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Reading Group Guide forThe Sky Blues
By Robbie CouchAbout the Book
Sky is an openly gay high school senior in a conservative Michigan town. After his promposal plans are e-blasted to the entire community, the outing sets Sky and his friends on a quest to find the perpetrator and exact revenge. But in his quest for justice, Sky finds something far more satisfying than vengeance: unexpected acceptance, true family, unconditional love, and the courage to be tough without sacrificing his identity.Discussion Questions
1. Being mindful of uncomfortable feelings and how to process them is a recurrent theme in The Sky Blues
. After Sky and Marshall see Dan in the food court, Sky notes that, “Seeing people who aren’t your friends outside school can be fatally awkward.” What do you think Sky means by this? Do you agree or disagree with his statement? Describe a time or situation you’ve experienced that felt “fatally awkward.”
2. When Sky’s best friend, Marshall, asks for advice on how to relate to his girlfriend, Sky feels uncomfortable and a little bit annoyed: “The straighter he’s gotten, the more uncomfortable I am showing my gay around him. It’s weird.” Discuss why Sky might feel weird talking about romantic relationship issues with Marshall. Do you find it easy or challenging to be honest with your friends when something they say bothers you? What advice might you have for Sky?
3. As the story opens, readers learn that Sky is figuring out how to prompose to Ali Rashid, a boy whom he has a serious crush on. Discuss the phenomenon of the promposal. What are the positives and negatives of this fad? Although the promposal doesn’t happen, what would Sky have risked had he actually asked Ali to the prom?
4. Cliff is a homophobic, insensitive jock who never passes on a chance to bully Sky and other students who are different from him in some way. Discuss the scene in health class in which Cliff feigns concern for the sexual health of the school’s gay students. How does Cliff prove himself to be “Rock Ledge’s most egregious example of an arrogant bigot”? Why doesn’t the teacher address Cliff’s behavior? Why do the other students remain silent when it’s clear that Cliff is being cruel? How are “the hate hiding behind Cliff’s nasty grin” and Sky’s mom’s “moral policing” similar”?
5. In the basement at Ali’s party, Sky and Ali are having a heart-to-heart conversation that touches on self-identity. Sky is surprised to learn that Ali hates high school, because he assumes that kids who are popular must have a different experience than his own. Ali responds by muttering, “‘Popular, what does that even mean, though?’” What does popularity mean to you? How does this high school currency play out in your school? How does popularity translate or not translate beyond high school? How does Ali’s self-imposed pressure to conform cause him to feel and make choices that betray his true self?
6. After the e-blast photo goes out showing the promposal wall, Sky wants to “disappear.” Discuss the pain that Sky must be feeling after this incident. This is an example of how social media can be weaponized to target the LGBTQIA+ community. What do you think can and should be done about cyberbullying? What would you say to Sky if you were Bree, Marshall, or Ali? More importantly, what, if anything, would you do?
7. Marshall tells Sky, “‘I’m not a random straight
guy. I’m Marshall. Remember? Your best friend? You can talk to me about anything.’” How is Marshall a true friend to Sky? What character traits does he possess that make him a good friend? Discuss Marshall sharing with Sky why he doesn’t blast his music in the car. What does he mean by “avoid a mess”?
8. After Sky meets Charlie and Brian for the first time, something inside him begins to shift. How does meeting Charlie serve as the catalyst that Sky needs to stand up for himself, be honest, and realize “enough is enough”?
9. On his second visit to Charlie and Brian’s house, Sky, as Justin, is looking over Charlie’s old high school photographs. Charlie says, “‘You know, high school really did suck. . . . It’s easy for me to look back at those years fondly now
. But it was terrible when I lived them. . . . That’s the danger of nostalgia. . . . Your mind wants to relish in a sugarcoated past that never actually existed.’” Charlie was a gay teenager in the 1990s, a time of extreme hatred and intolerance toward that community. How do you think it’s possible for Charlie to be able to look back fondly on his high school days? What is another way of saying “[the] mind wants to relish in a sugarcoated past”?
10. Discuss the content of Victor Bungle’s Instagram post. Do you think Sky and his friends are justified in their anger toward the post’s underlying meaning? Explain your answer.
11. Sky realizes that he misses his dad and senses that although his father is dead, he knows what his son is going through: “But it’s like he somehow knows what’s going on. It’s weird. I miss him, is what it comes down to. It’s strange missing someone you hardly even knew, though.” How can Sky miss a father he doesn’t actually remember? What questions do you think he would ask his dad if they could speak?
