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About The Book

A kid filled with rage, suspended from the football team for unsportsmanlike conduct, and his father, newly home from the war in Afghanistan, reckon with the injuries they’ve caused to others and themselves in this unflinching middle grade novel in verse about love and forgiveness.

Hazard’s a military kid, best known for his prowess at football, and his short fuse. His dad’s been in Afghanistan, third tour. The worry and the pressure over school and his dad are getting to Hazard until one day, the fuse sets off and the repercussions have him benched for six games and assigned to go to therapy. Which is where his dad is as well, at Walter Reed Medical Center, because he’s home now—well, most of him. Hazard’s dad’s now learning to walk with a prosthetic, but that’s not his primary injury. His worst wound is a moral injury: what he did on the battleground that he may never be able to forgive himself for.

As part of Hazard’s therapy, he has to trace back the causes of his own anger by tracing back his father’s journey, through letters and emails and texts, so that he can come to terms with what he himself has done—his own moral injury—and help his father overcome his own.

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for


By Frances O’Roark Dowell

About the Book

Hazard Stokes does not want to go to therapy. He only agrees to go because Coach says the only way he’ll let Hazard back on the football field is if he sees Dr. Barth. There is nothing wrong with him. Sure, he plays aggressively, but that’s all part of the game. It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that his father has been injured in Afghanistan and is at the Walter Reed Medical Center. Or that nobody in his family is talking about what really happened in the war.

Told through a series of Hazard’s emails and texts to his therapist, parents, and best friend, this novel-in-verse examines a young boy’s anger and emotional turmoil through therapy and how we can help each other heal from trauma.

Discussion Questions

1. This book has an epigraph, a short quote at the beginning of the book that suggests the book’s theme. In this case, the author selected a quote from Walt Whitman’s poem “I Sing the Body Electric” as the epigraph: “And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul? / And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?” What does Hazard suggest about the connection between a person’s body and soul? How can mental health impact physical health? (see page 78)

2. An epistolary novel is a story told through letters. What do the texts between Hazard and Jackson reveal about their friendship? What do the email exchanges between Hazard and Dr. Barth reveal about the development of their relationship? Why do you think the author chose to tell the story in this format? Why do you think she did not include emails from Dr. Barth to Hazard, only Hazard’s responses?

3. What happened that caused Hazard not to be allowed to play football until he seeks therapy with Dr. Barth?

4. Hazard writes to Dr. Barth, “Don’t get me wrong: I’m not dumb. / I make mostly As and Bs, / a C here and there / so I don’t look like I am showing off.” Look for details that suggest that Hazard is very curious and intelligent. Why do you think he downplays his intelligence?

5. What is Hazard’s full name? Explain the story behind how he got his name and the name’s meaning.

6. What are some of Hazard’s family’s specific challenges and stresses as a military family? How does each member of the family react to these challenges?

7. What does Hazard learn and realize after reading the emails between his father and mother? How are these emails different in tone and content from the email his father sent Hazard and his brother Ty?

8. How can you tell that Hazard is upset when his grandmother talks about when his mother served in Iraq years ago, and how worried she was that her daughter might be hurt? Why do you think her comment upsets him?

9. Compare the objective point of view in the incident report that the military shared with Hazard’s family with the subjective ways Hazard imagines the incident and his father remembers it. How are subjective sources different from objective sources? Why are both types of sources important?

10. Why doesn’t Hazard’s dad want his sons to visit him in the hospital? Do you think seeing his father sooner would have helped Hazard or not?

11. What happens when Hazard tries to play football again? By the time this second incident occurs, what do you understand about the reason that Hazard loses control? Hazard describes the feeling of losing control this way: “It’s like my blood was filled with teeth.” Have you ever felt out of control? Was there a coping strategy that helped you calm down?

12. What does Hazard learn about his father from Uncle Jason? Why do you think Hazard starts crying and can’t stop?

13. Why do you think Hazard shares vocabulary lessons about military terminology with Dr. Barth? How did reading Hazard’s definitions and examples help you understand what his father and his family have experienced?

