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They Come in All Colors

Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for They Come in All Colors includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

    Introduction

    The year was 1964. As Freedom Riders brought protests to the quiet farming town of Akersburg, Georgia, eight-year-old Huey Fairchild’s parents assured him of his identity. He was no different from his friends, who were white. Years later, as a student at New York City’s ritzy Claremont Prep, Huey finds that he can no longer deny the truth: he’s part black. As reality for Huey becomes inescapable, so does his anger. But can he heed his estranged father’s advice—That’s the wisdom of the river, Huey. It tells us to bend when there’s no other way—or will he allow his pride to get the better of him?

    Topics and Questions for Discussion

    1. Discuss the structure of the book. What’s the effect of alternating between fifteen-year-old Huey’s current life and that of his eight-year-old self? Did learning about Huey’s past help you better understand his current actions? Did your feelings change about Huey’s attack on Zukowski upon learning why he did it?

    2. Did you find the plot of They Come in All Colors relevant to today’s headlines? If so, how?

    3. How does the incident that transpires between the Freedom Riders and the white townsfolk in front of the S&W reflect the sociopolitical environment of the time period? Consider its impression on young Huey, as well as on the white and black residents of Akersburg.

    4. There are several moments in the story that hint at Huey’s feelings toward his mom. When he was young, he proclaimed: “Mama’s the dark one in this family. Not me. I’m normal, okay?” (p. 69) When he’s a teenager, he forbids his mom from coming within ten blocks of his school. Why is it so important for Huey that his mom blend in? How do you think this affects Mrs. Fairchild?

    5. What does Toby represent for the Fairchild family? What does Toby represent for the black and white residents of Akersburg? Why do you think it was important for him that Huey be more self-aware about his race?

    6. Despite their physical differences, Huey and Zukowski share a lot in common. In fact, it was their similarities that brought them together in the first place. Compare and contrast Huey and Zukowski. How did the incident at the baseball game affect their relationship?

    7. At the core of They Come in All Colors are themes of identity and family. How do the events that transpire in Akersburg affect the Fairchild family—more specifically, the relationship between Huey and his father? Do you think Huey’s anger as a teenager stems from his lack of a father figure?

    8. At Claremont Prep, there are people, such as Mister McGovern and Clyde (the school’s colored janitor), who remind Huey that his presence at the school is unique. Do you think these interactions affect the ways in which Huey measures success?

    9. In what ways does Pea’s character evolve over the course of the book? Consider the way her role as a parent changed from Akersburg to New York City.

    10. Huey’s encounters with Evan—Toby’s son—were often violent. What do you think fueled Evan’s anger toward Huey? Are there any parallels between Evan’s actions toward Huey and Huey’s actions toward Zukowski?

    11. Do you think Huey’s parents did the right thing by keeping him in the dark about his biracial identity? Why or why not? How did his parents’ decision shape his transition into adulthood?

    12. On page 244, Huey recounts to his parents what happened at school: he was outed by his classmates for being black. He also reveals the accusations against his father—that he was the one who circulated the story of a break-in at Mr. Abrams’s pool. Describe the significance of this scene and its effect on everything thereafter. How do the revelations impact the family’s ability to move on?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. They Come in All Colors has been compared to The Secret Life of Bees and The White Boy Shuffle. Read these titles with your book club and compare them to They Come in All Colors. Are there any similar themes? In what ways do you think these books are alike?

    2. Have an open and honest conversation about race and identity with members of your book club and/or at home with your family and friends.

    3. To learn more about Malcolm Hansen and read reviews of They Come in All Colors, become a fan of his Simon & Schuster author page at http://www.simonandschuster.biz/authors/Malcolm-Hansen/2134092647.

About the Author

Malcolm Hansen
Photograph by Maja Bergman

Malcolm Hansen

Malcolm Hansen was born at the Florence Crittenton Home for unwed mothers in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Adopted by two Civil Rights activists, he grew up in Morocco, Spain, Germany, and various parts of the United States. Malcolm left home as a teenager and, after two years of high school education, went to Stanford, earning a BA in philosophy. He worked for a few years in the software industry in California before setting off for what turned out to be a decade of living, working, and traveling throughout Central America, South America, and Europe. Malcolm returned to the US to complete an MFA in Fiction at Columbia University. He currently lives in New York City with his wife and two sons.

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