Overcoming Adversity YA Book Discussion Group Downers Grove Public Library June 13 – July 18, 2011 Mondays from 3:00 – 4:00pmThemeJoin us this summer on a jarring and powerful reading journey guaranteed to changeyour outlook on life!BooksWeek 1: Devil in the Details by Jennifer TraigWeek 2: Sickened by Julie GregoryWeek 3: The Pact by Drs. Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Rameck HuntWeek 4: The Glass Castle by Jeannette WallsWeek 5: Clara’s War by Clara KramerWeek 6: Born on a Blue Day by Daniel TammetThis summer reading program, “Overcoming Adversity,” is targeted toward olderyoung adults who would like to gain strength and insight into their own lives byreading the memoirs of those who have faced tremendous difficulties. Youngadulthood is a difficult time of transition and discovery, and the outlook oftenappears grim. This book discussion group is meant to give hope and perspective toyoung adults by focusing on the lives of eight extraordinary people who have faced
seemingly insurmountable difficulties in their early lives yet survived and evenflourished despite (or as a result of) thesechallenges.AudienceThe older young adult audience this book discussion was designed for, consisting ofmature high school kids as well as those in their early twenties, is introspective andenjoys learning about the lives of other people. They spend time at school, socializewith friends, attend social events, hang out at coffee shops, surf the Internet andlisten to music. Consequently, publicity material about this book discussion group,the flyer specifically, will be distributed at the local high schools and will be postedaround town in storefront windows, coffee shops and at the library. A link to thebook discussion group’s website will be emailed out to the library’s email databaseof young adults that have previously signed up to receive electronic newsletters andinformation from the Teen Central department of the Downers Grove Public Library.The flyers will also contain the web address for the book discussion group websiteso they can obtain further information.GenreMemoirs afford readers the opportunity to slip into someone else’s skin, understandthe challenges he faces first-hand, and walk with him as he journeys through hisstruggles toward resolution. The highly personal nature of this genre allows thereader to walk away with a new perspective and greater compassion for the trialsothers face and causes them to consider how they might behave in similar
circumstances. In a broader perspective, many of the lessons learned while readinga memoir are often absorbed and adopted by the reader:improving problem-solvingskills, gaining a better understanding of the struggles faced by others and how theyconfront and deal with those issues, and how to overcome their own problems as aresult of this newfound awareness.Book SelectionThe books selected for this book discussion group are memoirs about tragedy andadversity in the lives of our writers. Though the problems encountered in each bookare diverse, the books are woven together by the common threads of survival andtriumph over what would seem to be the most difficult circumstances. From povertyand homelessness to mental disorder, child abuse and autism, these books offerhope and strength in the face of unimaginable pain. The goal is for young adultreaders to realize that, while significant, they can overcome their worst issues byclinging to hope, reaching out for help and knowing that they hold the key toimproving their own lives. While extreme, the issues confronted by the young adultsin these books provide a backdrop of encouragement and strength. The objective ofthe group is certainly not to minimize the issues faced by our readers but rather toinspire them and give them the confidence to visualize a bright future ahead.The titles selected for this book discussion group will provide ample fodder fordiscussion. The unique details in each writer’s life lend themselves to interestingand productive conversation that can be applied to the way we all face conflict and
reach resolution. Gaining insights from others in the group regarding how they mayhave dealt with the issues discussed, or even their own similar experiences, willbroaden the participants’ skill sets, improving their ability to work throughproblems and make healthy, productive decisions for the future. Simply put, thesebooks offer hope--sharing and discussing what seem like insurmountable issueswith fellow participants will expand their perspectives and allow them to soar.Promotional Materials 1. Flyer: http://leahg118.glogster.com/glog-1037-3183/ 2. Website: http://leahg118.glogster.com/glog-1037-3183/Book Summaries and Discussion QuestionsDevil in the Details SummaryJennifer Traig recalls the challenges of growing up as a religious fanatic withobsessive-compulsive disorder. Jennifer shares her most personal behavioralcharacters in a rare and humorous manner. Her ability to poke fun at herselfprovides levity and enables readers to get a glimpse inside the reality of this difficultdisorder, while still enjoying themselves as they read.Devil in the Details Discussion Questions
