Darkness
Before
Dawn

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Intro, Summary & General Questions

Summary:
Darkness Before Dawn, the long-awaited end to the trilogy that began with Tears of a Tiger, and continued with Forged by Fire is here!

Sharon M. Draper says that the reason she wrote the third book was because of the hundreds of letters she received from young readers who had embraced the characters in Tears of a Tiger and Forged by Fire. "What happened to Keisha?" they asked. "Did she ever find happiness? And what about Gerald and Angel? How did they cope after the fire? Did Rhonda and Tyrone stay together or break up?"

Darkness Before Dawn answers all of these questions and more. Keisha, Rhonda, Tyrone, Gerald, and BJ are all seniors this year. Gerald's little sister Angel and Rob's younger sister Kiara are both ninth-graders, excited to be in the first year of high school. Rhonda and Tyrone are still together and trying to deal with the closeness of their relationship. Keisha, lonely and still trying to cope with the loss of Andy, envies what they have.

Several new characters add mystery, excitement, and humor to the school year. Jalani, a transfer student, is tall, lovely, and drives her own bright red BMW. Gerald admires her from afar. Leon, the class clown, hides a secret, and Jonathan Hathaway, the principal's son and the new student teacher, becomes much more than the track coach.

Darkness Before Dawn promises to be a strong and satisfying conclusion to the story of a group of characters who have become too real to forget.

The Hazelwood Trilogy


Tears of a Tiger

Forged by Fire

Darkness Before Dawn

Introduction:

We wait in the darkness for the signal to begin. I wonder what's taking so long. Behind me, I hear somebody whispering. Our silky gowns are rustling softly as we, the graduating seniors, adjust our hats, hair, and nerves. We stand nervously in two lines that curve from the back of the auditorium, out into the hallway, and halfway up a flight of stairs. In alphabetical order for the very last time, the boys in gowns of navy blue, the girls in silver.

I'm one of the first in line because I have to sit on the stage. Even though it's hot, I'm shivering in the darkness, while we wait for the lights to come up to announce the beginning of the ceremony. I close my eyes, but the darkness seems like it's trying to grab me. I blink, and the shadows are breathing on my neck, chasing through my thoughts.
I let the shadows walk me back through the last two years, through loss, pain, death, and humiliation. I've got dark memories of fire and blood running slow-motion through my head. I think about Rob, who died in a car crash in November of our junior year. I think about my Andy, my dear sweet Andy, who left me--left us all--the following April. And I try not to think about my own dark stain that I know will never be erased.

General Questions:

1. Why did you write Darkness Before Dawn?
Darkness Before Dawn was written to answer all the questions I received about what happened to the characters in the first two books. I received thousands of letters and emails asking about the rest of the kids who went to Hazelwood High.

2. Darkness before Dawn deals with issues that young women often do not want to discuss. Why did you choose this plot?
Young women have lots of difficult choices to make, and often they rebel against the rules of their parents. I wanted to give them a situation to think about so perhaps they can make wise choices.

3. Why does Angel have anorexia?
It's a topic that needs to be discussed. Lots of young women, and young men as well, see themselves as unattractive. Angel's problems are a mirror for lots of others.

4. The theme of hope is clear throughout your books. Can you talk about your understanding of hope and its role in surviving traumatic events?
I think if a human being doesn't have hope, that person cannot survive. It doesn't matter whether you're going through traumatic experiences or just day-to-day life. You have to hope that you'll get to the drugstore before it closes because you have to get your prescription refilled. You have to hope that you'll get home safely from a long trip. That's what life is based on: It's based on hope, and without hope we have nothing. I think all of my stories have that kind of theme built into them.

