (page 247). How has privilege affected your life? How has the absence of privilege affected your life? Discuss an event where you recognized that privilege affected the outcome.
3. A 2014 study found that three out of four white people have no nonwhite friends. Are you surprised by this statistic? How does where you grew up affect the friends you make into adulthood?A Conversation with Christine Pride and Jo Piazza 1. We Are Not Like Them opens with the police shooting of an unarmed Black teenage boy. Why did you choose this event as the catalyst, and how did you work to get it right?
From the very beginning we knew we wanted to tell the story of a lifelong friendship between two women, a white woman and a Black woman, and explore how race impacts that relationship in unexpected ways. The issue of shootings of unarmed Black men was very much at the forefront of a national conversation when we started the book (and, sadly, remains so), capturing headlines across the country and sparking a movement—not to mention a lot of inflamed feelings and divisiveness. We were attracted to the idea of humanizing this hot-button issue and to the opportunity to foster a conversation about race through the lens of one powerful (and wholly relatable) friendship. Also, one of Christine’s close (white) friends from childhood is married to a (white) cop, and this premise was loosely inspired by wondering what would happen if Christine found herself in a similar scenario as Riley.
Jo brought the point of view of a longtime journalist to the project and we tried to interview as many people as possible, not just to make sure our portrayal was accurate, but to make sure we captured the different emotions of everyone involved. We spoke to police officers (and their spouses), district attorneys, community activists and the mothers of shooting victims, and read and researched firsthand accounts and statistics.2. How did your own friendship inspire you to write this book?
We became incredibly close while working together on Jo’s last novel, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win,
which Christine published at Simon & Schuster.
As our friendship evolved so did our conversations about race. We knew we were lucky and privileged to even be able to have them. Statistics show that fewer than 10 percent of people have a close friend of another race. We were energized by the idea of working together in a unique way, as both friends and collaborators, and leveraging our relationship to tell a story that would help readers have their own conversations about race and think more deeply about their own friendships.4. Your novel shows how stereotyping and racism can seep into even the closest of relationships. Why did you choose to show two characters experiencing this dynamic within a treasured friendship?
It’s hard to have a friend of another race in America. The hard truth is that in our country, race permeates almost all aspects of our lives in one way or another, even our intimate relationships, and this story attempts to pull the curtain back to show how that happens in ways we don’t always realize or can’t avoid. It was important to us that both Black women and white women be able to relate to our characters. We chose to write in the first person so that we could dig deep into their minds and give voice to some of the difficult thoughts (spoken and unspoken) and pitfalls about race and racism from both perspectives. Our goal was to show the very real and relatable challenges people might have in trying to understand another’s experience and mindset. It’s the greatest goal of the novel to spark empathy and that was what we hope to do here, to offer a bridge over what can sometimes feel like a yawning gap in understanding and awareness, and help readers recognize and reckon with some of their own blind spots and beliefs.4. Two different voices and experiences are captured in We Are Not Like Them, but you avoid creating a sense of false balance around the shooting. How did you approach the dual perspectives?
Our world is so polarized right now, and the issue that animates our plot—a police shooting—invites a lot of impassioned opinions and feelings. We were aware it risked lending itself to a good guy/bad guy dichotomy pretty quickly, and we wanted to avoid that at all costs. Readers may come in with preconceived notions, so we had to be careful that our audience didn’t “side” with any one woman over the other, but the richness of the read comes from the seesaw back-and-forth between identifying with both. It was vital that we be clear that we didn’t have an agenda and were committed to showing the many nuances and complexities.
We wanted our characters to be real and not just representative, so we also spent a long time talking about who they were, what motivated them, what scared them, what they loved, what they hated. We came up with lists about their likes and dislikes, their passions and fears, etc., much of which never even made it into the book in the literal sense, but colors all of their experiences and reactions. We loved this idea that a somewhat random twist of fate brought these two young girls together who may not have become close friends had they met in another way, or had they met at any other time (when their differences would have been more pronounced). In many ways, Riley and Jen are a somewhat odd match, even aside from their race, and it was fun to explore the intangible bonds that pull and hold us to each other even when a relationship is unlikely, and even when it’s tested.
It was important to us that each character earned and deserved both sympathy and frustration in equal measure. Our hope is that the reader will say, “I can see why she did/thought that”
when it comes to both Riley and Jen, even if there are moments when you want to scream at them too. All the while, all through the ups and downs, we wanted the reader to be able to root for not just the two characters, but, most important, the friendship itself. 5. Can you tell us about your shared writing process?
Thank the Lord for Google Docs. We’ve tried everything in terms of collaboration and it took a long time, but we finally came up with a process that works. We discuss the big ideas and broad strokes in a comprehensive outline first. And then, chapter by chapter, one of us takes a pass at the blank page. This is often the hardest part . . . especially the first chapter. (We can’t tell you how many drafts we went through there.) And then we trade it back and forth, working in the suggestion and commenting modes. Then we’ll get on the phone, or video chat or meet in person, to go over the things that can’t easily be resolved on the page.6. What challenges did you face in writing this book?
