Ballads of Suburbia

Ballads of Suburbia

For Ages: 14 - 99
Ballads are the kind of songs that Kara McNaughton likes best. Not the clichéd ones where a diva hits her dramatic high note or a rock band tones it down a couple of notches for the ladies, but the true ballads: the punk rocker or the country crooner reminding their listeners of the numerous ways to screw things up. In high school, Kara helped maintain the "Stories of Suburbia" notebook, which contained newspaper articles about bizarre, tragic events from suburbs all over America, and personal vignettes that Kara dubbed "ballads" written by her friends in Oak Park, just outside of Chicago. But Kara never wrote her own ballad. Before she could figure out what her song was about, she left town suddenly at the end of her junior year. Now, four years later, Kara returns to her hometown to face the music, needing to revisit the disastrous events that led to her leaving, in order to move on with her life.

Intensely powerful and utterly engaging, Ballads of Suburbia explores the heartbreaking moments when life changes unexpectedly, and reveals the consequences of being forced to grow up too soon.
  • MTV Books | 
  • 368 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439102824 | 
  • July 2009
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Reading Group Guide

Ballads of Suburbia
Stephanie Kuehnert

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. “The ballad of suburbia: give me loud to drown out the silence,” Kara says as she bonds with Liam over live music. Silence is a major theme in the novel. Discuss the ways in which Kara and her friends cope with the silence. Why is it necessary for them to drown it out?

2. Kara and Maya’s friendship is initially formed because they recognize each other’s punk rock style. Identify some of the other moments where the main characters search for social and cultural markers on the road toward friendship and romantic interests. Do these initial and sometimes superficial connections often lead to lasting relationships? Why or why not?

3. Kara, Wes, and Liam move away from the “safety” of suburbia to heal. After Quentin’s death, Kara says the parents are in “suburban witch-hunt mode.” What does this imply about the conventional ideas about the suburbs? What does this say about the significance of appearances? Are appearances more important to the parents, or their children? In what ways?

4. Maya, Kara, Christian, and Liam all fantasize about escaping to Florida. Figuratively and literally, in what ways do the characters escape? What are they escaping from?

5. Scoville Park becomes everyone’s stomping ground. What does Scoville Park represent? How does the perception of this place evol see more

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About the Author

Stephanie Kuehnert
Photo Credit:

Stephanie Kuehnert

Stephanie Kuehnert got her start writing bad poetry about unrequited love and razor blades in eighth grade. In high school, she discovered punk rock and produced several D.I.Y. feminist zines. She received her MFA in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago and lives in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Ballads of Surburbia and I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone. Learn more at