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Reviews & Rewards

Reviews:
Readers of Tears of a Tiger and Forged by Fire will not be disappointed in Darkness before Dawn, Sharon Mills Draper's third novel about a group of Hazelwood High students learning to live with tragedy. In her first award-winning novel, Draper told the story of a fatal car crash and its devastating effects on those who witnessed the accident and those whose lives were left empty when Robbie Washington died and, later, when Andy Jackson took his own life. Her second novel in the trilogy, Forged by Fire, focuses on Gerald, who struggles to define himself in the midst of domestic violence, addiction, and poverty. Although the subjects Draper writes about could be sensationalized, what stands out in all of her work is the depth of the characters, the sincere intensity of their voices, the intellectual and moral wrestling that drive their narratives.

In Darkness Before Dawn, it is Keisha Montgomery whose story at last is given full treatment. Keisha was an important character in Tears of a Tiger, for she was the girlfriend of Andy Jackson, the central figure in Draper's first novel. As Andy reeled from the loss of his good friend and then lost himself in a whirlwind of guilt about the accident, Keisha listened to him cry and worried about him. But-as Draper's experience as a high school teacher must show her again and again-there is just so long that a girl Keisha's age can sustain that kind of intense, therapeutic role.

Draper addresses this question subtly in Darkness Before Dawn, for although the memories of Andy are woven into Keisha's narrative, she has moved on, assumed the role of senior class president, and reached out in a new relationship. At the heart of these experiences, however, is the issue of trust. Keisha is pursued by an older man, twenty-three-year-old Jonathan Hathaway. He is the track coach at her school, the son of the principal, and one of the most handsome men Keisha has ever seen. Perhaps because of her life experiences, Keisha seems to have more in common with Jonathan than with the boys in her own class; while riding in his car, listening to smooth jazz, she says she "felt like the rock where my feelings used to be was starting to dissolve." He promises sophistication, control, and escape-things that appeal to Keisha in her fragile state, even to the point of deceiving her parents to see him.

When she thinks of Jonathan, it is in abstraction, "dreaming of paintings come alive with color and sound " But he is far from abstract. Her trust of him leads to a frightening confrontation, one that Keisha barely escapes and that reveals the young man's history of sexual assault and violence toward women. There is a lesson here about the wolf in sheep's clothing-in this case, well-tailored designer clothing-but the novel is much more than an exemplum on date rape.

As Keisha prepares for her commencement speech, she reflects on her high school experiences, her mistakes, her losses. But she also has reached a point of maturity that allows her to accept the advice of those around her: the voice of a trusted adult echoes in her mind, saying "Yo' spirit is a shinin' silver star, chile. Can't nobody take that away from you." Keisha also knows the importance of being connected in positive ways and wants her classmates to know that they are bound together. The most moving part of her speech is her recitation of a poem she has written, with each line repeated by the senior class members. Standing and holding hands, they state together that it is their joys and sorrows that sing, their wish for their circle to be unbroken. Because she has experienced true darkness, Keisha values every ray of the dawn before her. It is a hopeful yet realistic ending for this well-written, moving trilogy.
Virginia Schaefer Horvath, OHIOANA, 2002

This is the third volume in Draper's series about Hazelwood High that chronicles the experiences of a group of close African American friends, following Tears of a Tiger and Forged by Fire, but it isn't necessary to have read the other titles to enjoy this one. Draper tackles serious issues here, including a young dancer's anorexia as well as the suicide and the attempted rape. The up-to-date dialogue and the real-life problems will appeal to junior high and high school readers, girls in particular; and Keisha, her friends. and their warm, unceasing, supportive interactions with each other are appealing role models.
KLIATT January, 2001

Awards:
  • ALA BEST Book Award
  • ALA Top Ten Quick Pick
  • Children's Choice Award-- International Reading Association
  • IRA Young Adult Choice--2003
  • Buckeye Book Award--2005

The Hazelwood Trilogy


Tears of a Tiger

Forged by Fire

Darkness Before Dawn

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Darkness before Dawn
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Study Guides

