This reading group guide for TROUBLE IN MY WAY includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Michelle Stimpson. 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
Karis Reed doesn’t try to get in trouble—but, sometimes, trouble gets in the way. An unauthorized trip to a male friend’s house puts Karis at odds with her mother, a minister who is determined to make sure that Karis doesn’t repeat her mistake of getting pregnant at sixteen. Against Karis’s better judgment, she takes part in a plan to keep her social life flowing just beneath her mother’s radar.
Enter a self-proclaimed bad boy, a trifling potential stepmother, a deployed soldier, and threats to relationships with two of Karis’s best friends. When Karis’s mother finds out about her deception she is fed up and decides that Karis may be better off living with her father. Feelings that Karis could never before articulate come to the surface when she realizes that there’s nothing left to lose when you’ve lost your parents’ trust. Through a renewed faith in God’s plan for her life, Karis decides to recommit herself to living with integrity. Discussion Questions
1. “Basically, she lost her teen years when she got pregnant with me at sixteen—but how it that my problem? Why do I have to pay for her mistakes? I’m not my mom, and she’s not me!” How does Karis’s turning sixteen trigger a shift in her relationship with her mother? In what ways is Karis directly and indirectly responsible for this shift? Do you feel that Karis’s mother is being overprotective?
2. Explain Karis’s attraction to Javon. What does her decision to pursue a relationship with him on the sly, using a borrowed cell phone from a friend, reveal about her character? Based on the details he reveals to Karis about his life, how moral of a person is Javon? Why doesn’t Karis’s mother object to their budding relationship?
3. “You can still be you and do what you’re supposed to do. Actually, you can’t fulfill your purpose without being the you that God created.” How does Karis’s mother’s faith in her daughter guide her parenting? To what extent does Karis share her mother’s religious beliefs?
4. How would you describe Karis’s friendships with Sydney and Tamisha? When Karis accidentally incurs excessive cell phone charges using Sydney’s sister’s phone, why doesn’t she immediately own up to her mistake? When Marlon contacts her from Iraq, why does Karis decide to conceal that from his sister, Tamisha? How does the resolution of these separate crises impact Karis’s friendships with both girls?
5. “There’s something about you, Karis. I don’t know what it is, but you make me want to do the right thing.” How would you assess Karis’s moral instincts? What role do her parents play in her shaping these beliefs and attitudes? How does she convey her faith to her friends? What role does her diary play in her establishing what it is that she believes? To what extent does her moral compass protect her from really getting into trouble?
6. What does the “Boyfriend Quiz” that Sydney, Tamisha, and Karis devise reveal about the nature of their feelings about the opposite sex? What is most important to them and why? How does their quiz reveal both their wisdom and their naïveté about romantic relationships? If you were to apply their quiz to someone you really care about, what kind of ranking would he or she receive?
7. “And since I’m the reason she has the ring, I can also be the reason she doesn’t have the ring.” Is Karis justified in taking the ring her father intends to use to propose to Shereese? Why does Shereese suspect Karis’s interference is an attempt to bring her parents back together, and do you agree or disagree with that assessment?
8. What spurs Karis’s mother’s decision to have her daughter move out to go and live with her father? How does Karis feel about this change in her domestic arrangements? Why does her mother feel that it is a good time for them to live separately? To what extent does her abrupt solution to the difficulties involved in raising her daughter seem in keeping with her approach as a parent?
9. Of the many different moments of trouble that Karis finds herself in, which were the most memorable or compelling to you, and why? To what extent are the people Karis surrounds herself with responsible for the trouble that she encounters?
10. What does Karis’s mother mean when she says she strives to live a life with integrity? How does living a life with integrity connect with living a life faithful to God’s desires? How does Karis try to live with integrity in her own life? Can you identify an example from your experiences in which you have chosen a path of integrity? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Karis Reed keeps a diary in which she addresses herself and makes sense of some of the events of her life. Do you keep a diary? If so, go back and reread your entries from a time that was especially challenging in your life. How did you question your actions and the events you were dealing with? If you don’t keep a diary, consider doing so for a week. How do you experience the act of reflecting on your life? What are some advantages of recording the moments in your life that have an impact on you? You may want to share diary entries with fellow book club members, to compare your experiences and writing styles.
