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Tune It Out
Table of Contents
About The Book
Lou Montgomery has the voice of an angel, or so her mother tells her and anyone else who will listen. But Lou can only hear the fear in her own voice. She’s never liked crowds or loud noises or even high fives; in fact, she’s terrified of them, which makes her pretty sure there’s something wrong with her.
When Lou crashes their pickup on a dark and snowy road, child services separate the mother-daughter duo. Now she has to start all over again at a fancy private school far away from anything she’s ever known. With help from an outgoing new friend, her aunt and uncle, and the school counselor, she begins to see things differently. A sensory processing disorder isn’t something to be ashamed of, and music might just be the thing that saves Lou—and maybe her mom, too.
1 Bagels and Joe
Bagels and Joe can’t be more than the size of your average motel room, but it is wall-to-wall jars of roasted coffee beans. It smells nutty and warm on this cold September morning. No one looks for a truant in a place like this. Ordinarily I love it here, curled up with a book and headphones in a corner where I can be any age at all in the low light. But today I can’t hide. Because today I am the entertainment.
It’s been a month since our last show and my most recent episode. I can still feel the terrible panic, hear the confused voices of the crowd, and see Mom trying to gather our money and run. I suppose I should be grateful for the four-week break with no shows along the lake. She has a job now too, at the diner down the road, so we’ve usually got enough leftover hash browns and day-old donuts to keep us fed. But that doesn’t mean she still hasn’t been trying, like always, to land me the “next big gig.” And today we’ve got a show.
I can’t tell if the time off has made the fear better or worse. Do I want to throw up more or less than I normally do before a performance? It’s too close to call.
It doesn’t help that Bagels and Joe is also “the place” to come in Lake Tahoe to find undiscovered talent. I can’t believe Mom finally talked Joe, the owner, into it. Maybe he heard about what had happened in front of the restaurant. Everybody always feels sorry for me after they see me melt down.
That can’t happen today. Mom’s already given me the “stand tall, be brave, keep it together” speech. She also tacked on the “you have a gift to share with the world” speech for good measure. But there are so many people clinking cups and scraping forks on plates. They’ve crammed themselves around wobbly tables that Joe himself moved out through the open doors and onto the deck. I am standing with my back to it all, tuning Mom’s guitar and swallowing buckets of air. No matter how many breaths I take, it’s not enough. I feel light-headed and fluttery, like a paper caught on a fence.
The tuning is good. It gives my hands something to do. I won’t be playing the guitar, though. That’s Mom’s job. Whenever it comes time to sing in front of people, I can’t do anything but squeeze my hands tight behind my back. I used to close my eyes, too, but once I turned eleven, Mom said I had to keep them open or I’d creep out the customers. Good. Let them be as creeped out by me as I am by them. It’s like the moment right before you’re supposed to blow out the candles on your birthday cake, when all the pressure’s on you. Except none of them can step in and help if I can’t do it.
I look out over the railing. The lake and the sky are the same blue—so light they’re almost white, and it makes me think of heaven. And rest and quiet. I tug at Mom’s sleeve so she’ll pull back from the audience she’s currently “meeting and greeting.”
“I want to start with the Patty Griffin song,” I whisper. She nods without looking away from the couple in spandex active wear at the front table.
She jerks a glittery pink thumbnail toward them so only I can see. “Ray Bans and Rolexes,” she says. “Today’s the day, baby. I can feel it. Somebody in this pack is a scout from LA.”
She stares at the couple, lazily stirring their coffees with tanned hands, like she’s hungry for something that has nothing to do with food. My insides turn to soup, and I feel sloshy and heavy all at once. My suede jacket feels too tight. Like saran wrap that’s shrinking. Joe gives me a thumbs-up over by the open doors. He’s been nice, nice enough to let me sing on his property and to allow Mom in all her glory to put up flyers everywhere and basically boss his servers around all morning long. There’s always some promising musician up here trying to get a Saturday spot on the deck. He must do pretty well. I bet he doesn’t have to sleep in a truck like Mom and me. I shoot him a tiny smile.
Maybe this time will be different. At least out here on the deck, the customers are a good four feet away. No unexpected touches. I take a breath like I’m about to dive underwater as Mom starts to speak in the voice she saves especially for shows. She sounds like the ringmaster in a circus. Or a car salesman.
