'Today Show': Jenna Bush Hager's September Book Club Pick Dives Into Science and Suffering

Jenna Bush Hager of the Today Show is kicking off September with a compelling novel to start the fall season. Focusing on how science plays a role in vital areas of life including addiction and depression, the “Read with Jenna” pick for this month also looks at they dynamics of love, faith, and religion.

‘Transcendent Kingdom’ becomes a ‘Read with Jenna’ pick

Centered around a family that immigrates from Ghana to Alabama, Transcendent Kingdom follows Gifty, a Stanford University Ph.D. student. Now in her sixth year, Gifty studies reward-seeking behavior and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Her brother Nana has already died due to a heroine overdose after getting addicted to OxyContin following an ankle injury. Adding to the family’s distress, Gifty’s mom becomes bedridden with depression.

Surrounded by trauma, Gifty begins to grapple with questions of faith, religion, and love. The doctoral student begins to search for scientific reasons for suffering in the hopes of making sense of her family’s anguish.

“She’s kind of been formed by the traumas of her childhood,” author Yaa Gyasi told Today.com. “She’s a character who is reticent, brilliant, grieving still, and often times kind of hesitant to look at herself even as she questions and examines everything around her.”

Jenna Bush Hager picked this one in early 2020

Apparently, Hager has been eager to share this book with her “Read with Jenna” followers since early this year.

“I’m so excited about September’s pick!” the Today star wrote on Instagram. “I have been waiting to announce this one since I first read it in January! … Yaa is an absolutely brilliant writer and I hope you will all join us in reading this month!”

Already a fan of Gyasi’s from her first novel Homecoming, Hager was drawn by the novel’s cultural themes. The author gives readers a glimpse of coming from another country in the hopes of achieving the American dream.

“We hear Gifty’s story of moving from Ghana to Alabama. We walk in her shoes and we know what it feels like to be an immigrant and to feel like you are different.”

Yaa Gyasi wanted to connect science and life experiences

Like the main character of her book, the author immigrated from Ghana to Alabama. Motivated by a friend who was studying neuroscience, Gyasi wanted to explore the connection between science and mental health issues. The writer also hopes to lessen the stigma that is often attached to addiction and depression.

“She used to explain it to me in layman’s terms, of addiction and depression,” Gyasi shared of her friend. “I wondered if it would be possible to fashion a novel around this question of a woman who is doing this research while experiencing the things that she researches in her own life.”

Hager is hopeful that Transcendent Kingdom will start a dialogue around the content it examines.

“The fact that this book tackles the themes of mental health and race at this moment in our culture, I think will lead our book club to have some really important conversations,” the book club founder commented.

Transcendent Kingdom is now on sale.

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