12. Reread the section where Dan comes out to Sky as a trans boy. Discuss the confusion that the conversation elicits. Spend time discussing the differences between gender identity and sexuality orientation, as well as words and language that are crucial to know and understand when discussing transgender issues. An excellent resource to consult on this topic is Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place (A Transgender Memoir
) by Jackson Bird. Why does Sky think Dan is “tough”?
13. Discuss the scene that takes place in Principal Burger’s office with Sky, Ali, Victor, Ms. Winter, and the principal. How can this interchange be viewed as an example of homophobia? Victor shouts that Sky and the T-shirt campaign is making the prom gay and ruining it “for the rest of us.” What is he actually saying with this statement? Who does he mean by “the rest”? Discuss Ms. Winter’s character. How is she exactly what Sky and his friends need?
14. Sky’s scar is revealed by accident. Instead of being disgusted by it, as Sky imagined he would be, Teddy calls it “badass.” How is this a turning point for Sky? “Mars” has been a symbol for Sky’s sexuality throughout the story. How does his decision not to cover it up after Dan sees it also symbolic? What does Sky mean when he thinks, “Maybe a scar is just a scar”?
15. Reread the chapter titled “Two Days.” What aspects of the scene signify betrayal? How does Gus reduce Sky to a homosexual stereotype? The summer camp that Sky’s mom uses as a condition to his returning home is called New Beginnings. It’s not explicit, but what can you infer that this camp does? How would this feel like the ultimate betrayal from a family member?
16. After Cliff confesses, Sky and Ms. Winter talk privately. She asks Sky if he’s happy about the confession. Sky isn’t sure how he feels about it, to which Ms. Winter says, “‘Sometimes justice doesn’t bring about the emotions we expect it to.’” What do you think she means by this statement? What kind of justice do you think Sky was expecting?
17. Discuss Sky’s e-blast to the community. How is this an act of courage, honesty, and love? How would you have reacted if you had received Sky’s e-blast? What might you do to support him? Explain your answers.
18. Why does Sky wake up on day zero “feeling like myself for the first time ever”? How is the weed in the driveway a metaphor for Sky and all the other kids in Rock Ledge who feel like outsiders? Why does Sky feel like his friends are his “real” family?
19. In addition to family, discuss the following thematic aspects of The Sky Blues
: acceptance, friendship, loss/grief, and identity.Extension Activities
1. Throughout the story, Sky is reminded all too often of the ugly reality of homophobia. Work with a small group to investigate contemporary issues the LGBTQIA+ community is facing. Topics might include sexual conversion therapy, transgender bathrooms legislation, and homophobic hate crimes. Report your findings to the class, and talk about the importance of allyship and creating safe spaces.
2. Ms. Winter is a special teacher, and her students know it. Think about a teacher you’ve had thus far, including the teachers you have this year. Write an essay about that teacher, describing the positive influence they have had on your life. Alternatively, you can write the teacher a letter, also sharing why you are grateful to have had them in your life.
3. Dan asks Sky to help him form a club for gay and transgender students called GLOW (Gay, Lesbian, or Whatever). Work with a favorite teacher to help form a club or alliance for gay and trans students at your school. Here’s a resource to help get you started: https://www.glsen.org/activity/10-steps-start-your-gsa.
If a club already exists, find out how you can help support them.
4. Form a class book club that features YA literature written by and about the LGBTQIA+ community. For your first read, consider Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place (A Transgender Memoir
), by Jackson Bird. (https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Sorted/Jackson-Bird/9781982130770
5. Suicide among gay and trans youth is a serious problem. For example, the Center for Disease Control reports that, “A study of youth in grades 7–12 found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers,” and the Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health revealed that 40 percent of LGBTQ youth “seriously considered” suicide in the past year. Work with a trusted teacher to educate the student community on this issue and encourage conversations around mental health. The resources below provide current information: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/preventing-suicide/facts-about-suicide/ https://www.cdc.gov/msmhealth/suicide-violence-prevention.htm https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/40-percent-lgbtq-youth-seriously-considered-suicide-past-year-survey-n1233832This guide was created by Colleen Carroll, reading teacher, literacy specialist, curriculum writer, and children’s book author. Learn more about Colleen at www.colleencarroll.us. 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. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.