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Ten teens are left alone in the wilderness during a three-day survival test in this multi-authored novel edited by award-winning author Shaun David Hutchinson.

At Zeppelin Bend, an outdoor-education program designed to teach troubled youth the value of hard work, cooperation, and compassion, ten teens are left alone in the wild. The teens are a diverse group who come all walks of life, and were all sent to Zeppelin Bend as a last chance to get them to turn their lives around. They’ve just spent nearly two weeks hiking, working, learning to survive in the wilderness, and now their instructors have dropped them off eighteen miles from camp with no food, no water, and only their packs, and they’ll have to struggle to overcome their vast differences if they hope to survive.

Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, the characters in Feral Youth, each complex and damaged in their own ways, are enticed to tell a story (or two) with the promise of a cash prize. The stories range from noir-inspired revenge tales to mythological stories of fierce heroines and angry gods. And while few of the stories are claimed to be based in truth, they ultimately reveal more about the teller than the truth ever could.

A Reading Group Guide to

Feral Youth

By Shaun David Hutchinson and nine other powerhouse authors

About the Book

In the Wyoming wilderness, a diverse group of ten deeply troubled teens navigate their way back to their base camp at Zeppelin Bend, a three-day journey that tests much more than their survival skills. As power struggles develop, alliances form and relationships loosely take hold. To pass the time, they are invited to a storytelling competition, taking turns sharing stories that blur the lines between reality and fiction.

Shaun David Hutchinson and nine other notable authors weave together the lives of these emotionally complex characters who have become isolated from the world, vulnerable to both the elements and to the wilderness inside themselves. The tales they tell give a range of insights and interpretations of rules we must follow to survive in society, but it is really a survival of the spirit that drives them to continue. Each storyteller gives voice to issues and themes that are relatable to contemporary youth, heartbreaking struggles marked by attitudes and behaviors that cause far-reaching suffering and destruction. Can an entire society be witnessed in a cross section of troubled teens?

Discussion Questions

1. Gio’s first person narrative as an observer affects how we experience other characters and events. Did you find his voice reliable? Which narrative features were used by the authors to make Feral Youth relatable to young adults?

2. How did Feral Youth affect you? Which character did you feel most strongly about? Which aspects of their stories were most relatable? Which aspects were most engaging? Most disturbing? Most morally corrupt? Most heartbreaking? Discuss.

3. With which of the storytellers did you most identify? For what reasons, and in what ways? What effect did the character(s) have on others in the group? What effect did the character(s) have on you?

4. Does the title Feral Youth aptly describe the main characters? Is it appropriate to their circumstances? What alternate title might you choose?

5. When Cody wonders why Gio was sent to the Bend, Gio responds, “‘Aren’t we all here for the same reason?’” What do you think Gio means by this?

6. Overarching themes thread through each of the stories, including injustice, vengeance, retribution, and social confusion. What are some of the other themes, issues, and concerns addressed in the novel?

7. Gio believes, “The courts and our parents or guardians had sent us to the Bend hoping it would change us, but I didn’t think that was possible. The things that made us strong individually were also the qualities that kept us from functioning as a unified whole.” What are some of the qualities Gio is referring to? Discuss.

8. Each protagonist solved his or her dilemma in a different way with significant consequences and effects. What do you think of their coping strategies? What is your opinion of the solutions they chose? Which character made the most understandable choice? Who was most comprised by their decisions and actions? Do you think their revenge was justified? Can revenge ever restore justice? Choose one or two stories and discuss how you would have solved the dilemmas.

9. What roles do adults play in the lives of these characters? Are the adults portrayed realistically? Have you had similar experiences with the adults in your life? Choose one or two characters and discuss how they might improve their situation with the adults in their lives.

10. How does an awareness of social class impact the decisions and actions of the teens in the wilderness? To what extent does social status play a role in the stories they tell? How do their stories reshape or challenge other characters’ perceptions of class and status?

11. What makes you feel respected and valued? How could you work to cultivate at least one trusted relationship with a responsible friend and/or family member?

12. Several stories feature or refer to the supernatural. Do you believe in paranormal activity? Why or why not? Have you ever sensed or seen a presence you couldn’t explain? Do you believe in ghosts? Human monsters? Demons? Aliens? Do you think the storytellers themselves believe in them? Which of the tellers do you think believed their stories to be true, and which do you think were simply providing entertainment?

13. Gio tells us, “That’s why I like stories. They usually wind up revealing more about a person than what they’d tell you about themselves. It’s not that they lie intentionally . . . if you listen hard enough, there’s more truth in fiction.” Do you agree or disagree with Gio? What do we reveal about ourselves in the stories we tell? In what ways?

14. What effect does the setting have on the campers? In what circumstances does the setting reflect the mood? Which specific circumstances within the natural environment become a metaphor for their struggles?

15. Some aspect of religious belief is apparent in each story. Discuss the influence of faith upon each of the storytellers. Which of the characters have faith in themselves?

16. How important is the idea of mutual trust? Were the teens in the wilderness responsible for one another? Were the characters in their stories responsible for one another? How responsible do you think we should be for one another? What rules do you live by? What is an individual’s responsibility to society?