1. Were you surprised that Jennifer’s obsessive-compulsive disorder was ignited by her religion? In your opinion, were there any signs in her life that indicated or foreshadowed that she might fall prey to this type of mental illness? 2. What do you think of the tools her family used to cope with her illness? Did they do everything they could to help her or do you feel they should have tried something else? 3. “The sun rises, the sun sets. It was more apt than my mother realized. This, in a phrase, was our family holiday experience. It was light and dark, good and bad, Catholic and Jewish, obsessive and compulsive” (p. 132). Jennifer grew up in an inter-faith family with a Catholic mother and a Jewish father. Do you feel that growing up with this religious dichotomy played a role in her desire to cling so strongly to one religion over the other? 4. “OCD is based upon an irrational belief that if you don’t do something perfectly—wash your hands, pat the end table, plug in the coffeemaker the exact way—someone will get hurt.” Can you relate to this sentiment? Is there ever a time when you have felt like this? 5. Jennifer makes a complete turn-around when she finally leaves for college. She makes friends, keeps her obsessions in check and succeeds in her studies. As you were reading the book, were there any characteristics about her personality you felt might indicate that she would make a full recovery?Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Summary
In this book, Julie Gregory shares her experience of growing up as a victim of abizarre disorder called Munchhausen by Proxy. Julie’s mother, Sandy, satisfied herneed for attention with medical personnel by feigning illness for Julie. She subjectedJulie to endless doctor visits, tests and unnecessary medical procedures. Julie’ssituation is overlooked by every adult in her life who blindly assumes that Sandy is aconcerned and loving mother. Julie is bound to her mother by a powerfulcodependent love. Julie eventually manages to break the chains her mother haswoven her in and must face a difficult journey to heal the wounds left by such ascarring childhood.Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Discussion Questions 1. Julie seemed so strong and stable during her childhood, despite all that she suffered through. What do you think finally triggered her mental decline toward the end of the book? 2. Growing up, Julie’s mom, Sandy, had an unstable and neglectful mother who often disregarded her and her needs. What role do you think, if any, that played in Sandy’s over-obsession with Julie’s health? 3. Munchausen by Proxy is a very insidious form of child abuse and neglect that is not easily recognized by healthcare providers. However, after reading this story, were you surprised that the doctors treating Julie didn’t begin to pick up on any suspicious signs? What could they have done to stop this vicious cycle?
4. Do you think Julie played a role in her abuse by making up symptoms when speaking to the doctors? Is she partly to blame for allowing the deception regarding her health to continue as she grew older? 5. It’s obvious that Julie wanted to give her mother a second chance when she went to visit her out west. When she realized that her mom was repeating the Munchausen by Proxy cycle with Tina, her “adopted” daughter, Julie stepped in to save Tina by calling authorities. In Julie’s life, do you think this experience was healing for her or a big emotional setback? Why?The Pact SummarySampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Rameck Hunt grew up on the dangerous streetsof Newark, confronting the temptation of crime, poverty and drugs on a daily basis.Despite many setbacks and challenges, these three young men kept the pact thatthey made in their youth: to all become doctors. This book speaks to the strength offriendship and the desire to strive for success. This is an inspiring book about howthree young men, with all the odds stacked against them, made their dreams cometrue by supporting one another along the difficult journey.The Pact Discussion Questions 1. Was the pact made by Sampson, George and Rameck in high school the primary reason they ultimately succeeded in becoming doctors? What other factors may have played a role and were they more or less important than the pact?
