Arielle Gresham, disliked and mistrusted by most of the students at her school, has a secret past, an unbelievably complicated present, and a shaky future. But no one knows or cares because she has managed to alienate anyone who could help her. She tries to cope with problems at school, but difficulties at home almost break her spirit.
As the school tries to deal with an outbreak of false fire alarms, a series of thefts, a student addicted to prescriptions drugs, and another who is a victim on vicious online bullying, Arielle finds that outward appearances are seldom what they seem to be.
A hero is needed--maybe several heroes to solve the various problems that emerge.
What makes a hero? We find out as the novel builds to a powerful, explosive conclusion.
Discussion Topics for JUST ANOTHER HERO
- The novel opens with a scene of violence--cruel mistreatment of a weaker student by a group of bullies. How does this help capture the reader's attention? What predictions can the reader make about Arielle and Osrick? Compare those predictions to what really happens at the end of the novel.
- Why doesn't Arielle report the abuse of Osrick? What would you have done in the same situation?
- Arielle seems to be a social outsider as well as Osrick, although she used to hang with all the popular kids in school. What had caused this? How did she feel about it? What do you think could be done about the situation?
- Describe Arielle's home life. Compare the outward luxury of her home with the inner tensions. How does she feel about her stepfather? How does she feel about her mother's relationship with Chad?
- Chad is exerts extreme control over Arielle and her mother. Do you consider him to be abusive? Where do you draw the line between control and abuse? Would you be willing to live in such a household if you were given a large allowance and a lovely home?
- How did Kofi get addicted to prescription pain pills? How realistic is his addiction? How does his home life contribute to his stress? Describe his relationship with his parents.
- Describe Mrs. Witherspoon. What makes her a great teacher?
- Why does the return of Eddie upset Dana? How does Kofi respond and why? What predictions can you make about Eddie, Kofi, and Dana?
- The school is plagued by someone who keeps pulling the fire alarm as well as a thief. What indications are given that the same person is responsible for both?
- Why is Arielle so upset about the theft of her iPhone? How does the loss of the phone help her re-gain some friendships?
- How is Eddie able to convince the younger boys that juvenile detention was pleasant? Why do you think they believed him? What is Kofi's response?
- Because of the damage to her car, Arielle's mother is devastated. What does this tell you about her relationship with her husband? Chad places Arielle's mom on punishment. Discuss your feelings about one adult placing another adult on punishment.
- Describe the relationship between Dana and Kofi. How does she react to his drug use, his college plans, and his family situation? What might have been Kofi's future without Dana in his life?
- How successful is November's re-integration into high school life? What difficulties and challenges does she face?
- Describe what Chad did to the house Arielle lived in. How did it make you feel? How does she react? How would you react to such a thing?
- As she adjusts to living in a homeless shelter, how has Arielle changed, both personally and socially, from the beginning of the book to this point?
- How is Osrick able to figure out who the thief is? How do he and Arielle work together? Why doesn't he trust her to tell her everything he knows?
- Describe the scene with the blue light. Who do you suspect to be the thief at the beginning of the scene? How surprising is it when the real thief is revealed? What connection do you predict between the thief and the person who is pulling the fire alarm?
- Describe the events upstairs in the classroom during the shooting and compare the events downstairs as people watch and worry and speculate. Why are both points of view necessary?
- Describe the heroic events in the final confrontation with Jack. Do you consider Eddie to be a hero? Explain why or why not. Can a negative character be considered a hero? Explain.
Activities and Research
- You are a reporter at one of the following scenes. Write the story for your newspaper.
- The gunshots at Douglas High School
- The arrest of a teacher at Douglas High School
- The police and fire response as a result of school violence
- The gathering of newspaper reporters and what they say during an emergency
- Investigate the problems of prescription drug abuse, especially among high school students. Find out statistics as well as possible solutions for help.
- Research current laws and punishments for pulling a fire alarm at school or bringing a gun to school.
- Research current treatment options for young people like Jack. What punishment might Jack receive considering his physical and mental state?
- The bullies make a video of their mistreatment of Osrick on a cell phone, which is later posted on a social networking site. Discuss the implications of these kinds of events, and the short-term, as well as long-range results. How does it affect the victim socially, emotionally, and personally? What effect, if any, do such things have on a school community?
- 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 Arielle, Osrick or Kofi, or Jack?
- Describe the relationship between the friends in the book. Is friendship enough when situations become monumental and overwhelming to young people? Explain.
