Robyn Harding’s domestic drama, hailed as “tense and riveting” by Megan Miranda, New York Times bestselling author of All the Missing Girls, explores the aftermath of a sweet sixteen birthday party that goes horribly awry, as the members of a wealthy family in San Francisco find their picture-perfect life unraveling, their darkest secrets revealed, and their friends turned to enemies.
One invitation. A lifetime of regrets.
Sweet sixteen. It’s an exciting coming-of-age, a milestone, and a rite of passage. Jeff and Kim Sanders plan on throwing a party for their daughter, Hannah—a sweet girl with good grades and nice friends. Rather than an extravagant, indulgent affair, they invite four girls over for pizza, cake, movies, and a sleepover. What could possibly go wrong?
But things do go wrong, horrifically so, and Jeff and Kim’s flawless life in a wealthy San Francisco suburb suddenly begins to come apart. In the ugly aftermath, friends become enemies, dark secrets are revealed in the Sanders’ marriage, and the truth about their perfect daughter is exposed.
Perfect for fans of Big Little Lies, this is a white-knuckled and “riveting tale that is impossible to put down” (Bill Clegg, New York Times bestselling author of Did You Ever Have a Family).
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Robyn Harding’s novels include The Party, Her Pretty Face, and The Arrangement, and she has written and executive produced an independent film. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with her husband and two children.
Read an Excerpt
Kim should have heard it, would have heard it if she hadn’t installed earplugs and taken half an Ambien. The girls were two floors below, but she’d anticipated giggling, music, a few late-night trips to raid the fridge. . . . To ensure a sound sleep, she’d nibbled a bit of the sedative, despite having had two glasses of white wine after dinner. She’d done it plenty of times without incident. She’d always been a light sleeper, and, lately, adequate rest had become imperative for Kim. There were too many hormones wreaking havoc with her humor. And there was far too much tension in her marriage to handle without a good night’s sleep.
“Mom! Dad!” Kim dragged herself up from under the warm, wet blanket of sedation. It was Hannah’s voice, tearful, close. . . . Kim opened heavy lids and saw her daughter at the end of the bed. Tall, pretty Hannah wearing a nightie that looked like a football jersey, the number 28 across her chest. It was Hannah’s birthday today—sweet sixteen—she was having a slumber party. So why was she here, in the small hours of the morning? Why was she crying? As Kim struggled for lucidity, she realized something was terribly wrong. Tears streamed down Hannah’s face and there was something on her hands . . . something dark and wet, glistening in the faint glow of the LED clock radio . . .
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Party includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Robyn Harding. 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.
The Sanders family seems to have it all: Kim and her husband, Jeff, live with their two perfect children in a large house in a posh San Francisco neighborhood. But a Sweet Sixteen party for their daughter, Hannah, goes terribly wrong, upending their lives and the lives of those around them and exposing harsh truths about who they are as a family and as individuals. As readers shadow the characters through the aftermath of a gruesome accident, the façade of perfection falls away, revealing relationships strained by secrets, mistakes, and indiscretions. A lawsuit brings matters to a boil as neighbors, friends, and family members turn against each other. In this story of the unraveling of one well-to-do family is a much more expansive tale about how our desire for status and acceptance can wreak havoc in our lives and the ways that we judge one another while forgetting to first take a look at ourselves. The Party reveals the complicated matter of what it means to be human while cautioning us that it is what is inside of us—and not how people perceive us—that truly matters most.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. Consider the organization of the story. Whose points of view are represented in the novel? Did any one point of view seem to overshadow the rest? Why do you think the author made the decision to structure the book in this way? How did this structure influence your overall interpretation of the events in the book and your assessment of the characters?
2. How well would you say the characters in the book know each other? What are some of the secrets kept by the characters and why do they keep these secrets? Do they ever reveal or confess their secrets to the other characters? If so, what motivates them to do so and how are their secrets received?
3. What is “the incident” that Kim refers to in reference to her relationship with her husband, Jeff? How does Kim respond to “the incident” and do you agree with her reaction? How does “the incident” compare to Kim’s own indiscretions?
