Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Discussion Guide: XVI by Julia Karr

Since the goal of my book club is to read and discuss newer YA books, not many resources exist for discussion. I hope by sharing some my discussion questions, teen reactions, and activities that other folks interested in getting a teen book group (or even adult book group reading YA books) can benefit. Enjoy this discussion guide for Julia Karr's XVI.

Author website: Julia Karr

-affiliated website (includes the contests we used for activities): Class2k11

Read alike/See alike: Feed by M. T. Anderson, Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, The Matrix

Fortunately for readers, the edition of Karr's book we had included a discussion guide in the back. However, I didn't care for most of the questions and instead reworked some and invented my own. Of course, I emphasize that any time the teens go on a tangent -- as long as it's marginally linked to the book -- go there with them. Without further ado:

  • What were your overall impressions and thoughts? Give me your gut reactions.
  • What worked and didn't work in the world Karr developed?
  • Do you think anything that happens in this society is already happening in our own? (This one was one they dug -- a lot of discussion of advertising and media)
  • Is this like the US now? Can it be our future?
  • Is this a feminist book?
  • What did you think of the characters? Did you have any favorites? Did you care about any of them more or less than the others?
  • What did you think about the discussions of the media's influence on society? How did it relate to the overall story?
  • What did you think about the language and new words used in this story? Did they work? Did anything not work?
  • Did the book remind you of anything else you have read or seen?

I found this to be the right amount of discussion, actually. Some generated a lot of discussion, and some didn't bring very much out. Here are some of the teen reactions I had to these specific questions:

  • Teens thought the main idea of the story was really good, though they thought the story was going to focus on the issue of turning 16 when it went elsewhere – but that ended up being a good thing to them.
  • They liked falling right into this world. It wasn’t too generic or too realistic and they thought it reminded them a bit of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies in world building and execution.
  • We talked about how the role of books and knowledge played into the story and the teens were blown away by the idea that a government could want to hide books from people. A lengthy and valuable discussion of the roles of books and knowledge in society followed.
  • They liked how the role of religion in the story felt like mythology – the characters talked about beliefs like we talk about mythology, that it’s kind of silly and pointless, despite the fact it really matters to people and is a basis for understanding existence.
  • Teens felt the ads and media role in the story really could happen and are even happening now.
  • Saw the idea of social tiers interesting and relatable in today’s world. They wanted to know a bit more about how this worked, though, since in this world people could move up and down through a lot of different circumstances. During our chat with the author, we found out there will be a second book, and the teens are hoping some of these questions are answered there.

Overall, this was a good book, but the teens said it won’t be a favorite. But it left them with a ton of questions and really gave them a lot to discuss. In other words, this was a perfect one to begin with. Not all of the teens finished the book, and that in itself was worth talking about.

After our discussion, we hopped onto Facebook and held a chat with the author. I let the kids draft their questions, which we did during and after discussion. Something in discussion would come up and the kids were eager to find out more -- and let me tell you how satisfying it was to be able to let them do it. But if you're stuck or need ideas, here's what we asked:

  • What inspired the story?
  • Do you think that this is our potential future?
  • What was your road to publication? (teens were shocked to find out how long this took!)
  • Is there a sequel in the works?
  • Who do you think your target audience is with this book?
  • Are your characters based on anyone in real life?
  • What message are you trying to get across with the story?
I did not edit their questions at all, and I didn't give them boundaries. These generated an excellent conversation, wherein Julia even asked the teens questions!

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