- Imagine it is six weeks after the end of the novel. Write a letter or create a conversation between one of the following pairs of characters:
- Jericho to Olivia
- Arielle to Brandon
- Kofi to his parents
- Arielle to Chad
- Osrick to Arielle
- Trace the story of one of the following characters. Imagine you are a reporter doing a story on one of their lives. Write everything you know, as well as whatever you can infer about the character in order to write your magazine article.
- Write a paper that discusses the effects of guns and violence in a high school setting. You might discuss causes, effects, and possible solutions. Show the results of the effects on students, but personally, socially, and academically.
Read the quotes, then write the essay that follows.
- COMPARISON/CONTRAST PAPER
(a) "Mrs. Witherspoon, a petite woman with curly blonde hair, boundless energy, and really cool tech toys in her classroom, greeted everybody as they came in. She seemed to know something about the lives of every single student. . . They were reading Beowulf, so Mrs. Witherspoon showed two video clips-one from the preview of the movie, and one from a cartoon about the monster, Grendel. Then she popped up a chart that talked about heroes and monsters and good versus evil, and brought up a website that told about Anglo-Saxon history-all in a twenty-minute span. Kofi loved the dazzle and techno-coolness of this class. Nobody ever went to sleep in Spoon's class."
(b) Miss Pringle wore an oversized sweatshirt with pockets, baggy slacks, and a hideous pair of earth shoes. Arielle looked at Miss Pringle and sketched a pencil drawing of her on a blank notebook page-with arms like those bendy straws that little kids use and pencil-thin hair. . . . She began what had become a daily pattern of locking and unlocking that back door a dozen times in five minutes. Get out test tubes. Lock. Unlock. Bring out nitric acid. Lock. Unlock. Carry out five beakers. Lock. Unlock. All the while yap, yap, yapping about measurement and chemicals and formulas."
Compare and/or contrast the characters of the two teachers, Mrs. Witherspoon and Miss Pringle. Discuss their effectiveness at teaching their subjects, as well as how they relate to students. Use specific examples from the book to support your statements.
- DESCRIPTIVE PAPER
"The classroom windows--dull, yellowed, and streaked. The stacks of chemistry books on the floor-covers curled at the edges. The computers--humming and glowing with fuzzy printed text. A wastebasket--overflowing with paper and chip wrappers and dirty Kleenex. The sharp smell of orange peels and spilled chocolate milk-more trash. Desks-scuffed, scratched, and bent, never quite balanced on all four legs. The late winter sun-dull gold, trapped outside the locked windows. The painted concrete floor-criss-crossed with the shadows of dusty footprints. The periodic chart of the elements-creased, ripped, and memorized."
Write a descriptive paper that uses sensory imagery. Describe a specific scene and bring it to life with your words. 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)
- "Eddie carried a freshly-sharpened yellow pencil in each hand. He didn't look scared. He took two steps forward.
"Don't move!" Jack warned, aiming at Eddie.
"You are the king of everything, Jack," Eddie said. He took two more steps. His voice was quiet, yet still had that gravelly quality. "I like your noise."
Jack cocked his head. "Yeah," he said. "Noise."
Eddie took one more slow, deliberate step. "Drums are my favorite," Eddie drawled.
"Drums." Jack repeated. He seemed mesmerized.
Eddie took the two pencils and began to play a rhythm on the back of the desk closest to him. "Flamadiddle, paradiddle, double-stroke, roll," Eddie chanted as he bopped the pencils. "Ratamacooey, ratamacooey, rimshot, bop!"
"You're good," Jack said. He blinked rapidly. "Where'd you learn percussion?"
"I used to be in a band," Eddie said, his voice even and slow. He never stopped his rhythmic tapping with the pencils."
Write a narrative paper from the point of view of Eddie Tell what kind of life he must have lived to become the person that he is. Describe possible difficulties he might have had to over come, or hidden strengths he might have.
- EXPOSITORY PAPER
(a) "Her room was any girl's dream-thick, rose-colored carpet, and a lighter pink paper on the walls. Her queen-sized bed was covered with a soft down pillows and comforters, and on her desk sat a television, a computer, a video game player, and dozens of CDs and DVDs. She glanced out through the dotted-Swiss pink curtains to see her mother drive away in the Mercedes that Chad had given her for Christmas...
(b) Startled by loud coughing coming from across the room, Arielle woke up stiff and confused. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light in the room, she remembered where she was. On a thin mattress. Under a thinner blanket that smelled of Clorox. Close to her mother who slept in the bed beside her. At the Hillside Valley Shelter on Vine Street. She had seen no hillsides and no valleys since she and her mother had arrived three days ago. Only cement sidewalks. Outside, cars zoomed past, music from the apartments nearby played loudly, and police sirens shrieked most of the night."