4. Evaluate the theme of judgment in the novel. Who judges one another and what seems to influence them in forming their judgments? As a reader, how did you judge the various characters and what caused you to do so? Did any of your judgments change by the book’s conclusion?
5. What seems to drive the characters’ moral choices? Do the characters seem to share any overlapping motivations? If so, what do they seem to be most motivated by? What might this suggest about human nature?
6. How do the characters respond to their own wrongdoing? Are they able to acknowledge and own up to their own mistakes? Do they seem contrite? Does the book offer any examples of reconciliation, redemption, or peacemaking as the result of a character owning up to their mistake(s)? Discuss.
7. What does the novel suggest about appearances? Where do we find examples of things that are not what they seem? What causes the characters in the novel—or readers—to succumb to these misinterpretations?
8. How does Kim react to the tragedy that takes place at her daughter’s Sweet Sixteen party? She is accused by some of the other characters of caring only about herself and her reputation. What causes them to believe this? Do you agree with their assessment of Kim’s response or do you believe that she is misunderstood? Discuss.
9. Consider the motif of tragedy in the book. In addition to the central tragedy of the book, what other “minor” tragedies are exposed? What causes them? Do you believe that any of them could have been avoided? Explain.
10. What are Lisa’s reasons for suing the Sanders family even after they are found clear of any wrongdoing by the investigators? Do you agree with her decision? Why or why not? What impact does the lawsuit have on those it involves?
11. At the story’s conclusion, how has Hannah changed or otherwise remained the same? Does she seem to have learned anything from the ordeal?
12. Revisit the conclusion of the book. What happens to the Sanders family and to Ronni and Lisa? Were you surprised by the ending of the novel? Why or why not?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Consider an event that shaped the course of your own life or someone you know. Did the event unite or divide those it involved? How has your perspective of this event changed over time? Has anything positive ultimately come from this event? Discuss.
2. Use the novel as a starting place to consider the issue of bullying/cyberbullying among adolescents. What does the novel reveal about the culture around bullying? Visit stopbullying.gov to learn more, gather resources, and begin a discussion about ways you can help to prevent and/or stop bullying in your own community.
3. Compare The Party to other domestic or family dramas such as Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections or Herman Koch’s The Dinner. Discuss what the books have in common, including any shared themes.
4. Visit the author’s website at www.robynharding.com to learn more about her and her other works including The Journal of Mortifying Moments, Chronicles of a Mid-Life Crisis, and The Secret Desires of a Soccer Mom.
A Conversation with Robyn Harding
How did you get the idea to write The Party? Were you inspired by any particular real-life situation or would you say that you were more dependent upon your own imagination?
As a mother of two teenage children, the use of substances is a real and relevant issue to me. I talked to a lot of parents about how they were handling their kids’ relationship with drugs and alcohol and I found vastly differing opinions. Some parents were zero tolerance, but many took a “they’re going to drink anyway, I’d rather they do it under my roof” approach. This made me imagine the worst-case scenario of kids partying at home, and how parents would really deal with that fall out. I also thought it would be interesting to have this happen to strict parents, who would see their daughter’s behavior as a betrayal.
Is there a particular character in the book that you are most sympathetic toward? If so, why?
All of these characters are very flawed individuals, but I feel sympathy for each of them at different stages in the story. While Kim Sanders is probably the least likable, ironically I feel the most sympathy for her. Initially, her character has lost touch with what’s important in life, and what true happiness means. Sometimes, it takes a life-altering event to wake a person up to what really matters. But by then, it can be too late.
Why did you choose to tell the story from various points of view rather than a single point of view?
I always find it fascinating how people perceive situations differently, particularly conflict. I felt that a horrific situation like the one in the book would be infinitely more interesting if we were privy to multiple perspectives.
As you were writing, who did you envision as the prime audience for this book? It seems that the book contains lessons that could be useful to several age groups.
I wrote this book for an adult audience, but I think teenagers will enjoy and relate to it, too. While most of the story takes place in the parents’ world, the teen storyline is prominent and pivotal. My daughter is sixteen and she’s a smart, sophisticated reader. While she still reads some YA novels, she enjoys a lot of adult fiction.