2. Have you ever made a pact before with someone else? Did it impact the outcome of achieving your goal? 3. Do you think Sam and George would have had the strength and fortitude to become doctors if Rameck had decided to continue the pursuit of a rapping career and let go of the dream of becoming a doctor? 4. What role did growing up in the ghetto have on Sam, George and Rameck’s academic pursuits? Did it hold them back and create stumbling blocks along the way or did it spur them on toward success? 5. Facing the environmental, financial and emotional challenges that these young men lived with, do you think you would have been able to stay focused and succeed at achieving your dreams?The Glass Castle SummaryJeannette Walls and her siblings grew up in a very dysfunctional family with parentswhose nontraditional beliefs left the family living like nomads, traveling around thecountry from one place to the next often without any place to stay. The Wallschildren learned at an early age that they couldn’t rely on their parents forconsistent financial and emotional support. They struggled to fend for themselves,supporting one another along the way. Jeannette saved up her money and waseventually able to leave home. Despite all of the trials and tribulations her parentsput her through, she maintains a deep affection for both of them and continues tokeep contact with them, though they have chosen to remain homeless. Jeannette is asuccessful writer and has turned her life around despite all of the hurdles she had to
overcome.The Glass Castle Discussion Questions 1. Despite all that happened, were you surprised to learn that Jeannette maintained a relationship with her parents after becoming an adult? Why or why not? 2. Discuss the metaphor of the glass castle and what it means for Jeannette and her father. 3. How do you think Jeannette’s experiences as a child shaped her adult personality? What qualities do you think exist as a result of the way she grew up? 4. The first story Walls tells of her childhood is that of her burning herself severely at age three, and her father dramatically takes her from the hospital: "Youre safe now" (p. 14). Why do you think she starts the book with that story? How does this scene lay the groundwork for the remainder of the story? 5. Deep down, do you think that Jeannette is ashamed or embarrassed of her parents’ choice to remain homeless? 6. Although the book portrays a very difficult life, it is never sad or depressing. What is the tone of this book and how did Walls achieve this balance?Clara’s War SummaryThis shocking story is based on the diary of a young girl, Clara Kramer, hiding from
the Nazis in an underground bunker with seventeen other people. Clara Kramer wasa Polish-Jewish teenager from a small town at the outbreak of the Second WorldWar. When the Germans invaded Poland Claras family was taken in by the Becks, aGerman family from their town. Mr. Beck was known to be a vocal anti-Semite. Buton hearing that Jewish families were being led into the woods and shot, Beckdecided to hide the Kramers and two other Jewish families. Eighteen people in alllived in a bunker dug out of the Becks basement. Fifteen-year-old Clara kept a diaryduring the twenty terrifying months she spent in hiding, writing down details oftheir unpredictable life. Against all likelihood, Clara survived and even played asignificant role in saving the lives of the Becks.Clara’s War Discussion Questions 1. Most people are familiar with Anne Frank’s, The Diary of a Young Girl, a searing and personal account of one girl’s experience in hiding during the Holocaust. Similarly, Clara’s War is a personal account of a young girl’s experience in hiding during the Nazi occupation. What similarities and differences do you notice between these two girls’ experiences during the same period in history? 2. Were you surprised that Mr. Beck risked hiding 18 people in his basement, despite being a vocal anti-Semite? What do you believe were his motivations for taking on this extraordinary sacrifice and risk despite his feelings toward Jewish people?
3. The Becks made a promise to the people they kept in hiding that they would never abandon them. They kept their word. The bond that was forged between rescuers and victims became a lifeline for the whole group. In the end, it was the Becks that needed saving and Clara led the way in preventing their execution. Were you surprised by the irony of the Becks’ fate being in Clara’s hands at the end of the book? 4. While in hiding the Jewish families lived in such filth, hunger, disease and squalor. What do you think were the most difficult aspects of their living conditions and why? Can you imagine ever surviving and maintaining hope while living under similar circumstances? 5. There was a heightened level of turmoil and fear associated with this particular hiding place because Hitler’s SS held nightly drinking sessions directly above the Jewish families’ hiding place. One wrong move and they would blow the Becks’ cover and face certain death. How were they able to cope with this nightly threat by coming together as a unit?Born on a Blue Day SummaryDaniel Tammet is one of fifty living autistic savants in the world. He offers us uniqueinsight into his condition, the way his brain processes information and how heexperiences life in this inspiring memoir. Daniel traces his life from a frustrating,withdrawn childhood and adolescence through to his independence and adultachievements. Tammets condition is intriguing to researchers; his ability to express
himself clearly and with a surprisingly engaging tone enables them to study hiscondition to learn more about the brain.Born on a Blue Day Discussion Questions 1. How do you think Daniel’s move to Lithuania after high school impacts his sense of self and his ability to accept his homosexuality? 2. In Daniel’s adult life, do you believe his Autistic Savant condition is a benefit or a hindrance to his happiness? 3. Were you surprised by Daniel’s ability to learn new languages within a week’s time and do advanced math in his head, but to have such difficulty finding his way around town? Is it hard for you to understand this dichotomy with his condition? 4. What role did coming from such a large family have on Daniel’s life as an Autistic Savant? 5. Can you relate to any of Daniel’s visual and emotional connections to numbers? Have you ever had a similar, though maybe not as significant, an experience? 6. Unlike most other Autistic Savants, Daniel can explain his emotions in a way that allows others to get some understanding regarding the way he experiences and processes information. How do you see this benefiting brain research being conducted by doctors and scientists for the general population as well as those that are autistic?