“Now this show is about to get under way, and we so appreciate your attendance. If you would, please hold your applause until the end. And boy will you want to applaud.” She pauses and chuckles like she always does. “And now, the lovely Louise Montgomery!”
My insides have liquefied. But I hand Mom the guitar and watch her count off: “A one, a two, a one two three four—” and then I find it. One red spot on a pine branch five feet away, just above the heads of the spandex couple. It’s a cardinal. And today he’s going to be who I sing to so I don’t have to look at the crowd. I fix my eyes on him, and as I do, he turns his tufted head toward me and our eyes meet and it is luck and it is just enough to get me going.
I let the beat of Mom’s guitar strum through me and start low, lower than a twelve-year-old girl should be able to go, or so Mom says. I sing of heaven and clouds and troubles blowing away in the wind.
I go high on the “trouble,” and my cardinal friend cocks his head, like he knows I’m lying, because nothing chases away trouble. Except maybe the sound of my own voice in my head.
I close my eyes and let the music take me. I sing of sorrow and time I can’t borrow, and too soon I feel a tightening in my gut over what I have to do when the song’s over. I never want it to end. If I could sing forever, I would. Then I’d never have to speak to a living soul other than my mom.
I go so low on the last line that it feels like a secret to myself. I say it over and over. Finally, my voice quivers to a stop like a penny settling on a counter. When the applause hits, it’s loud and sharp and knocks me back like a crack of thunder. The cardinal springs from his tree, and I drop to my knees. I will not rock back and forth. I will not whimper and whine. We can’t have a repeat of what happened at Christy’s. We can’t. I bite my tongue until I taste blood.
I feel Mom come up behind me. She shoves the guitar at me and mutters, “Pretend like you’re tuning.” She’s covering. Like she always does. She tosses her dyed blond hair over her shoulder and begins a speech mostly knit together with thank-yous. She takes her time asking for requests from the group, beaming most of her megawatt smile at the couple at the front table. I get myself under control.
By the time we begin the rest of our set, I am back to normal enough to finish three more songs. When the applause comes again, I stick my fingers in my ears while pretending to hold my hair back for a curtsy. I’m so relieved it’s over I feel woozy.
Joe approaches with a cup of coffee. I take it and breathe it in. The foam and sugary sweetness hit me like smelling salts and bring me back to myself. I study Joe over my cup while he keeps an eye on the crowd. He’s a muscly guy with tan lines from his sunglasses that make him look like a very nice raccoon. Right now, his arms are crossed like he’s my own personal bodyguard. People give us space.
“Not bad, Louise. Not bad at all,” he says once the crowd begins to move back inside. “Your mom was right when she said you had the pipes.”
I smile into my cup.
“Don’t tell her I caffeinated a minor, okay?”
We both look over to where she’s standing, her hands on the hips of her tightest black jeans, talking to the Ray Ban guy.
“I don’t think she’d care.”
“No?” Joe gives me a look like he wants to ask more. I’ve already said too much, gotten too comfortable. He’s easy to talk to, and that’s a problem. What happens between me and Mom stays between me and Mom.
I begin packing up the guitar and tasseled rug we unroll for performances.
“Thanks for the joe, Joe,” I say.
“Was that a joke?” He makes a shocked “oh” face, and I laugh, because the caffeine has kicked in and I’m happy my job is done for the day. “I didn’t think you had it in you. Stay cool, Louise,” he says, and walks back into the café, throwing a dish towel over his shoulder.
Oh no. Mom is leading the fancy spandex couple over, and I immediately tense up. I guess I’m not quite done for the day after all.
Mom starts the introductions.
“Louise, I’d like you to meet Howard Maze.”
“Howie. Please.” Howie sticks out a big hand with stubby fingers. I can’t do it. A shake is too much. I give a little wave instead. He doesn’t seem to mind.
“This is my wife, Margaret. Maggie.”
Howie and Maggie. Same height, same glasses, same dark hair. They could have been cartoon supervillains.
“We’re a husband-and-wife talent team—the Maze Agency. We’re a family business, and we’re in the business of making families’ dreams come true,” Howie says like he’s in a commercial. “And we love your sound.”
“You’ve really got something, honey,” Maggie chimes in, lifting her glasses and eyeing me up and down. “Kind of raspy, like a modern Stevie Nicks.”
“A tiny dynamo, like Amy Winehouse,” Howie adds.