Were there any events in your own life or adolescence that you feel largely influenced the course of your life or the lives of those around you?
My dad died suddenly of a brain aneurysm when I was ten years old. Everything changed after that. When you experience a tragedy, you realize your whole life can be altered in a moment. I sometimes wonder who I would have become if he had lived, and if I would have made different choices with his guidance. My whole family was shaped by that loss.
How do you think people can best put a stop to bullying and cyberbullying?
As parents, we worry so much about our children getting good grades, making the team, or getting into a good college. But sometimes we neglect to emphasize being a kind and caring human being. And I think parents should monitor their kids on social media. It can feel like an invasion of their privacy, but the teenage brain is not fully developed. Kids post things online they consider benign but that could be hurtful or damaging to someone else. If children know there is even a chance their parents are checking up on them, they may reconsider posting something critical or cruel.
If you could go back in time and give your adolescent self one message, what would it be?
A perm is not a good idea. And also, that one day, you will feel comfortable in your own skin.
Who are some of the contemporary storytellers that you find most inspiring or compelling today and why?
I just read Bill Clegg’s novel Did You Ever Have a Family. I was afraid it would be too sad for me, but it was beautiful, so real and moving and smart. Liane Moriarty is amazing. Her writing is insightful and intelligent but still so accessible. I feel the same way about David Nicholls and Nick Hornby. And I am a huge Kate Atkinson fan. I don’t normally read a lot of mysteries, but I love her Jackson Brodie series. She inspires me with her little touches of humor in even the darkest tales.
You have written several other works. How does this story relate to your previous work? Do you feel that it’s very different from your previous books or would you say there is a common thread among the works?
Before this book, I’d considered myself a humor/comedy writer. My first novels were humorous women’s fiction (or “chick lit” to use a controversial term). I also wrote the screenplay for an indie dramedy titled The Steps, about a step family meeting for the first time. It’s very funny, but it does deal with some heavy themes (alcoholism, family secrets, parental neglect). Tonally, The Party is much darker than anything I’ve written, but I have always tried to create relatable characters and deal in real-life scenarios. To me, real people and this messy world we live in are more fascinating than a dystopian future or a fantasy land.
How did writing The Party change the way that you write? Was there anything that surprised you in the course of writing the book?
I took a lot more time with this book. I was very thoughtful with it. At times, it was tough going. I didn’t want to sit down at my computer and deal with this tragedy, to drag these characters through this turmoil and strife. But I knew this was a book that I would want to read and eventually, I got into! I enjoyed the twists and turns, the lies, betrayals and drama. I was surprised to find that I won’t plunge into a deep depression if I tell a dark and serious story. And there’s still room for a sense of humor in dramatic writing.
Can you please tell us a bit about what you are currently working on?
I’m working on a novel inspired by Canada’s most notorious female serial killer, who has served her time and is now a married mother of three, living in a new community. I’m exploring themes of retribution, redemption, and forgiveness. And I’m confronting some hard questions: Can people really change? Do they deserve a second chance? And can you ever outrun your past?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed reading this novel... some the circumstances within these characters really makes you wonder what happens behind closed doors... I look forward to future novels from this writer
A drunken teenage slumber party has a turn for the worst. A young girl is gravely injured and the parents of the party’s host are blamed. Parents and friends struggle finding who to blame instead of trying to heal and move on. The Party has many similarities to another novel I just read The Dinner by Herman Koch. Similar parts such as... the parents of these children really show how far a parent will go to fight for their child. How the children deal with violence among themselves and without parents to guide them. The parents being so wrapped up in themselves to see the hurt in their children. Although this novel is dark at times it does not go as dark as Koch’s The Dinner, which is a blessing to me. The story is intriguing and makes you think. It touches on subjects that some people just do not like to talk about like the dark sides of raising a teen. Where is the line for when children are no longer coddled by their parents and should be held accountable for their own mistakes? This is one of those stories where it was interesting reading about the different situations but I am thankful it ends when it does. I read this almost immediately after I read The Dinner. A book club member gave it to me to read. So I did and to be honest I do not want to read another like it either. Both are too dark a story for me. I found myself agitated while reading them. Maybe because some of the characters scare me a little and I hope that I never meet some of the children or the parents of either story (Neither story is based on real-life people, that I know of). I do not often read contemporary fiction novels like these. I tend to stick with fantasy at the moment and maybe that says something about myself. And if art imitates life, there are probably stories like these in real-world situations. And that makes me sad. The Party is well written and characters felt developed. The topic is dark and human but stuff that should be talked about.
