After Nick Herrera saved a little girl from being his by a New York City subway car, things have been different....He has been different. Now it seems as if accidents are falling at his feet and he's destined to play the role of the hero. But more importantly, Linda Lanko, one of the richest girls in the city, has noticed him -- a below-average student from a poor family. But is Nick's invincibility just good luck, or is something else responsible?
About the Book After he saves a little girl from a speeding subway train, Nick Herrera is a hero. And when he saves an elderly man from an apartment fire, Nick becomes a celebrity. While Nick struggles with what it all means — is he just lucky, or is it his destiny to save people? — his best friend, Marco, wants to exploit his sudden fame to help Nick, and himself, get rich. Soon Nick draws the attention of Linda Lenko, daughter of one of the city’s wealthiest developers — and she decides she has to protect him, even if it means destroying his faith in himself.
Discussion Topics • How do you define a hero? Give some examples. What do you think could be some negative aspects of being a hero?
• Have you ever been faced with a rapidly moving life-or-death choice (like the one Nick faced when the little girl fell on the subway tracks)? What choice did you make? If you haven’t been in that kind of situation, what choice do you think — or hope — you would make?
• Aside from Nick, who do you think is the most heroic character in the novel? Why?
• The question of fate versus coincidence plays a large part in the book. Nick continually wonders if he is part of some unseen plan, or simply lucky — but he is too terrified to find out the answer. Why do you think Nick is afraid of finding out? What do you think the answer really is?
• Marco thinks Nick’s coin that always comes up heads is a miracle. Nick insists it’s simply a “thing that happens.” How would you define a miracle? Do you think the coin’s coming up heads is a miracle or a metaphor?
• How would the story have been different if Marco had been the hero? How do you think he would have reacted to the sudden fame?
• Nick’s mother constantly compares him to his older brother, Salvatore, who was bad. Nick compensates by trying to be the opposite of Salvatore in every way. How similar are they really? Compare and contrast Nick and Salvatore.
• Linda Lenko has everything in the world, yet she doesn’t seem happy. When she meets Nick, she responds to how he throws her world into turmoil — yet she tries to control him. Discuss the contradictions in Linda’s character.
• At the costume party, Nick meets other young people who have achieved a level of excellence in their fields: an Olympic diver, a concert violinist, the youngest airplane pilot, etc. (Author Neal Shusterman based these characters on real people.) What famous young person would you most like to meet? If you had the opportunity, what would you tell them?
• Linda is so worried about protecting Nick that she creates fake life-threatening situations so Nick will think he’s rescuing people. What do you think of her solution? Do you think Nick’s reaction when he finds out is appropriate?
• Why do you think Neal Shusterman ended the story where he did? Can you think of any other stories where not knowing the answer is more important than knowing it?
Activities & Research • All of the major characters in the story have different reactions to Nick’s heroics. Make a list of the characters, and describe each of their points of view. Then choose two characters with opposing opinions, and write a conversation between them about Nick.
• Imagine you are a young blogger living in New York while Nick’s rescues are taking place. Write a series of blog posts describing his exploits as though they are occurring in real time. Make sure, as with all blogs, that your posts have a strong point of view — do you see Nick as a hero, or a con artist?
• In real life, many young people have performed heroic rescues and other feats of bravery and skill. Research a youngster who has become famous for an amazing achievement, and write an essay telling his or her story. (If possible, arrange an interview with the person. Think about several questions you’d like to ask beforehand, and write them down.)
• Perform an experiment in the law of probability: with a partner, flip a coin 100 times and keep a running list of the result of each coin flip. While probability dictates that the total will be approximately 50-50, there may be long strings of heads or tails in a row — circle the longest run you achieve.
• Find out the name of the developer of a building under construction in your town. Do a report on the individual or company responsible for putting up the building.
• You have been invited to Linda Lenko’s costume party, and, as in the book, you must come as a famous work of art. Design or describe the costume that you will wear. Explain your choice.
This reading group 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.
Neal Shusterman is the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty award-winning books for children, teens, and adults, including the Unwind dystology, the Skinjacker trilogy, Downsiders, and Challenger Deep, which won the National Book Award. Scythe, the first book in his newest series, Arc of a Scythe, is a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. He also writes screenplays for motion pictures and television shows. Neal is the father of four, all of whom are talented writers and artists themselves. Visit Neal at StoryMan.com and Facebook.com/NealShusterman.