Forged by
Fire

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Intro, Summary & General Questions

Summary:
As a teenager, Gerald finds success as a member of the Hazelwood Tigers basketball team, while Angel develops her talents as a dancer. Trouble still haunts them, however, and Gerald learns, painfully, that young friends can die and old enemies must be faced. In the end he must stand up to his stepfather alone in a blazing confrontation.

Sharon M. Draper has interwoven characters and events from her previous novel, Tears of a Tiger, in this unflinchingly realistic portrayal of poverty and child abuse. It is an inspiring story of a young man who rises above the tragic circumstances of his life by drawing on the love and strength of family and friends.

The Hazelwood Trilogy


Tears of a Tiger

Forged by Fire

Darkness Before Dawn

Introduction:

When Gerald was a child he was fascinated by fire. But fire is dangerous and powerful, and tragedy strikes. His substance-addicted mother is taken from him. Then he loses the loving generosity of a favorite aunt. A brutal stepfather with a flaming temper and an evil secret makes his life miserable. The one bright light in Gerald's life is his little half sister, Angel, whom he struggles to protect from her father, Jordan Sparks, who abuses her, and from their mother, whose irresponsible behavior forces Gerald to work hard to keep the family together.

General Questions:

1. Were you ever abused as a child?
No. I had a very happy childhood. But I've known lots of young people who have suffered from abuse, and my heart goes out to them.

2. Why did you create the character of Angel?
I wanted a character who was sweet and lovable and painfully vulnerable. That's why I named her Angel.

3. Why is Jordan Sparks so mean?
He is the antagonist, the man who causes all the pain and trauma for Gerald and Angel. Perhaps he had an unhappy childhood himself. Often a person who is abused as a child grows up to be an abuser when he is an adult.

3. Forged by Fire includes contact information for the National Child Abuse Hotline and the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Do you think your books have helped people grapple with such problems as abuse and violence? Can you give an example?
I have received many letters from young people who have thanked me for those phone numbers at the back. One girl wrote, "I called that number and it saved my life." It still give me chill bumps. Another wrote, "Because I called that number, I am smiling for the first time in ten years. He is gone." She didn't tell me who-I can only imagine.

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Reviews & Rewards

Reviews:
When Gerald was a child he was fascinated by fire. But fire is dangerous and powerful, and tragedy strikes. His substance-addicted mother is taken from him. Then he loses the loving generosity of a favorite aunt. A brutal stepfather with a flaming temper and an evil secret makes his life miserable.. The one bright light in Gerald's life is his little half sister, Angel, whom he struggles to protect from her father, Jordan Sparks, who abuses her, and from their mother, whose irresponsible behavior forces Gerald to work hard to keep the family together.

As a teenager, Gerald finds success as a member of the Hazelwood Tigers basketball team, while Angel develops her talents as a dancer. Trouble still haunts them, however, and Gerald learns, painfully, that young friends can die and old enemies must be faced. In the end he must stand up to his stepfather alone in a blazing confrontation.

Sharon M. Draper has interwoven characters and events from her previous novel, Tears of a Tiger, in this unflinchingly realistic portrayal of poverty and child abuse. It is an inspiring story of a young man who rises above the tragic circumstances of his life by drawing on the love and strength of family and friends.

From School Library Journal: The riveting first chapter was originally published as a short story in Ebony magazine under the title " One Small Touch". Forged by Fire is a grim look at an inner-city home where abuse and addiction are a way of life and the children are the victims. There's no all's well ending, but readers will have hope for Gerald and Angel, who have survived a number of gut-wrenching ordeals by relying on their constant love and caring for one another.

From Susie Wilde - Children's Literature: It was a big year for Sharon M. Draper who won the Coretta Scott King novel award and was also named the 1997 National Teacher of the Year. The book serves as testimony to her commitment to honestly revealing what she sees in classrooms. It is the story of Gerald who in early life almost dies in a fire when his abusive mother deserts him to search for drugs. Until he's nine, he thrives when his tough and loving Aunt Queen takes hold of him. But at nine his mom's back with an abusive husband and a small sister who he's determined to protect. His reliance and courage gives witness to the spirit of the suffering young.

Awards:
  • 1998 Coretta Scott King Award
  • 1998--ALA BEST Book Award
  • 1998--Parent's Choice Award
  • 1998--ALA Quick Piks Award
  • Best Books for the Teen Age--1998--New York City Library
  • Young Hoosier Book Award--2001

The Hazelwood Trilogy


Tears of a Tiger

Forged by Fire

Darkness Before Dawn

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Forged by Fire
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Study Guides

