I read Cheryl Strayed’s novel Wild before I picked up Tiny Beautiful Things, so while I was familiar with her work and enjoyed it very much, I didn’t begin this novel with any expectations in mind. With the exception, perhaps, that her general writing style would be as raw and honest as her work in Wild. And it’s possible this novel steps far beyond Wild‘s reach in that regard. Where Wild focuses on Strayed’s personal grief and conquests Tiny Beautiful Things tackles varying human experiences, as told by letter writers searching for answers.
Tiny Beautiful Things shreds the shells we build around ourselves. The ones we use to keep others out and hide the real struggles and pain involved with being human. One of the essential characteristics of Cheryl Strayeds’ writing is her willingness to be vulnerable, to strip her armor off alongside her readers. It is the reason I love her work. I relate to Cheryl Strayed, in the loss of a parent. I relate to the love she felt so completely and yet had to release. It’s the vulnerability and the willingness to share it all, to put it on paper and then into the world, for others to read and realize, that’s me too.
Each story on the surface is individualized, but the strength of this novel, is that it shows us the letters are not as individual as the people writing them may feel. They are not isolating. They are universal.
This topic makes me think of something that recently happened. We share a multilevel house, with space rented to others (because Hawai’i is expensive, and that’s how it is). I was talking to one of the other renters, and she shared that she’d been struggling with loneliness over the past few days and needed to work to pull herself out of it. What hit me at that moment was that I’d been feeling the same way. Two people in the same house, only walls apart, feeling lonely and isolated. Not knowing how the other was feeling. That is the perfect picture of humans being human. We guard ourselves against sharing emotions because we assume everyone else is doing wonderfully, and it’s just us struggling.
That is why novels like Tiny Beautiful Things are so impactful to the world. They hold up the mirror and show us ourselves; they open the doors and show us others. They remind us to be gracious. They remind us to be kind. They tell us that being human is beautiful and complicated, and most other humans on Earth might feel that way too.
Tiny Beautiful Things Discussion Questions
- Did you start this novel with expectations? If so, how did those expectations shift or align as you read?
- Cheryl Strayed has a particular writing style; how would you describe it, and how do you think her style contributes to the overall tone and atmosphere of the book?
- In what ways do you relate to the letter writers and their struggles? Are there any particular letters or responses that resonated with you?
- Many of the letters dealt with themes of loss, grief, and trauma. How did Strayed’s personal experiences with these topics inform her advice?
- Were there any situations in the book where you felt Strayed’s advice was off-base or not helpful?
- In what ways did the book challenge your own perspectives on love, family, and personal growth?
- Strayed often uses metaphor and imagery to convey her ideas. Which passages stood out to you as particularly poignant or memorable?
- In one of the letters, Strayed discusses using one’s pain as a source of strength. Did this concept resonate with you?
- Finally, how might reading “Tiny Beautiful Things” impact your own life and the way you approach difficult situations?
I call this section the highlights because these were the parts of the novel I couldn’t leave unmarked by my highlighter or pen; favorite phrases and passages, moments I want to share or return to while just skimming through. Fiction or nonfiction, it doesn’t matter. I do this with every book I read.
- “She had to grab like a drowning girl for every good thing that came her way and she had to swim like fuck away from every bad thing. She had to count the years and let them roll by, to grow up and then run as far as she could in the direction of her best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by her own desire to heal.”
- “At night after I made love to this man I would lie beside him and cry because I knew that I loved him and I couldn’t bear to stay with him because I wasn’t ready to love only one person yet and I knew that if I left him I would die of a broken heart and I would kill him of a broken heart too and it would be over for me when it came to love because there would never be another person who I’d loved as much as I loved him or who loved me as much as he loved me…”
- “I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
- “The second heart inside me beat ever stronger, but nothing miraculously became a book… I realized that if I truly wanted to write the story I had to tell, I would have to gather everything within me to make it happen. I would have to sit and think of only one thing longer and harder than I thought possible. I would have to suffer. By which I mean, work.”
There are seemingly endless quotable moments in Tiny Beautiful Things, and I would love for you to share yours with me. For moments others found quotable check out Goodreads.
Tiny Beautiful Things Show Questions
- How did the show themes relate to the novel?
- What was your opinion on Kathryn Hahn as a fictional representation of Cheryl Strayed (or Clare Pierce)?
- Because the show combines fact and fiction, how does that play out compared to the novel?
- Would you portray Tiny Beautiful Things (novel) differently on screen than the showrunners? If so, how?
If you enjoyed this post, and haven’t already checkout our previous bookclub discussion on A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Beckman and keep an eye out for August book pick, which should be coming your way tomorrow (August 11th).