Author Tony Romano met with members of the St. Bernardine’s book club on Aug. 12 to discuss his latest work, Where My Body Ends and the World Begins, a novel that deals with a young man’s guilt over surviving, and possibly setting, the fire at Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago in 1958, a devastating blaze that took the lives of 92 children and shattered a close-knit Italian neighborhood. Forest Park-based Allium Press published the book, which is a fictional work based on the actual December 1958 blaze that changed school fire codes nationwide. 

“They were very perceptive readers, very careful readers,” Romano said of the group. “You could tell right away from their comments and their questions, they got it, they understood it. They really listen well to each other. You could tell they had been together for a long time, just how comfortable they were with each other. There wasn’t a lot of talking over each other that sometimes you see.”

Romano was the first author to meet with the St. Bernardine’s group, after more than 13 years together. The group talked for about an hour and a half, asking Romano questions about the plot, character development and other perspectives while being served small plates inspired by the novel — bread with strawberry jam, orange slices, Italian cookies and wine, of course. 

Lin Beribak, one of nine club members, said attendees read a few chapters of the book to make sure they liked his mystery novel before inviting Romano to the group. She noted that some of the members lived in the Chicago area when the fire broke out and remember its impact on the community. Several of the students who went through the experience ended up moving to Forest Park.  

“It totally took over the news,” Beribak said. “I was in first grade and I definitely remember the stories on TV. There’s a couple of people who are older than I am and absolutely remember the next day going to school, the teacher crying about it, telling the kids what happened.”  

The St. Bernardine’s book club is now all women but, at least 13 years ago when it started, there were a few male members. 

“When we read Pride and Prejudice, that’s when the guys dropped out,” Beribak said. Over the years, members have come and gone — with a core group of four who have stayed the entire time — and Beribak said the experience of picking up books they wouldn’t normally read, and learning about groups different from theirs, has held the club together.  

“We respect each other’s opinions. To sit and listen to one another, even though we don’t agree with their opinion of the book, we can understand their perspective on it,” Beribak said. “I think that contributes to its longevity.”  

Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore, along with the Forest Park Public Library, carry Where My Body Ends and the World Begins. It is the fourth book by Romano.