14. What do you think Hazard’s English teacher means when she says, “We live at the level of our language”? How can talking about something help a person deal with it? What happens to you physically when you don’t communicate about something bothering you? What happens to you emotionally when you don’t communicate?

15. Early in the book, Hazard tells Dr. Barth that he physically resembles both of his parents but has his father’s personality. Find examples of ways that they are similar. Do you have a family member who you resemble the way that Hazard resembles his father?

16. What does Hazard realize about how to deal with (and help others deal with) pain?

Extension Activities

1. A big part of Hazard’s therapy involves guided journaling: an activity where a person responds freely to specific, targeted questions. Choose three to five of the prompts that Hazard completes and create a guided journal by writing your responses to the prompts you selected.

2. Hazard chooses to write his responses to Dr. Barth in verse, revealing that he discovered that he liked poetry when his teacher assigned a poetry unit and he wrote a book of poems about football. Why do you think Hazard prefers to express himself in verse rather than in prose? How can figurative language (similes, metaphors, personification, hyperbole) help describe feelings more accurately than literal language? (Hint: look at some examples of figurative language that Hazard uses on pages 45, 67, 122, 126, 127, 133, 139, 146). Write a poem or series of poems about a subject you enjoy the way Hazard enjoys playing and watching football.

3. Examine how Hazard uses imagery—words that appeal to the senses—to describe his memories. Try to write a personal descriptive paragraph or essay describing a meaningful memory.

4. Research the challenges that veterans and military families may face and the organizations (like that work to support them. After researching, work with a group to develop a proposal for something your class can do (such as writing thank-you or holiday letters, collecting items for care packages, etc.) to demonstrate support for military families, enlisted men and women, and veterans. Present your proposal to your class.

5. In her acknowledgments, Frances O’Roark Dowell credits the West Point Center for Oral History for helping her research what it was like to be deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Listen to one or more of the oral histories on the site: Oral history is nonfiction and an example of a primary source. Compare the experience of reading a novel about a soldier’s experience and listening to a soldier’s oral history. How are they different? What are the benefits of each type of narrative?

6. While he is at Walter Reed Medical Center, Hazard’s father attends group therapy that leads the men to think about moral injury and soul repair, terms that Hazard later defines. Research what causes moral injury. In addition to soldiers, who else is particularly vulnerable to moral injury? What role does seeking amends and asking forgiveness play in the soul repair that Hazard works through after injuring Tristan.

7. One of Hazard’s “assignments” is to interview his grandmother and his mother, record the interview, and reflect on the interview afterward. Choose a family member you would like to know more about and conduct an oral history interview. Later, summarize what you learned about your family member and your family history.

Note: There are resources online that can help you learn more about conducting a family oral history interview.

8. Throughout the book, Hazard shares “vocabulary lessons” with Dr. Barth, defining words specific to the military and showing how they are used in a sentence. Think about a subject with specific vocabulary that you are knowledgeable about (examples include a sport, hobby, video game, collection, or fashion), and create a vocabulary lesson where you define 10–15 words specific to that topic and illustrate how to use them in a sentence.

The page numbers in this guide refer to the hardcover edition of Hazard.

Guide prepared by Amy Jurskis, English Department Chair at Oxbridge Academy.

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.

About The Author

Photograph (c) Clifton Dowell

Frances O’Roark Dowell is the bestselling and critically acclaimed author of Dovey Coe, which won the Edgar Award and the William Allen White Award; Where I’d Like to BeThe Secret Language of Girls and its sequels The Kind of Friends We Used to Be and The Sound of Your Voice, Only Really Far AwayChicken BoyShooting the Moon, which was awarded the Christopher Award; the Phineas L. MacGuire series; Falling InThe Second Life of Abigail Walker, which received three starred reviews; Anybody Shining; Ten Miles Past NormalTrouble the Water; the Sam the Man series; The ClassHow to Build a Story; and most recently, Hazard. She lives with her family in Durham, North Carolina. Connect with Frances online at

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