Writing a book is hard. Writing a book with someone else is hard. All that vulnerability and fear and self-doubt that’s so much a baked-in part of the process is on full display. It’s like letting someone watch you sing badly in the shower after eating a sheet cake. And then add difficult talks about race to the mix? Woo-wee
is the only term that captures this particular perfect storm. There were times when we were truly tested and worried our friendship might not recover. There were weeks when our emotions were rubbed raw and we often joked about going to couples’ counseling. We’ve also thought about writing an essay called “How Writing a Book About Race Almost Destroyed Our Interracial Friendship.” But it was also one of the most meaningful things that either of us have ever done. In a single day of writing, we could start out laughing, butt heads, cry alone in our bathrooms, send a shy apology text, nail an incredible paragraph/page/chapter, laugh together, and push each other harder. And the result, at the end of a string of a million days like those, is a book we’re proud of and a friendship and professional relationship that’s stronger and better because of this journey together.7. Were there any other novels or works that inspired you during this writing process?
The most excruciating part of the writing process is feeling like everyone else is doing it better and having an easier time of it. When you read someone else’s perfect sentence, or ending, or a scene that brings tears to your eyes and you think, Wow, I want to be able to do that.
That said, it’s incredibly motivating too. And we’re both such voracious readers—during the period we wrote this book, we probably read well over one hundred books between us—so it wasn’t so much any one book that inspired us, but all of them, collectively. All of these fellow writers who inspired us with their characters and stories and craft and sparkling prose. Reading widely while we were working really pushed us and educated us, and often helped us troubleshoot when we were wrestling with something thorny. The way to become a better writer is to be a better reader, after all. We’re constantly awed and adoring and deeply admiring when it comes to people who put their hearts on the page and create these beautiful words, and it’s a privilege to be in this company.8. Christine, this is your first novel. What was your journey to becoming a writer and how did you know this was the right book?
Being an editor for the last fifteen years has truly been a gift; some people have jobs, but I’ve really felt lucky to have found a calling and to have gotten to work with wildly talented writers and publish books that have touched readers. But throughout my career, I’ve also witnessed how the industry has been woefully underrepresentative in the types of stories and characters that are championed. As a kid, I craved more books (and TV shows, for that matter) that featured people who looked like me, that reflected my reality and my community, and as an adult, despite lots of great strides, I still notice that gap. There’s a thirst and moral imperative for even more offerings that reflect more diverse experiences and stories and voices. I realized I could offer that; I could write that book—a novel that featured a character and a friendship and realities about being a Black woman in America that were familiar to me. And furthermore, that could tackle a topic that feels urgent and important to boot. My greatest goal as an editor—and now as a writer—is to give readers a vehicle to reflect on their lives and experiences in a meaningful way, and to feel emotionally stirred in a way that leaves an imprint long after the last page of the story.
From a practical standpoint, it’s a little surreal to be on the other side. The thing about working in publishing for so long, “behind the scenes” so to speak, is that I know firsthand the overwhelming passion and commitment my colleagues bring to the table, working tirelessly on behalf of books they love in a business that’s not always easy. It’s a special experience now to have that support and community and vision from a different vantage point. Getting to see things from another perspective has also made me empathize with my authors more. For example, all the times I’ve reminded someone over the years that they shouldn’t constantly check their Amazon ranking or read too much into it, I now understand how futile that was, and how difficult it will be to not give into the irrational inclination to hit that refresh button.9. Jo, you’ve written many novels before, most recently Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win. How was writing We Are Not Like Them different for you?
My past novels have been told from one point of view. For We Are Not Like Them
, we needed to get into the heads of two completely different women and see a single event from their very divergent and emotional points of view.
It can be exhausting to try to be two people at once. Each character really was a collaboration with Christine, so we each had to inhabit Jen and Riley at different times. I’d go for weeks only working on Riley chapters because it was the only way I could nail down her feelings and intentions without Jen getting in the way. I often did the same thing while reading through the book. I would read Jen’s chapters all the way through and then Riley’s chapters all the way through as if each of them were their own book.10. Are you planning to write more books together?
Yes! We’ve already started the next one.11. What do you hope readers will take away from We Are Not Like Them?
Our running joke about We Are Not Like Them
is: Come for the friendship, stay for the social justice. We hope we give readers a starting point for difficult conversations about race. We know that a lot of women don’t have close friends of another race, and we’re hoping that the friendship between Riley and Jen can give them some perspective on what it is like and an entryway into the conversations Riley and Jen are forced to have with themselves and with each other.
We also hope that the book can help readers initiate hard conversations about race when they’re confronted with a shocking headline about a racially motivated shooting, hate speech, bias, and racism. We want to provide readers with new language and stories to approach these really difficult stories and events.
But above all that, even, we hope that readers will relish this book as a celebration of friendship and be inspired to take stock and appreciate their own close friends. If readers turn the last page and want to call their bestie, it means we’ve done our job.