We Came Here to Shine

September 1, 2019

Vivi Hold­en is clos­er than she’s ever been to liv­ing her dream as a lead actress in sun-dap­pled L.A., but an unfair turn of events sends her back to New York, a place she worked so hard to escape from. She has one last chance to get back to Hol­ly­wood by per­form­ing well as the star of the her­ald­ed Aqua­cade syn­chro­nized swim­ming spec­tac­u­lar at the World’s Fair. Every­thing seems to be work­ing against her, but her sum­mer in New York will lead to her biggest oppor­tu­ni­ty to find her own way, on her own terms.

Max­ine Roth wants noth­ing more than to be a seri­ous jour­nal­ist at the icon­ic New York Times, but her pro­fes­sor has oth­er plans. Instead, she’s land­ed a post at the pop-up pub­li­ca­tion ded­i­cat­ed to cov­er­ing the World’s Fair and even then, her big ideas are con­tin­u­al­ly over­looked by her male coun­ter­parts. Max didn’t work this hard to be the only — and an unheard one at that — woman in the room.

When Max and Vivi’s worlds col­lide, they forge an endur­ing friend­ship. One that shows them to be the dar­ing, bold women they are, and one that teach­es them to nev­er stop hold­ing on to what mat­ters most, in the most mean­ing­ful sum­mer of their lives.

Discussion Questions

    Cour­tesy of Susie Orman Schnall

  1. The World’s Fair plays the role of anoth­er char­ac­ter in the nov­el. Have you ever attend­ed a World’s Fair your­self or know some­one who has? If you haven’t attend­ed one, based upon the descrip­tion in the nov­el, do you think it’s some­thing you would have want­ed to go to? Why or why not? And how, if at all, did the fair’s depic­tion in the nov­el teach you about, or change your impres­sion of, this impor­tant event?

  2. The New York World’s Fair of 1939 took place as the Great Depres­sion was wind­ing down and as World War II was begin­ning. What do you know about the polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al land­scapes of the time that inform the sto­ry­lines of the char­ac­ters and the tim­ing of the World’s Fair in general?

  3. If you could time trav­el back to 1939, which exhibits or build­ings would you vis­it? What sou­venirs would you buy?

  4. One of the open­ing quotes is by Eleanor Roo­sevelt: You must do the thing you think you can­not do.” What does that quote mean to you?

  5. Are you more of a Max or a Vivi, or nei­ther? Why? How did your impres­sions of each char­ac­ter evolve while read­ing the book?

  6. What job would you have pur­sued at the fair dur­ing the sum­mer of 1939? Would you have want­ed to work for Today at the Fair, swim in the Aqua­cade, work at one of the exhib­it build­ings, or some­thing else entirely?

  7. Were you sur­prised to learn that Sofia was Vivi’s daugh­ter? What else sur­prised you while read­ing the novel?

  8. Do you blame Vivi for leav­ing her new­born daugh­ter in the care Maria, even though Vivi knew Frank was a dan­ger­ous man? Or do you think Vivi did what she had to do because Maria pres­sured her to leave?

  9. How do you think Max han­dled the sit­u­a­tion she faced in not receiv­ing com­pa­ra­ble work assign­ments to her co-work­er Char­lie? How would you have han­dled her plight?

  10. While read­ing the nov­el, did you hope Vivi would end up with her Los Ange­les boyfriend Gabe or the Aqua­cade div­er Dean? Or did you think she wasn’t well-suit­ed for either?

  11. Did you think Max and James were a good match? How did you feel about their rela­tion­ship when the nov­el ended?

  12. If you were asked to cre­ate a time cap­sule of the present day, what items would you rec­om­mend be includ­ed to rep­re­sent our society?

  13. What can we learn from Max’s and Vivi’s expe­ri­ences about the chal­lenges women faced pro­fes­sion­al­ly and per­son­al­ly in the late 1930s?

  14. Have you read any of Susie Orman Schnall’s oth­er nov­els. How would you com­pare this one to those?

  15. If you were mak­ing a movie of this nov­el, who would you cast?

  16. Did you take away any mes­sage from the story?

  17. Reread the last para­graph of the acknowl­edg­ments. Why do you think this sen­ti­ment is so impor­tant to the author? Is it some­thing that you find inspir­ing or inter­est­ing or that you iden­ti­fy with in any way? Why or why not?