It was an eye opener and I told my family about it and now they want to read it. I can imagine something like this happening.
The Party - Actually the first book I have read by this author. She's great! Even though the subject wasn't what I normally read - I really enjoyed it. Kept you wanting to know what was going on! Will read others by her - I highly recommend her :)
I LOVED this book. It was suspenseful and had twists that I didn't expect. I loved how chapters switched between the characters and how they were dealing with the aftermath of the horrible accident that happened at the birthday party. It was an honest look into the differences between parents and teenagers, how you think you know someone but then discover their secrets, and how to salvage relationships-if you can. I think this will be my favorite book of the summer.
Overall a good easy read.
I really enjoyed this. Wow, what a greatly woven story about a bunch of bad teens and adults. Very creative read.
Good book. Made me realize I was glad I had maneuvered through three daughter’s teenage years not without incident but with some success. Characters were very relatable. This was a book that parents of preteen or teenage children could benefit by reading. It could happen to any of us.
This book was a train wreck. Well, not the book itself, but the characters and their story. It follows a well worn storyline that readers of Liane Moriarty and Elin Hilderbrand will find pleasantly familiar: normal suburban family with normal secrets falls into extraordinary circumstances that force them to come clean and deal with the consequences. In this case, there are two main secrets. The first is that the mother, Kim Sanders, is more uptight than even she can admit, and would do anything to protect (the image of) her family. The second is that her daughter, Hannah, is not as perfect as her mother would have her believe, and is really just a normal teenager who wants to make mistakes. Unluckily, Hannah does make a mistake on her 16th birthday at a sleepover party in the Sanders' home. In an incident that leaves one of the guests permanently blind in one eye, Kim is forced to acknowledge that she fell short, Hannah faces guilt, and the father, Jeff, shares in the blame because of his hand in the events of the night. I went into this book expecting the big blow up, but thought that the characters would recover relatively quickly. Boy, was I wrong. Everything that could possibly go wrong did go wrong for this family, and I felt I was being dragged along on a downward spiral that I did not want to be a part of. I won't spoil the ending and reveal if the Sanders family recovers, but I will say that this book was dizzying in the amount of domestic, suburban drama it brought out. While that might sound negative, it was all mightily entertaining, and I could not put the book down. You'll want to get invested in the Sanders on a summer day as well. I do recommend grabbing this book before it becomes ultra-popular (as it is bound to become) at your local library.
After just a few paragraphs I found myself completely absorbed by this story of a sleepover gone wrong. Jeff and Kim Sanders host a sweet sixteen party for their daughter Hannah. They open their beautiful home to Hannah’s closest friends, pick-up her favorite cake and make it clear that boys, drugs & alcohol will not be tolerated. What do you think happens? As you can guess, something horrible happens and now Jeff and Kim Sanders, perfect in every way, find themselves trying to prove their innocence to the police as well as the parents and children involved. This blemish on Kim’s otherwise perfect reputation is enough to do her in. Then there’s Jeff, who is keeping a secret from her. Hannah is no saint either and forced to choose between popularity and cruelty. There is a lot going on in this story but it’s SO good. You’ve got the whole “perfect” thing going on with Kim and Jeff but they are far from perfect. The other parents have their issues too and the kids…oh, the kids… their loyalty to each other changes with the weather. People are in. People are out. There are lies and secrets and lots of self-analysis going on. Oh, not to mention the denial!! I could not turn the pages fast enough. These characters are complex and very well-developed and even though some of them do horrible things, you still feel something for them because the author just pulls it out of you. This book was read while making spaghetti and doing laundry because putting it down wasn’t an option. Plus, the events detailed in this story could literally happen to anyone which makes it all the more readable. If you want a fast-paced domestic drama then you can’t go wrong with The Party.