Discussion Guide

  1. The first chapter of Forged by Fire was originally written and published as a short story. What elements enable this chapter to stand alone as a complete story? What elements in the story become thematically developed themes in the novel?
  2. What is the effect of seeing the events of chapter one develop through the eyes of a child? How does this method of telling the story affect the reader's response?
  3. At the end of chapter one, what assumptions or predictions might be made about Gerald? His future? His mother?
  4. Would those predictions be the same if chapter one is read only as a short story that ends with Gerald, curled up behind the sofa, and seeing "colors with his eyes closed?"
  5. Discuss the use of color and music as images in the story.
  6. How is music laced into the lives of Gerald and Angel, and how does music allow Angel moments of release from her pain?
  7. Many young people live in homes where abuse is a secret, silent pain. Discuss how realistic the lives of Gerald and Angel are portrayed and how they can become a voice for young readers who are afraid to speak out.
  8. Discuss the socio-economic level at which the family lives. Discuss abuse as a family problem, not merely as a problem of a certain level of society.
  9. How might the story have included a broader base of society to demonstrate that the problem of abuse is found in all social and economic levels?
  10. How are Gerald and Angel like many young people today? How are they different? What strengths are found in them that help them to survive the situation in which they live?
  11. Describe the relationship between the friends in the book. Discuss whether you think friendship is enough when situations become monumental and overwhelming to young people.
  12. Gerald's mother Monique had numerous problems. She loved him, but seemed to be consumed with the problems in her own life. Why was Monique not willing or able to see Jordan's abuse of Angel? How realistic do you think Monique's reaction is?
  13. Monique is abused as well--physically and emotionally. What do you think is the relationship between domestic violence and child abuse? Why do you think this relationship exists?
  14. How can families learn to cope effectively with tragedy, pain, and difficulties? When is it necessary to seek assistance from someone from outside the family?
  15. Why did Angel let Jordan's abuse continue? Why didn't she tell? What effect did Jordan's abuse have on Angel's life? What long-range effects might develop?
  16. What are the problems created by discussing the problem of physical and sexual abuse in a novel for young adults? What positive influences can result from a discussion of these problems?
  17. Discuss the character of Jordan Sparks. Does he have any redeeming qualities or is he purely a negative character? What might have made Jordan the person he is?
  18. Discuss the character of Aunt Queen. What are her limitations? What are her strengths? How does the memory of the strength of Aunt Queen affect and influence the rest of Gerald's life?
  19. Discuss the character of Angel. What are her strengths? What does Angel's love of ballet reflect about her life, her pain, and her personality?
  20. How does the death of Robert Washington affect Gerald and Angel? What advantages did Robbie have that Gerald wished for?
  21. Describe the gradual buildup to the final confrontation between Jordan and Gerald. What makes this confrontation inevitable?
  22. Explain how is fire an important image in the novel, starting with the first chapter and ending with the concluding action between Jordan and Gerald. How is fire an image of pain as well as release for Gerald and Angel?
  23. Discuss the death of Jordan and whether it was necessary for him to die.
  24. Why is dancing an easy way to explain complicated feelings? How can self-expression be used as a tool for helping or healing?
  25. Explain the title of the novel. Define the word "forged." Why does the title have one than one possible interpretation?
Activities and Research
  1. You are a reporter at one of the following scenes. Write the story for your newspaper.
    • the fire at Gerald's apartment at the beginning of the book
    • the fire at Gerald's apartment at the end of the book
  2. Investigate child abuse and/or domestic violence. Call the phone numbers at the back of the book and ask where would be the best place to go to get written information. (Do not tie up their lines--they are for people in crisis.) Find out how best you can help in your community.
  3. Investigate the recent laws concerning those who are convicted of child abuse or domestic violence. What is the usual punishment? Is Jordan's punishment realistic or not true in many states? What do you think should be the punishment for adults convicted of child abuse?
  4. Create a conversation between Aunt Queen and Gerald, or Aunt Queen and Angel. What do you think she would say to them at the height of their problems with Jordan and Monique? What do you think she would say to them at the end of the book?
  5. Write a letter to one of the characters in the book explaining your feelings about the events in the story. What advice would you give Angel, or Gerald, or Monique, or Jordan?
WRITING ACTIVITIES
1. POINT OF VIEW PAPER

" Gerald liked to pretend he was driving a big, fine silver car down the expressway. Sometimes the cart would be a tank, as he passed cautiously through rows of armed cling peaches and silent sentinels that looked like boxes of frosted flakes. And at the checkout lane, the armies rolled smoothly down the long black road that disappeared under the counter. He started to ask Mama where it went, but it was more fun to imagine that it went to a secret hideout where only sweet potatoes and boxes of oatmeal were allowed."

Read the quote above and explain how the point of view of the character who makes the observation influences the description. How would this be described differently if the character was not three years old? Explain how point of view makes a difference in the description of a scene. Use other examples from the book to support your statements.

2. DESCRIPTIVE PAPER

"After numerous flicks, he got the fire to stay on. He grinned with delight. The dancer was there, smiling at him and bowing for him, changing from splendid orange to icy green to iridescent purple. The lighter flame flickered magically, making golden the purple shadows on the wall. With sudden inspiration, Gerald shouted, 'Hey Joe, we got a torch!' as he and GI Joe marched around the kitchen table. Gerald crawled under the table then, flicking the lighter over and over again to light the way for GI Joe. They fought shadows and monsters; they blew up cities and kingdoms."