Discussion Guide
  1. Darkness Before Dawn begins at the end and then takes the reader back to April of the junior year in high school. It is told in first person, from Keisha's point of view. What is the advantage of having a story told in first person? What is the disadvantage?
  2. A motif is a word or image that is repeated throughout a novel that helps to highlight or unify a central idea. Trace the references to the use of the word of "silver" in the novel, and explain how silver is important to the development of the story.
  3. Even though Keisha is intelligent and mature, she is easily entangled in Jonathan Hathaway's trap. Explain how this occurs, and discuss whether you think Keisha's mistakes are realistic.
  4. Discuss the role of Edna. Why is she significant, even though she is a very minor character? What does she teach Keisha and Jalani about people who are homeless and/or needy? What is meant by her statement, "Yo spirit is a shinin' silver star, chile. Can't nobody take that away from you."?
  5. Discuss the character of Jonathan Hathaway. Does he have any redeeming qualities, or is he purely a negative character? What might have made Jonathan the person he became?
  6. Discuss the character of Leon. What makes him a positive character? Why is he good for Keisha, and why does she initially reject him? How did his background affect his personality?
  7. Discuss Joyelle and what you thought about her name change. What was the effect of her name change on how she dealt with the problems she faced? Did changing her name really make a difference? Explain how she managed to crash her father's car, and why you think she did it.
  8. Discuss the characters of Rhonda and Tyrone. Discuss how they manage to control their emotions, as well as their reactions to those feelings, in spite of the intensity of the feelings they have for each other.
  9. In Chapter Fourteen of Darkness Before Dawn, the kids are at Rhonda's house doing homework on poetry. Analyze the poem at the very end of the book. How is it effective for the message Keisha wants to give?
  10. Keisha is searching for "a real man-someone who is mature and sophisticated" throughout the story. What qualities are found in "a real man?" Discuss each of the male characters in the story (include students as well as adults) and tell how they fit your qualifications.
  11. Keisha says at the end of Darkness Before Dawn, "We, the members of this graduating class, are joined together forever in a circle or friendship and memories. Because of our unusual difficulties, we have become stronger. Our shared tears have become the glue that has bound us together in love." Explain what she means. How are difficulties in life sometimes useful for make people grow closer together?
  12. Explain the title of the novel. What was the "darkness?" in the lives of not just Keisha, but all of the characters? Why did it have to come before the "dawn" in their lives? How would you describe the "dawn?" Explain how the title might apply to a real life situation.
Suggested Activities:
  1. You are a reporter at one of the following scenes. Write a story for your newspaper.
    • The first day of school in any American high school
    • Graduation day in any American high school
  2. In diary form, write the life of Edna for several months. Include details about how she managed to live her life.
  3. Friendship is extremely important in Darkness Before Dawn. Discuss the friendships of the following people:
    • Keisha and Rhonda
    • Joyelle and Angel
    • Leon and Keisha
    • Jalani and Gerald
    • Monty and Keisha
    • Jalani and Rhonda
  4. Write a magazine article about Jalani. Include her life in Africa, her relationship with her parents and her new step mother, the death of her mother, and her relationship with her new friends. Include drawings of Jalani's clothing designs if you like.
  5. Write a biography of Jonathan Hathaway, focusing on his childhood. Include details about his mother, his father, and his thoughts while growing up.
  6. Write a letter to one of the characters in the book and explain your feelings about the events in the story. What advice would you give and why?
Summarize their discussion, then write a poem about some aspect of one of the three books.
WRITING ACTIVITIES
1. POINT OF VIEW PAPER