17. The protagonists and many of the characters in their stories made regrettable judgments and assumptions. How did these choices affect them? What effect did they have on others? On circumstances?

18. Do aspects of this novel remind you of any other books, stories, poems, songs, or films? In what ways? Explain the connection.

19. After hearing these stories, what patterns and cause-and-effect relationships did you notice? Specifically, which personal characteristics, actions, and reactions allowed for or prevented personal redemption?

20. Were you satisfied with the ending? Yes, or no? Would you have chosen a different ending for the book?

21. How do you think the ten major characters will manage after they leave the Bend? Gio didn’t believe any of the alliances formed during their three days together would continue, that they would “slip the knot as soon as we were able, and fall to loose ends.” Do you agree with Gio? What will it take for them to find their own paths to emotional and psychological well-being?

22. What might the teens have learned from the circumstances that led them to Zeppelin Bend? What might they have learned from their experiences together at the Bend? What might they have learned from one another’s stories? Discuss.

23. Has your reading of Feral Youth affected your ability or desire to observe the people and the world around you in different ways? Discuss.

Beyond the Book: Extension Activities

1. Perception and perspective play important roles in the development of our personal and social identities. What types of things do you often notice that others do not? Are they tangible or intangible? Visible or invisible? Are they clear-cut or indistinct? Describe what you notice in the form of a paragraph, a short story, a poem, a song, a drawing, or whatever you feel most inspired to create.

2. Write a letter to one of the storytellers or one of the characters in their stories. What would you say to him or her? What encouragement would you give? What would you reveal about yourself? What would you tell the adults in his or her life?

3. Describe or imagine a place where you feel comfortable, safe, respected, empowered, inspired, and loved, a place where you can be your authentic self. Carefully observe your surroundings and make note of what you see, hear, touch, and smell. When and why do you visit this place? Are you there alone, or is someone with you? If so, who? Be as specific as you can with sensory details. Spend at least twenty minutes in this healing place without talking, writing, or texting, experiencing how it feels. Note how your thoughts, perceptions, reflections, and memories change when you are surrounded by well-being.

4. Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales have provided inspiration for the framework of Shaun David Hutchinson’s novel. Explore the fascinating world of late medieval fourteenth-century England through one of the many lively translations of the tales, such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, retold and illustrated by Marcia Williams. Compare the two works of literature. Though very different in tone, Feral Youth and The Canterbury Tales both suggest storytelling competitions based on human behavior, social class, and moral dilemmas that are still relevant today.

5. Some believe life experience is determined by things that are impossible to predict or control, speaking in terms of chaos and fractals. Investigate this theory and what it might mean for the choices we make in our lives. There are many websites showcasing the most basic to the most currently advanced research of Chaos Theory. A helpful place to begin your research is:

This guide was prepared in 2017 by Judith Clifton, M.Ed, MS, Educational Consultant, Chatham, MA.

This guide 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.
Photograph by Chris Piedra

Shaun David Hutchinson is the author of numerous books for young adults, including The Past and Other Things That Should Stay BuriedThe Apocalypse of Elena MendozaAt the Edge of the Universe, and We Are the Ants. He also edited the anthologies Violent Ends and Feral Youth and wrote the memoir Brave Face, which chronicles his struggles with depression and coming out during his teenage years. He lives in Seattle, where he enjoys drinking coffee, yelling at the TV, and eating cake. Visit him at or on Twitter @ShaunieDarko.

Photo credit Dawn Goei

Suzanne Young is the New York Times bestselling author of The Program series. Originally from Utica, New York, Suzanne moved to Arizona to pursue her dream of not freezing to death. She is a novelist and an English teacher, but not always in that order. Suzanne is also the author of Girls with Sharp SticksAll in PiecesHotel for the Lost, and several others novels for teens. Visit her online at or follow her on Instagram at @AuthorSuzanneYoung.

Photograph by Portraits to the People

Tim Floreen majored in English at Yale and earned a Master’s degree in creative writing at Boston University. He now lives in San Francisco with his partner and their two cats. Willful Machines is his first novel. You can find him online at or on Twitter at @TimFloreen.

Alaya Dawn Johnson is the author of six novels for adults and young adults. Her novel The Summer Prince was longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Her most recent, Love Is the Drug, won the Andre Norton Award. Her short stories have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including Asimov's, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Interzone, Subterranean, Zombies vs. Unicorns, and Welcome to Bordertown. In addition to the Norton, she has won the Cybils and Nebula Awards and been nominated for the Indies Choice Award and Locus Award. She lives in Mexico City.

Photograph by Eric Ireland

Justina Ireland enjoys dark chocolate, dark humor, and is not too proud to admit that she’s still afraid of the dark. She lives with her husband, kid, and dog in Pennsylvania. She is the author of Vengeance Bound and Promise of Shadows. Visit her at

“A compelling examination of the teen psyche.” –Booklist, starred review

“From the first sentence, collection editor Hutchinson grabs readers… A compelling, uncomfortable narrative.” –Kirkus Reviews

“Though the voices are distinct, it’s the overall experience of disparate people finding common understanding that lingers.” –Publishers Weekly

“Edgy stories showcase the depth and breadth of styles in a new crop of writers for young adults. –School Library Journal

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