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

" One afternoon, when Aunt Queen was taking a nap, Gerald quietly took the go-cart to that driveway, got on, and rolled cautiously down the big hill. He had used his feet to stop himself every few yards, so it didn't go very fast that first trip. The second time, he only used his feet once or twice, and then it was just to slow himself down when he reached the curb leading into the street. By the fourth or fifth trip, he had increased both his confidence and his speed. He even gave himself a little boost with his feet before he tucked them on the piece of wood that was his rudder, so he sped down the hill this time like one of those bobsledders that he'd seen on TV in the Olympics. Just as he got to the curb, he turned the rudder slightly, rolled to the left, and slowed to a halt by bumping into one of the garbage cans sitting at the curb.

"This is awesome!" he said to himself. "One more time!"

On that last trip, he had given himself a really big boost, to get the most speed possible, and he felt like he was flying. When he had almost reached the bottom of the hill, he turned the rudder to slow himself, but instead of slowing his progress, the rudder came off! Still going full speed, and almost to the street, Gerald could see a long black Cadillac approaching from the left and a dirty green Ford coming from the right. He rolled off the go-cart and into the garbage cans, knocking them over with a terrible commotion. The go-cart sped into the street, and was first crushed by the Cadillac, then demolished entirely by the Ford, which blared its horn loudly and screeched to a stop."

Write a narrative paper about something interesting or exciting or dangerous that happened in your life, or you can invent an adventure. Your reader should be able to picture the scene.

4. EXPOSITORY PAPER

A. "She had given him permission to take the old wheelchair apart, and he had made something that he had called his go-cart. It was lopsided, but it rolled, and when he was in it, he felt like he was king of the world. He had begun it in the basement, but it was cold down there, and there was not much room, so he brought it out to the back porch, and every day after school, he hammered and nailed and pounded on it, making it the "ultimate racing machine." B. "BJ removed his book bag, slowly turned around, and whipped his short, wiry frame around to face the much larger boy. Danté started to laugh as BJ crouched in a karate attack position, but his laughter stopped short as he found himself sitting on the floor in the main hallway, a calm and smiling BJ offering his hand to help him up.

"How'd you do that, man?" asked Danté, who was more amazed than angry.

"Black Belt. Master Kim. Tae Kwan Do. Paid for by my mama and my greasy granny," he added. "Ever need me to watch your back, call me." BJ had disappeared into the crowd. Danté just shook his head and chuckled at the nerve of the tough little guy with the powerful whip kick. He never bothered BJ again.

Chose one of the passages above. Write an expository (explanatory) paper on how to make a go-cart OR the basics of Tae Kwan Do. You will have to use the library or the internet to get this information.

5. CONVERSATION/DIALOGUE

" Gerald sighed, and with shoulders stooped, followed Monique to the telephone. He didn't care about anything anymore. He and Angel stood there, listening to Monique's side of the conversation.

"Yes, but . . . ."

"I'm sorry . . . ."

"But we talked about . . . ."

"Well, it's not my fault . . . ."

"I'm sorry . . . ."

"How was I supposed to know . . . ."

"But you promised . . . ."

"I'm sorry . . . ."

"Well it's too late now . . . ."

"I'm sorry . . . ."

"It'll be all right, you'll see . . . ."

"I'm sorry . . . ."

She hung up the phone, turned to the children, and smiled brightly. "He's really happy about it, Gerald. Really, he is."

Write the other half of this one-sided conversation, or write a conversation between two people who are having an argument or an uncomfortable discussion. Make sure the personality of the two speakers is clear in your dialogue.

6. PERSUASIVE PAPER

"Gerald sat next to the phone, thinking about how things had gradually changed since last year. Andy was still silly, making yo-yo grades, Rob was still the best on the team, Tyrone spent most of his time with Rhonda, and BJ was still short. But Andy drove to school every day this year. Gerald thought it was odd that of the four of them, Andy had the worst grades, but he was the only one who had been given a car by his folks. Andy's parents rarely came to their games, but Andy always had plenty of money to spend--on food, the latest CD's and beer. Most of the boys --all except BJ--had started drinking. At parties, after games, after school--beer was easy to get and started feeling better than soda pop on a Saturday night. Even Gerald, who had seen up close what a drunken man can do, would split a six-pack with Andy and Rob. It made him feel strong and in charge of his life. He was tired of being scared and depressed and worried all the time. The beer made him forget. He liked that. Rob's dad didn't know and Andy's dad didn't notice, so splitting a few beers after a game had become routine. "They can handle it," Gerald thought to himself. "They probably just found a new place to party tonight. Girls worry too much."

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 teen drinking."
  • "Three issues that lead to teen drinking."
  • "Three things I wish parents understood."


7. CHARACTER SKETCH

Write a character sketch of Gerald-what made him unique-his personality, his strength, his 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
  • Abuse
  • Pain
  • Loss
  • Hope

The Hazelwood Trilogy


Tears of a Tiger

Forged by Fire

Darkness Before Dawn