“But fragile-looking,” counters Maggie, “like early Taylor Swift.” This is too weird. I feel my jacket getting tight again. Mom nods. She’s been following the two of them as they size me up like it’s a tennis match. But I’m white-knuckling the coffee cup for all I’m worth. I can do this. I can be calm. Please, please don’t let the Mazes try to touch me.
Just as Howie’s reaching toward me like he wants to try that handshake again, Mom bumps Howie’s shoulder with hers like they’re old friends and says, “I told you you were in for a treat.” He drops his hand as she keeps talking. “And this is just a taste. Wait until you hear her miked and in studio.”
What is Mom doing? I study my toes while the three of them look at me. I have never set foot in a studio in my life. She’s making promises I can’t keep.
“Yeah, I believe it. I like her sound already. And the acoustics out here are zilch. I’m thinking commercial jingles at first. Then we’ll talk singles. She’s young yet. Does she act? Could she do Disney?”
The idea of television makes me want to puke. I consider puking right here to prove my point, but he keeps talking, more to himself than to us.
“Never mind, never mind,” he says. “This is vacation, not business, and believe it or not, we like to keep the two separate.”
It’s the first thing he says that makes me think I might like Howie Maze. Maybe he really is a family guy, and it’s not just a line? Disney’s a joke. Commercials of any kind are a joke. There’s no way a camera pointed at me would turn out well. But could I handle being alone in a studio? I picture it. A black box with nothing inside it but me and the music. It sounds soothing, like a sleeping bag zipped all the way up. But he ruins the dream with what he says next.
“We can’t tell anything until we get her into our offices back in LA. We’ve got a studio there, and we’ll see how she reads and looks on camera. Do you have a headshot?”
For just one second Mom looks as panicked as I feel. But then it’s gone. “Ah no. Sorry, Howie. Left those on the plane, I’m afraid. It was a rough transfer from Chicago to Reno.”
We have never been on a plane in our lives.
Maggie taps my shoulder, and I flinch. “Here, honey, you take this.” She hands me an ivory card with THE MAZE AGENCY printed on it in big blue letters. “Call us at the office, and we’ll set something up when we get back.” She turns to her husband, who is snapping to-go lids on both their lattes. “What do you think, Howie, end of next week?”
“Next week. Yeah, that should work. Vacation first, then work.”
“Excellent. We’ll check our schedule and get back to you,” Mom says like we’re on tour. But the Mazes are already making their way through the doors and back out into the Tahoe morning.
I swallow the last of my coffee and stare into the bottom of my cup. This was supposed to be free coffee and enough of a gig to keep Mom happy for another few weeks. Despite all her pep talks over the years, I never thought I’d actually have someone think I was good enough to sign. I love to sing because the sound of my own voice in my ears steadies me. It makes me feel stronger than I am. I try to imagine doing that in front of cameras and crowds and high fives and handshakes and applause. An acidy burp escapes my throat and burns. As soon as the Mazes disappear, I grab Mom’s hand.
“Mom, we can’t go to LA next week.”
“Why not?” She’s smiling and clicking her fingers together like there’s a song playing I can’t hear.
“Because… you have a job here.…” Because I like the mountains and the quietness of this place, I think. Because if someone tries to fit me for a Disney costume, I will implode.
“A job?” She stops and points to a stool so I’ll sit. “You mean the minimum-wage, no-insurance, waitress job? Yeah, tough decision there.”
I shake my head. I hate it when she gets sarcastic with me. The deck is almost empty now that the free entertainment’s over. I move to set my cup on the stool next to me, and it wobbles because my hands are shaking again. She sees it and leans her shoulder, as carefully as always, into mine. I sigh with relief at the weight of it. If either of us were to pull away, we’d both topple over.
“It’s about a seven-hour drive down to LA,” she says in a low, calm voice. “How about this—we go next week, see what happens?” The way it comes out, she sounds like she couldn’t care less if I get it or not. But I know better. “And then, hey, if they love you as much as I think they will, we’ll sign a big contract, make this our home base, and fly back and forth like fancy jet-setters?”
There it is. Her not-so-secret Hollywood dream life. But I can’t pretend I don’t like the idea of making Lake Tahoe permanent.
“Like with a real house here, maybe?” I ask, against my better judgment. “One of those cabins by the water near Commons Beach?”