2. Karis is committed to supporting Marlon and his colleagues while they are stationed overseas in Iraq. Have you ever considered corresponding with a serviceman or woman or volunteering to support your fellow Americans in our armed forces? To see what you can do, visit www.uso.org/
for suggestions and ideas on how to lend your support to people serving in the military. Your book club may want to consider “adopting” a troop or unit and sending them care packages and notes of encouragement.
3. In Trouble in My Way
, Karis finds a prayer for protection that she distributes to her friends and uses in praying for Marlon, who is headed to Iraq. Did you know that prayers are an essential component of virtually all religious traditions? Are there any prayers that you know or that you say regularly? When your group gathers to discuss the novel, share any prayers that you know, and learn more about the kinds of prayers that are familiar to your fellow book club members. You may want to exchange written prayers with each group member on an individual basis.A Conversation with Michelle StimpsonQ: Trouble in My Way is your first young adult novel. What were some of the challenges you faced in writing a novel with a teenager as a protagonist?
A: Actually, I found it pretty easy. I’m a big kid at heart, so falling into this character’s mindset was like second nature. Q: To what extent did the process of writing Trouble in My Way take you back to your own hijinks as a teenager?
A: Writing this book took me way back! I have kept a journal since I was twelve, so I have a record of the dramas and antics I experienced as a teen. Writing this book almost made me feel as though I was writing in one of my old journals. Q: How did you first come up with the idea for the story of Trouble in My Way?
A: I didn’t really come up with a story first. For this book, I came up with the main character first and then built the story around her. I knew I wanted to write about a girl who has a good heart but doesn’t always do the right thing. Once I had a feel for Karis, it was just a matter of putting her in several situations that tested her character and, ultimately, caused her to rethink what it means to be true to that good heart within. Q: Karis’s mother still seems to be reeling from the experience of having been a teenage mother, but her father doesn’t seem to be as affected. Can you explain this phenomenon?
A: I think that there has always been a double standard when it comes to teens and pregnancy. More often than not, the girl suffers a greater degree of social stigma than the boy. While Karis’s father certainly wouldn’t want Karis to become pregnant as a teen, the sting of being a teenage parent was not as powerful for him as it was for Karis’s mother. Q: As a mother yourself, to what extent could you relate to the experiences of Karis’s mother, as she struggles with her daughter’s adolescent rebellion?
A: The older my kids get, the more I can relate to Karis’s mother and the more I appreciate my own mother. My daughter, in particular, really makes me think and rethink what it means to rely on God’s guidance for parenting. More and more, I have to say to myself, “Okay—we taught her well. Now it’s time to let her put those lessons into action.” In releasing some of the control, I find myself relying all the more on God’s promises because I know that when I can’t be there to watch her every move and whisper direction into her ear, He can. Q: How do you hope that readers of your work who are not religious will respond to the portions of the book that examine faith and belief?
A: I hope that those portions will cause them to reflect on their values and beliefs. I hope that readers will think about how developing a personal relationship with God can provide even greater direction in life. Q: You’ve written both nonfiction and fiction; how do they differ, in terms of your writing process?
A: I find that writing nonfiction is easier for me because I already know what I’m going to write. However, I do not find it as enjoyable as writing fiction. Writing fiction is more difficult and even frustrating, at times, but I find it immensely enjoyable. Q: To what extent do you see your own writing as a kind of ministry?
A: My writing is definitely a ministry. There are many people who won’t pick up a Bible, but they will pick up a novel. They relate to the characters and envision how God can do for them what He does for the characters. Jesus understood this—that’s why He told parables. I count it an honor to follow His example. Q: Which contemporary fiction writers inspire you, and why?
A: I read a variety of fiction authors—Vanessa Miller, Sandra Cisneros, ReShonda Tate Billingsley, Khaled Hosseini, and Walter Dean Myers to name a few. I also read a lot of historical fiction and nonfiction.