" "But I found one woman who made a difference, at least for a little while," I told her. "Who? A queen?" "Not really. Her name was Boudica. She was a princess of . . . let's see what it says here. . . some tribe called the Iceni, way back in 61 AD. "Too long ago for me to care," Jalani said. "No, this woman was really pretty cool," I tried to explain. "Even though her mama was stupid enough to give her a dumb name like Boudica!" We both laughed. "Hey, what's up, my name is Boudica!" Jalani couldn't stop laughing. "She sure wouldn't have made it in our school," I agreed, giggling at the image of a girl having to live with a name like that. "Anyway, she had long flowing, red hair, down to her knees, with a deep voice and a huge body. She was over six feet tall and could beat up a man!" "With a name like Boudica, she probably had to beat up everybody!" Jalani still couldn't stop laughing. "She was a woman who could kick some butt if she really had to. And she had to." "What happened?" Jalani asked, intrigued, wiping her eyes. "When the Romans came to England to take over her people, they took her captive, beat her up, and raped her two daughters." "Raped?" "Yeah. Raped." I shuddered. Our laughter had died suddenly. "Anyway, when they released the women, Boudica was so angry that she went around the countryside, gathered up both men and women, and formed a little army all her own." "You go, girl," Jalani said. "So did she chase the Romans out?" I sighed. "She killed hundreds of them!" Me and Jalani smacked hands in a high-five to celebrate Boudica's brief victory. "The fight lasted for almost a year, it says here. Then the Romans, of course, killed her." "Of course." Jalani sighed. "But for one brief moment in history, she showed the men what power really was," I said proudly. "Is that who you're doing your report on?" asked Jalani. "Yeah, there's no other woman who stands out like that for several centuries." "I'm sure they existed. But nobody wrote about them in the books." "Because the writers were all men!" "

Read the passage above and explain how point of view makes a difference. How might this warrior queen be described by a male reader? Why is it less common to find examples of powerful women in history? How would this book be different if it were told from Jonathan's point of view?

2. DESCRIPTIVE PAPER

" When the lift dropped us off at the top of the slopes, the view was breathtaking. It looked like one of those paint-by-number pictures that I used to do when I was ten years old. Bright, clean snow covered the world--it looked like tons of spilled sugar. The pine trees decorated the scene with green. I breathed deeply of the cold, fresh air. It was the first time in several months that I had felt truly free."

Using the passage above as a guide, write a descriptive paper that uses sensory imagery. Use vivid verbs and powerful adjectives and adverbs as you write. Use as many of the senses as you can--sight, sound, smell, touch, taste--as well as deep, rich colors.

3. NARRATIVE PAPER

" Like silent trumpets, the lights of the auditorium suddenly blaze. We seniors cheer, the audience stands and applauds, and then we hear the tinny sound of "Pomp and Circumstance" coming from the school orchestra sitting down front. I always cry when I hear that song. As we march proudly down the aisle in the procession, excited parents flashing cameras and waving with joy, I think back to my first day of school as a kindergartner, how scared I was, and how a skinny little boy named Andy Jackson shared his peanut butter sandwich with me. I think about grade school and long division, of junior high and locker partners, of high school and basketball games, and of hospitals and funerals."

Write a narrative paper about memories of years gone by. Your reader should be able to picture the scene.

4. EXPOSITORY PAPER

"Now I'm a good skier, but this was my first time this winter, so I started on the gentler slopes. The air bit my face like tiny knives. I hated to admit it, but my mother, as usual, was right. I took Monty down a small hill, called Little Bluff, and even though it was his first time on the slopes, he did well and didn't fall once. The expression on his face as he reached the bottom of the hill was worth effort of getting him ready to do it. He was exultant. "Let's do it again!" he cried. So we took the lift back up. That's when BJ offered to take him down another, bigger hill, so Monty left me in an instant, excitedly following BJ. I smiled as I watched him go. It was good to see him happy. I saw Leon in the distance, and noticed he was heading my way, but just then, Jonathan skillfully skied over to where I stood. "Race you down!" he challenged, and I forgot all about Leon for the moment. "You're on!" I answered Jonathan as I took off. He barely had time to put on his goggles before I had left him in a swirl of snow. He laughed as he took off behind me, easily catching and passing me. "Good thing this was Little Bluff," I gasped. "I would have left you like yesterday's snowman. Read the passage above. Write an expository (explanatory) paper on how to ski, or a paper on skiing in the Olympics. You will have to use the library or the internet to get this information.