Mom smiles. “Why not, baby girl? You’re a fighter, and you’ve fought your way almost to the tippity top. With your abilities, we could buy a McMansion in Beverly Hills.”
I smile too, because if I ignore the whole performing-in-public part, I can kind of see it. Not the McMansion. I see the rich people who fly into Tahoe for the weekend, with their shiny SUVs and ten-dollar lattes. They’ve never clipped a coupon or wondered where they’d sleep at night. But they don’t look any happier. I just want a little cabin with my own bedroom where I can pin pictures to the walls and pick out a quilt for the bed. We would have a kitchen—a real one, not a camp stove—and a refrigerator that would always be full. There’d be a path to the water, too. A place of my own.
“Hey, you two, lunch on the house?”
Joe comes out and hands me a bag with two bagel sandwiches and chips inside. I can smell the smoked salmon, and my stomach growls, yells really. It’ll be the first thing I’ve eaten today. There were no freebies from Mom’s late shift last night.
“Thanks, hon.” Mom slides off the stool. “And thanks for letting my baby girl take the stage this morning.”
“Sure. It was an honor. Louise, you’ve got a great voice. Keep at it.”
Mom bobs her head in agreement like he’s just stated the obvious—the sky is blue; the world is round; Lou’s voice is great.
“Listen,” Joe adds. “I know school’s back in session, but I hope you find the time for your music. I really do.”
Quick as I can, I drop my head and let the curtain of my hair fall forward. Mom made me memorize the name of the middle school in town, but I can’t remember it. Why can’t I remember it? Thank goodness for Mom. “Oh, she’s a good manager of her time, Joe. A real responsible kid. Homework first, that’s what I say, and singing second. And she sticks to it. Straight As all the way.”
I sigh inside. She’s gone too far. It’s still too early in the year for grades, even I know that, but Joe either doesn’t pick up on it or doesn’t care, because he smiles when I squeak out a “Thank you for the lunch,” and Mom pulls us away, through the café and back out onto the sidewalk. The sun isn’t as warm as it was just a few weeks ago. October is almost here. How am I going to hide the fact that I’m not in school once the weather turns too cold to be outside? Not that I’m complaining. I love the mountain quiet where I can be alone without bells ringing and bus brakes screeching and kids bumping into me. I miss the homework, though. There’s only so much you can learn from the donations in the Little Free Library. While we walk back down the hill to the campsite, Mom hums. School’s the last thing on her mind.
I flip down the tailgate, and we sit in the bed of the truck with our feet up and tucked into each other. The Chevy used to be white. It’s more a dirty beige now with cracks of rust running through it. But it’s home. I unwrap both our sandwiches, and we eat slowly, savoring something that’s not fried or out of a can. I lick the cream cheese off my fingers and then tip the paper wrapping up to catch the last of the crumbs. Right now, this is just about perfect. It’s cozy in the truck, and there’s a couple trying to teach their little kid to fish. He keeps throwing his Elmo pole into the water when he casts his line. It’s hilarious.
Mom reaches over and tucks a piece of hair behind my ear. I smell her, the warm tanned scent of her underneath the cigarette smoke. She moves to grab a Camel from her stash, but I catch her hand and hold it. She shakes her head but laughs.
“Maybe now’s the time to quit. A fresh start for me and you. Yeah?” she says.
I nod into her shoulder, and we both shiver when a gust of wind blows in off the lake.
“It’s colder now than it was this morning.” She sighs. “It’s probably eighty degrees in LA. What do you bet?”
I don’t answer. Instead, I scooch down so my head is on her lap. She moves her fingers through my hair slowly, and it doesn’t make me want to twitch. She’s the only one who can touch me like this without making me jump or cringe. There’s no startle reflex when it comes to her. I close my eyes and remember when I was littler and she used to do it all the time.…
It was the year I turned ten, and we lived down in Biloxi. We were hitting the casino circuit then. Mom had a job at a souvenir shop selling maps and T-shirts and gator-teeth necklaces. The tourist season was steady enough, even after the Katrina rebuild, that we could afford to stay at the Starlight, a pay-by-the-week motel just off the highway on a little strip of beach. I went to real school there too, all of fourth grade. Mom got me a Dora the Explorer backpack on discount from her work, and I ate a hot breakfast and lunch every day because the county paid. Biscuits and eggs and spaghetti and pizza and big, warm chocolate chip cookies. It was the longest I remember not being hungry.