The Party by Robyn Harding is a so-so domestic drama. Jeff and Kim Sanders are throwing a sweet sixteen birthday slumber party for their daughter, Hannah, and four of her friends. Kim has listed the house rules to the girls: no alcohol, no drugs, no boys. They provide food and leave the girls alone in the downstairs family room. Naturally, the girls don't follow the rules, resulting in disaster. One of the girls, drunk, crashes through a glass-topped coffee table and is rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night. While the police investigation cleared the Sanders from culpability in the accident, the mother of the injured girl files a lawsuit asking for three million dollars. The impending lawsuit alienates friends and causes division, as secrets are revealed and nothing is as perfect as it appears. The narrative is told through four characters: Kim, Jeff, Lisa (the mother of the injured girl), and Hannah. Sure, we learn their secrets, but the secrets are not as shocking as the blurb for the novel implies. They are, actually, pretty standard stuff and can be revealed on both sides of the lawsuit, something that no one seems to be pointing out about the mother of the injured girl. It also seems unlikely that one of the five girls would not break down and tell the truth instead of the half-truths/lies about what happened. Additionally, this is one of those novels filled with unlikable characters. You may try to find someone to pull for, but you will likely be let down as the few characters that seem to take a stand also don't seem to have a backbone. The ones telling you their side of the story never give you a reason to care. Harding does present the mean girls/high school queen bees social hierarchy effectively, although stereotypically. Sometimes I like a novel where everyone is unreliable and unlikable, but it didn't quite work for me here. For me, The Party missed the mark. It had potential, but something just never clicked for me. I grew very tired of all the characters and sort of wanted to lecture them to just grow up, adults and kids. I also found it hard to believe that a sixteen year old would want a sleep over party. Sorry, but that seems absurd to me. It also seemed odd that given they were doing this party, that the parents wouldn't be checking on the girls, staying awake all night to make sure they were following the rules. I'll also admit that I didn't like the ending. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.
Hannah turns 16 today and her parents are letting her have a slumber party with four of her friends. Hannah’s parents, Kim and Jeff live in a very nice home in San Francisco. They also have a son, Aiden. Jeff has a busy job and is training every free minute he gets for an upcoming triathlon. Kim does a bit of copy writing for a large company. The bad part is that she has a crush on a man with whom she interacts in her job. Hannah’s boyfriend is Noah, a very popular guy that makes her happy to be part of a clique that includes two girls, Ronni and Lauren. While Hannah enjoys the attention Noah gives her she also knows that Noah will want more than handholding soon. Ronni is a friend coming to Hannah’s party. Kim has known her mother, Lisa, for a long time but tends to think of the woman as a flake. Lauren is another friend who has been invited to the party. Marta and Caitlin are two girls with whom Hannah has been friends for a long time and they are coming too. Both Ronni and Lauren are more experienced that Hannah, and while they are expecting a wild party, Hannah knows her Mom will not allow it. Kim is very strict with her children. Later that night, Kim and Jeff are awakened by Hannah saying that Ronni had gotten drunk and fell on the glass coffee table seriously damaging her eye. She needs surgery and Ronni’s mother, Lisa, is furious that her daughter was injured under Kim and Jeff’s watch and has decided to sue them. This story is one that keeps the reader turning pages as it delves into the lives of the different characters. I was very impressed with how well the author seems to know the minds of teenagers and their feelings. This is a must read and I foresee it on the best seller shelf soon. Copy provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
The Party by Robyn Harding is not for the faint of heart. This is a story of friendship, families and destruction. What happens when a party goes awry? No one thinks it can happen to them, some alcohol, drugs and teenagers make this a riveting story that you won't want to put down. As a mom of teenagers, I found this story heartbreaking. A simple second is all it takes and the consequences are unbelievable. This was an excellent book. I voluntarily read an ARC of this book provided by the publisher and NetGalley.