Three-time Coretta Scott King Award–winner Angela Johnson writes a wrenching, honest book about surviving the unimaginable and finding a way to go on.
Scotty compares herself to tofu: no flavor unless you add something. And it’s true that Scotty’s friends, Misha and Falcone, and her brother, Keone, make life delicious. But when a terrible accident occurs, Scotty feels responsible for the loss of someone she hardly knew, and the world goes wrong. She cannot tell what is a dream and what is real. Her friends are having a hard time getting through to her and her family is preoccupied with their own trauma. But the prospect of a boy, a dance, and the possibility that everything can fall back into place soon help Scotty realize that she is capable of adding her own flavor to life. With artfully spare prose, acclaimed and award-winning author Angela Johnson explores the ramifications of unexpected death in this compelling coming-of-age story.
IN THE FUTURE, WHEN I IMAGINE I MIGHT BE famous or infamous for something I’ve done, I suppose people will ask what it was that brought me to that place. Well, if I’m infamous I will say—no eyewitnesses and a good lawyer. If I’m famous I will say, I guess I just wanted it bad enough. One of these scenarios will probably be true, but more than likely neither will happen.
Most likely I’ll live my life like most people on the planet. Highs, lows, buy some shit, read some books, love some people, try not to eff the world up, and be kind to animals so they won’t eat me, as I’ve chosen to try not to eat them.
But if I’m ever asked if there was a time in my life that made me the person I am, I will point to a certain October that stays with me like a song played over the radio a hundred times at the start of a day. You can’t get it out of your head so all you can do is go through it. I never did finish my book report on Anna Karenina and I went through so much with people I loved and hung out with. I got to see the world through their eyes that certain October, although my own were slightly unfocused.
What would you do if your life drastically changed in an instant? Scotty is a regular teenager, looking forward to the upcoming homecoming dance. Besides the challenges she faces with her developmentally disabled little brother and the antics of her vivacious group of friends, she leads a pretty normal life. Scotty has a very loving family that supports her, despite the fact that they may be a little chaotic at times.
Then, an accidental run-in on a train with a boy from school changes her life forever. With the help of her friends and family, Scotty tries to return to her everyday life after the unexpected death of someone she was just starting to get to know. Can Scotty forgive herself, and persevere through recent traumatic events?
Please use examples from the text to support your answers.
1. Identify the main characters in the story—Scotty, Misha, and Falcone. How are their personalities similar? How are their personalities different? *(R.CCR.1)
2. In Chapter 3, Scotty uses a simile to compare her life to tofu. What does Scotty mean by this simile, and why do you think she chooses tofu? (R.CCR.4)
3. The author leaves the matter of what happened to Scotty’s mother uncertain. What do you think happened? Why do you think the author does this? Who is Laura and what is her relationship like with Scotty? (R.CCR.1)
4. Scotty shares her point of view on many topics throughout the novel. What are her personal views on life, politics, and religion?
5. Evaluate the author’s use of names for characters. (R.CCR.1 or R.CCR.6)
6. What are Falcone’s and Misha’s relationships with Scotty like? How do their relationships shape the theme of friendship? (R.CCR.2)
7. Why is going to the homecoming dance so out of character for Misha? Evaluate what her personality is like and why going to the dance in a dress is unusual for her. (R.CCR.1)
8. Provide examples of figurative language (idioms, similes, and hyperboles) and then determine their meaning. How does the author’s use of figurative language advance the believability of the characters? Use examples of idioms, similes, and hyperboles from the text to support your conclusion. (R.CCR. 4)
9. What is the cumulative impact on the author’s use of syntax, diction, and word choice on the overall tone of the novel? (R.CCR.4)
10. Examine each of the following characters and explain how they interact with one another to advance the plot. How do they relate to Scotty? (R.CCR3) A. Keone B. Gina C. Kris D. Jason E. Laura F. Scotty’s dad
11. Specific race and ethnicities are never mentioned for any of the characters. Why do you think the author chooses to imply it rather than state it directly for each of the characters? What impact does culture have on the novel? (R.CCR.3)
12. In Chapter 7, Falcone is talking to Misha about the upcoming homecoming dance, and he asks, “What happened to everybody going as an intermingled pack?” What does he mean by “intermingled” pack? How are the main characters like an “intermingled pack”? (R.CCR.3)
13. A change in the plot sequence occurs in parts two and three. Why does the author manipulate time? How does the author’s choice to structure the text enhance the drama and/or surprise in the story? (R.CCR.5)
14. Analyze the author’s use of Keone’s cookies, the trains, and the book Anna Karenina throughout the entire novel. How do these recurring motifs develop throughout the novel? How do they foreshadow what is going to happen in the novel? (R.CCR.3)
15. How is Keone flying through the air like Superman ironic? What is ironic about the train wreck? (R.CCR.6)
16. What influence does Scotty’s interactions with Kris on the train have on Scotty? Why does Kris stay on the train? How does Kris and Scotty’s relationship begin to change while on the train? (R.CCR.1)
17. What are some of the internal conflicts Scotty has after the accident? Why is she struggling to come to terms with the death of someone she barely knew? (R.CCR.3)
18. What role does forgiveness play in the plot? How does Scotty try to seek forgiveness? How do Misha and Falcone try to help Scotty come to terms with the accident? (R.CCR.2)
19. How important is family to Scotty? How does her relationship with her family help her to cope with the recent changes in her life? How does her relationship with her family contribute to the theme of the novel? (R.CCR.2)
20. Why does Scotty decide to get in the car with Jason? What are the consequences of her decision? Why does she ignore him after the incident in the park? (R.CCR.3)
21. Why do you think Scotty sends the photo of Kris to his mom? Why does she crop herself out of the photo? How do these details or actions contribute to the central message of the story? Summarize your answer objectively. (R.CCR.2)
This guide was written by Michelle Carson, Reading Teacher, Reading Endorsed, Palm Beach Central High School.
*This guide, written to align with the Common Core State Standards (www.corestandards.org) has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Angela Johnson has won three Coretta Scott King Awards, one each for her novels The First Part Last, Heaven, and Toning the Sweep. The First Part Last was also the recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award. She is also the author of the novels Looking for Red and A Certain October. Her books for younger readers include the Coretta Scott King Honor Book When I Am Old with You, illustrated by David Soman; Wind Flyers and I Dream of Trains, both illustrated by Loren Long; and Lottie Paris Lives Here and its sequel Lottie Paris and the Best Place, both illustrated by Scott M. Fischer. Additional picture books include A Sweet Smell of Roses, Just Like Josh Gibson, The Day Ray Got Away, and All Different Now. In recognition of her outstanding talent, Angela was named a 2003 MacArthur Fellow. She lives in Kent, Ohio. Visit her at AJohnsonAuthor.com.
*"[A Certain October] provides raw and honest insight into all of the emotions the teen is experiencing…This fast-paced, well-crafted novel is capable of engaging even the most reluctant readers." --SLJ, starred review
*“This slim book looks like it will be a quick read, but it turns out to be much more demanding—and rewarding—due to the story’s complex structure and the author’s gift for showing, not telling.” --The Horn Book, starred review
*"A wonderfully crafted and deeply satisfying novel, full of detail that provides texture and meaning." --Kirkus Reviews, starred review
*"A story of dazzling immediacy…Realistic dialogue and a cast of vibrant characters give lively texture to Johnson's nonlinear narrative. Through minimal exposition and Scotty's singular voice, Johnson gracefully explores life's defining moments, whether painful or bittersweet, and how the world carries on, even when everything has changed."