It was also when I realized something was wrong with me. “On the spectrum,” I heard my teacher, Mrs. Guidry, whisper to another teacher at recess when I freaked out when a kid tried to push me on the swings. I didn’t know what it meant. But when I asked Mom later, she got mad and didn’t answer. Then I handed her a note from Mrs. Guidry and the school counselor. They wanted me to be tested. But Mom barely looked at it before tearing it into teeny-tiny pieces. She yelled that she was going to go down to the school to give them a piece of her mind. But she never did. We hit the road the next day. That was the end of Biloxi.
It was only later, after we’d moved, that I realized they’d meant autism. I’ve never been tested for it. Mom refused when they brought it up at school conferences. But I guess it didn’t matter. My teachers had already decided. They treated me different, and so I felt more different than ever. They were the grown-ups, so they must be right.
Mom lived for the weekends in Biloxi, when we’d hit up the “karaoke for kids” nights at the Beau Rivage and Hard Rock and Treasure Bay—all the big casinos. I can still remember the air when you first walked in. It was blasting cold, like stepping into a giant refrigerator. I kept a fuzzy old sweatshirt in my backpack that Mom made me take off before I performed. She said it was cold because they pumped in extra oxygen so the gamblers would stay awake and keep spending money. I believe it.
The karaoke nights, though, those were bad. The strobe lights were so bright they left lightning streaks on the back of my eyelids when I blinked. And the kids were mostly older than me, already eleven or twelve, and they danced and sang, and it was all hip-hop or rap. I actually like rap, the kind that sounds like poetry and doesn’t need instruments in the background to make you feel it in your bones. But Mom would pick Dolly Parton or a show tune from Grease, and I’d just stand there with my eyes closed and pull at the skin on my elbows while I sang. The only good thing about it was that no one really paid attention to what was happening onstage. Mom thought those karaoke nights would be our big break. She thought there’d be talent scouts. It took a whole year before she realized no one was looking for “the next big thing” in a karaoke club in Mississippi.
But after every show, when we were back in our room at the Starlight, I would take a bath and curl up in my towel on the bed. Mom would comb my hair out with her fingers just like she’s doing now, and we’d watch something goofy on the television… old episodes of Andy Griffith or Charlie’s Angels.
“Did you know I’m named after a Charlie’s Angel, baby girl?” she said one night.
I sat up and twisted around in my towel so I could tell if she was joking or not, but she was looking at the screen.
“That one.” She pointed to a woman with big blond hair and bell-bottom jeans. “Farrah Fawcett.”
“Your name’s Jill.”
“Jill’s her name on the show.” Mom stopped playing with my hair and curled her skinny arms around her knees.
“Your grandma wanted a beauty queen for a daughter.”
Mom could have been a beauty queen if she’d wanted. She’s the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen—even more than the casino girls in their feathers and sequins. But she never talked about my grandparents. All I knew was they’d kicked her out when she got pregnant with me at seventeen. “Hard to kick someone out of a double-wide I never wanted to be in in the first place,” she’d say any time I brought them up. I learned not to ask. But I still tried to picture them, Ronald and Leslie Montgomery of middle-of-nowhere Arkansas. They’re just blurred faces, though, all distorted like in a funhouse mirror. I guess that’s pretty much what Mom sees too.
I feel Mom’s hand still on my head and I sit up. I miss Biloxi. Not the casinos with their jangling noises and bright lights and carpet that smelled like beer and cigarette ash, but I miss the school with its steady meals and the Starlight with a clean bed and a bath.
Maybe Mom’s right. Maybe this will be different. Maybe I won’t freak out like I did in front of Christy’s restaurant when the crowd got too close, pushing me in on all sides. I can still feel the way the gravel dug into my knees after I screamed and dropped to the ground. I can still hear their voices:
“Is she okay?”
“I just touched her. That’s it. And she… screamed.”
“Drugs, you think?”
“No such thing as too young.”
“That’s a little cynical.”
“Well, whatever it is, someone needs to do something about that mother.”
And above it all, Mom yelling, “Get your hands off my daughter!”
I shake my head. Maybe Howie and Maggie will like me so much they’ll offer me a job, and I can sit in a dark, quiet studio and make some music and some money, and it’ll be better for both of us. I’ll turn into the star, and the fighter, Mom thinks I already am.