Write an expository (explanatory) paper that describes your room, any room in your house, your home, your neighborhood your school, or an area in your neighborhood. Use as many specifics as possible.
- PERSUASIVE PAPER
"Arielle could hear Miss Singletary still speaking with excitement about the day's incidents. Arielle caught the names of Jack, Eddie, Kofi, and Jericho as she slowed to listen to the woman. "So what makes a hero, and who is the hero of the day?" the woman was asking the audience on the other side of the camera she faced. . . Arielle breathed deeply of the spring air that promised flowers as well as rain. She ducked under a ribbon of crime scene tape, sprinted toward the parking lot, then whispered the answer to the reporter's question into the soft breeze."
Write a persuasive paper that answers the following question: "What makes a hero?" Be sure to use specifics to support your answer.
- POINT OF VIEW PAPER
" Arielle tiptoed closer to the door.
Chad said suddenly, "You should have met my father."
"You hardly talk about your dad."
"Army general. Tough. Hard. Proud. I felt his iron fist many nights." Chad's voice sounded tight and tense.
I bet his dad was a real piece of work! Arielle thought, shaking her head.
"That must have been rough for you as a kid," Michelle said gently. "But surely he had a soft side, too."
Yeah, right--Chad the huggable baby. Hah!
"Heroes don't hug."
Good one, Mom!
"Perhaps. But fathers do not."
"Oh Chad, in some ways I feel sorry for both of you."
"I don't need your sympathy, Michelle."
Then her mother asked, "Do you think Arielle is as strong as you were as a child?"
Arielle leaned forward to hear better.
"Arielle? She's a puff of smoke."
So that's what he thinks of me? Not that she was surprised, but it still hurt to hear him talk about her like that.
"If that's true, do you think maybe you're too hard on her?"
Good lookin' out, Mom!
"She needs discipline."
"Give her a chance, Chad. She's just a kid."
"By the time I was her age, I had a straight A average and I'd been accepted at West Point."
"She's not you."
Read the passage above and explain how the point of view of the character who makes the observation influences the description. Discuss Arielle's point of view, her mother's point of view, and Chad's as well.
Write a poem about one of the following topics:
- The Hidden Hero
- Guns and Violence
- The Need for Friends
- Fear and Destruction
- CHARACTER SKETCH PAPER
"As she turned back around she saw Jack Krasinski on the other side of the room and instantly grinned. Kids called him Crazy Jack, and he loved it, even encouraged it. Tall and skinny and generally liked by everybody, Jack always wore bright, showy colors-like green neon shirts and red plaid pants. When Osrick dressed in wacky clothes, students laughed and made fun of him, but if Jack decided to wear pajamas to school, Arielle noticed, everybody thought it was really cool. She wondered why Jack could get away with it, but Osrick couldn't. Jack played in the school band-cymbals and drums-instruments that made maximum noise. The louder the better. Jack had once told her the racket made the voices in his head get quiet. She had no idea what he'd been talking about."
Write a character sketch of a strong powerful or unusual person--a friend, a relative, a family member. Use strong verbs and adjectives, as well as sensory imagery.
- PERSONAL ESSAY
" The pretty pink carpet remained, as well as the indentations where the bed and the chest of drawers had once stood. But Arielle's room, like the rest of the house, was completely bare. A few hangers dangled in the empty closet. Everything else was gone. . . . Arielle sniffed and said, "Can I borrow a tissue? He probably took the Kleenex box, too. With trembling fingers, Arielle punched in the number of her mother's job at the Delta desk. "Mom?" she cried. "You gotta come home--now. Chad took everything." She paused, listening to her mother's outcry. "Mom, he took every belt and bottle. My clothes, even my underwear. My books and pictures. All your stuff, too. The furniture. The food. Gone. Please hurry. I'm scared. . . .Kofi glanced into the empty hall and peeked into a couple of the other rooms. All were slick and bare. And Arielle was right. Even the toilet paper was gone.
Write a personal essay that describes a special memory or object. Or on a particular loss in your life. Explain why it is meaningful to you. Be sure to include sensory imagery--sights, smells, touches, tastes, sounds.
- LITERARY ANALYSIS PAPER
"The monster knew at once that nowhere on earth
Had he met a man whose hands were stronger.
The monster's mind was filled with fear . . .
Horrible shrieks of pain and defeat,
Tears torn out of Grendel's monstrous throat,
Caught in the arms of the one man
Who of all men on earth was the strongest."
The passage above comes from the ancient story called Beowulf. The teacher in Just Another Hero uses this passage as she discusses the subject of heroism in class. Write what you think the author was saying in this passage about good and evil and how the lines in this quote apply to the themes of the novel.