5. CONVERSATION/DIALOGUE

" The old woman looked up suddenly. "My name's not 'Ma'am.' It's Edna." She chuckled. "Ain't that an ugly name?" "I think it's a nice name," Jalani said. She handed the whole bowl of soup in the plastic container to Edna, who gulped it greedily. She had no need of a spoon--she was very hungry. "What's your name, honey?" Edna asked Jalani as she finished off the soup. "Jalani." "Now that's a pretty name!" Edna declared. "A nice African name! I like that! And you're a pretty girl to match it." Jalani smiled shyly. "And what your name, chile?" she asked me. "I never said you was ugly, now. Don't go getting' mad at old Edna." I smiled and told her my name. "Keisha? What kind of name is that? Sounds like a sneeze!" She wiped her mouth on her coat sleeve and laughed at her own joke. I smiled, but I said nothing. "Do you have someplace to go, Edna?" Jalani asked. "Sure, chile. Don't you worry none about me. I'm heading down to the shelter for the night. I'll be fine. Specially now that I had that soup. The food they give us down there is clean and good, but it's made from what I called recycled leftovers, if you know what I mean. Nothing wrong with it; it just ain't fine cuisine, if you know what I mean. Not rich and fine like your homemade soup! I'll sleep good tonight, thanks to you!" Jalani started to cry. "I wish I could help you," she mumbled helplessly. "Now, child, ain't nobody cried about me in a hundred years or so. So don't start now. I like my life. I got no bills, no obligations, no worries. I got friends here on the streets and a warm place to sleep on these winter nights. And every once in a while, I meet a couple of kids like you that lets me know the world is gonna be OK. Now get on inside out of this cold. Both o' you! You done a good thing today. And that's just 'bout good enough!"

Using the passage above as a guide, write a conversation between an older person and a teenager, or a person with a dialect and a teenager. Make sure the personality of the two speakers is clear in your dialogue.

6. PERSUASIVE PAPER

""Where have you been, young lady?" my mother demanded. "At the art museum. Honest! What's the big deal?" I'd never spoken to Mom like that before. Either the coffee or the kiss had made me bolder than usual. "Don't you speak to me in that tone of voice," Mom warned. "Why didn't you call me?" "I left you a note." I was angry. "I've been home for three hours!" my mother continued. "The art museum closed at five. Did you go to the library?" I started to lie, but decided not to, even though I knew the truth would get me in trouble. I felt rebellious, and my uneasiness about Jonathan made me turn my fears into words that I shot like bullets at my mother. "I went to a coffee shop by the University. And then I stopped by Eden Park." "A coffee shop? That's not your usual hangout." I could tell Mom didn't like the tone of voice that I was using. "Who did you go with? Rhonda?" "No." I was silent for a moment. "I went with Jonathan Hathaway," I said finally. It made me feel good to see the anger and disapproval on Mom's face. Now it was her turn to be silent. "Explain," she finally said. He voice was sharp like a razor. She was really pissed. I looked at my mother, but didn't answer right away. I took off my coat and hung it up in the closet. While my back was turned, I wiped my lips with my gloves--just to make sure I didn't have any smeared lipstick to make this situation worse."

Read the passage above, then write a persuasive paper that includes an introduction, three support paragraphs, and a conclusion. You can use one of the ideas below, or you can choose your own:
  • "Three problems caused by lack of good judgment."
  • "Three issues that cause arguments between parents and teenagers."
  • "Three things I wish parents understood."
7. CHARACTER SKETCH

Write a character sketch of Keisha-what made her unique-her personality, her strengths and weaknesses, her ability to overcome serious obstacles. Use specifics from the book to illustrate your points.

8. POETRY

Write a poem about one of the following topics, or choose a topic of your own that deals with the ideas in the book.
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness
  • Confusion
  • Sorrow
  • Pain
  • Loss
  • Hope

The Hazelwood Trilogy


Tears of a Tiger

Forged by Fire

Darkness Before Dawn