This reading group guide for One of the Boys 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
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A twelve-year-old boy, his older brother, and their father leave their Kansas home after framing their mother as an abusive parent, only to find real abuse in their new home in Albuquerque. The boys go to school, join basketball teams, try to forge a new life, but their manipulative, increasingly drug-addicted father keeps them from attaining anything like normalcy. He becomes more unstable, more controlling, more violent. And soon the brothers’ only hope for survival is each other and their willingness to defend themselves against the father whose love they once thought made them a family.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. None of the members of this family—either of the brothers, their father, or their mother—are given names in the novel. Why do you think Magariel made this choice? What is its effect?
2. Convincing the narrator to commit more seriously to the ploy of taking photos that would incriminate his mother, the boy’s father tells him, “I thought you were one of the boys” (page 5). Why do you think this is the line that gives the book its title, and why does it motivate the brothers to go along with their father’s plan?
3. Given that the three main characters are male and the title of the book seems on the surface to be an affirmation of masculinity, do you think there are ways Magariel is in fact undermining these notions? Is there a lens through which to consider the story as pro-women or even feminist?
4. What role do the setting and landscape of Albuquerque play in the novel?
5. The narrator remarks, “For the most part I liked it when my father was high” (page 37). How do you make sense of this? What does it reveal about growing up in a household with drug-addicted parents?
6. The boys’ father makes the boys look at each other and tells them, “This is your brother for life. You are his last line of defense” (page 51). How do the brothers protect each other from their father? And what does it reveal about their father that he, the one who abuses them, gives them this advice?
7. The narrator remembers a plot of his and his brother’s to hurt their mother by making her fall down the stairs. They tell her afterward, “We hate you.” Their father then consoles her saying, “They didn’t mean it, come back inside” (page 57). What does this powerful memory reveal about the dynamics of abuse and the way family members can be turned against each other?
8. What is the significance of the moment at Janice’s house, when the father’s shorts are rolled up and his balls revealed to be “dangling against the sofa” (page 78)? Does it suggest something about his lack of control, the degree to which his power may ultimately be a pose?
9. What do you make of the mother’s betrayal when she encourages the boys to forgive and trust their father again after everything they’ve been through? How do you think the father was able to win her over? How are abuse, enabling, and manipulation related?
10. After being confronted with their lack of options, the narrator reflects about his father, “Our dad was an act with a single end. His trajectory: down, down, down” (page 127). Does this feel accurate to you? How can someone so self-destructive still be so charismatic and seductive?
11. How do you interpret the recurring motif of the father’s asking the boys to “be his eyes”? Is it connected to the narrator’s claim, trying to excuse his presence in his father’s room during his attempted escape, “I’m an extension of you” (page 139)?
12. In one of the story’s final moments, the narrator opens the door to his brother and the officer waiting outside. When he does so, his “eyes filled with water, and light rushed in” (page 155). What do you make of the image of light coming into their dark home near the book’s conclusion? Does it provide any reason to be optimistic about the boys’ fate?
13. Magariel makes the striking choice of ending the novel by going back in time to the first days of the boys’ trip out to Albuquerque, when they were still hopeful about their future. What do you think this accomplishes? How does this epilogue change your experience of the book as a whole?
14. Magariel has said that there is an autobiographical component to this novel, that it is an extreme version of certain aspects of his life. Does knowing that affect the way you view it? Why do you think he made the decision to tell this story as fiction?
15. One of the Boys
is a very short novel, covering a relatively small span of time. How did its length affect your reading experience? Do you think it was easier to digest the violence and harrowing nature of the story because of its quick, short form?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read another very short novel about a fractured family confronting questions of abuse, We the Animals
by Justin Torres. Discuss how the two novels are similar or different.
2. Be “the eyes” of someone in your book club. Look out a window and describe what you see to your partner, then discuss what the experience is like.