Reading Group Guide
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Tune It Out
By Jamie Sumner
About the Book
Twelve-year-old Lou Montgomery and her mom live life on the road. They sleep in their truck and scramble to make ends meet with odd jobs and tips Lou earns from singing at coffee shops and state fairs. According to her mom, Lou is going to be a star. The problem is, Lou hates performing, especially when there’s loud applause and strangers who try to touch her. After Lou crashes her mom’s truck during a snowstorm, Child Protective Services sends her to live with her aunt and uncle in Nashville. There, Lou learns for the first time that the panic she feels in certain situations has a name: sensory processing disorder. But Lou doesn’t want to make plans with her guidance counselor to manage her SPD. In fact, she doesn’t want anyone to know about it at all. However, Lou learns it’s important to share who you really are, especially with those who care about you.
1. Lou says, “I love to sing because the sound of my own voice in my ears steadies me. It makes me feel stronger than I am.” Explain what she means by this. Do you have something in your life that makes you feel similarly? If so, what is it? Why do you love it so much?
2. Why do you think Lou’s mom pushes her to perform even though Lou hates it? What effect does it have on Lou? Are there things your parents push you to do that you don’t want to do? Why do you think they do this?
3. Lou says she often feels like “no one wants to hear what I have to say” and that she doesn’t have control over her own life. Do you think this is true? Explain your answer using examples from the book. Do you ever feel like this? If so, how do you cope with those feelings?
4. Lou’s social worker, Maria, tells her that the move to Nashville “is a chance to find out more about yourself and to learn who you are when everything else falls away. This is an opportunity.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? What do you think Lou learns about herself in Nashville? Have you ever experienced a big change that was hard at first but turned out to be an opportunity in disguise? If so, what was it? What advice would you give Lou?
5. Lou’s mom pulled her out of school in fourth grade after a teacher suggested that she be tested for autism. Why do you think Lou’s mom is so resistant to having her tested? Do you think she has Lou’s best interests at heart? Explain your answer.
6. When Lou starts school at Chickering, she learns that there is a name for the panic she feels when she hears loud noises or when someone touches her: sensory processing disorder. Do you think knowing what causes her issues helps Lou? Explain your answer.
7. Lou claims that she’s “faint of heart” and “not strong.” Do you think other people in her life would agree with her? Explain your answer using examples from the book. What strengths do you see in Lou? Are there people in your life who have noted a strength that you didn’t see in yourself? If so, what was it, and how did it make you feel?
8. Early in the book, Lou says, “What happens between me and mom stays between me and mom.” Lou does go on to share some of her experiences with Well. Why do you think Lou decides to trust him? What makes you decide to trust or distrust someone?
9. Lou’s sensory processing disorder is an invisible disability: no one can tell by looking at her. Do you think it’s easier or harder to have an invisible disability than a visible one? What are the challenges of each? How can you help others feel accepted and valued?
10. After moving to Nashville, Lou misses her mom, but is also angry at her for sending Lou away and hiding her past. Have you ever had mixed feelings toward someone important in your life? If so, who was it, and how did they make you feel? How did you cope with these feelings?
11. Explain the meaning of the book’s title, Tune It Out.
12. Over the course of the book, Lou learns that there is a lot about her mom she doesn’t know or understand. Why do you think Lou’s mom hides her past from Lou? Why is Lou so upset when she learns how much her mom has hidden from her? Do you ever feel like there are parts of your parents’ or family’s lives that are mysterious to you? How might you better communicate with them?
13. Why do you think Lou and Well become such good friends when he is her opposite in many ways; for example, he loves the spotlight, while she hates it. What do they have in common? What do they bring to each other’s lives? Do you have any friends who are very different from you? What do you learn from them, and what do they learn from you?
14. Why does Lou want to hide her SPD from her friends and teachers? Do you think she is right to think that people would treat her differently if they knew? Have you ever felt like you needed to hide something about yourself so that people would treat you a certain way? Describe your experience.
15. How do Well and the other drama kids support Lou, both before and after they know about her SPD? How do your friends support you? What do you think makes a good friend?
16. When Well drives his dad’s golf cart to her house, Lou wonders, “If Well wrecked it and hurt himself, I wonder if his dad would get in trouble like my mom. Probably not. People with enough money to own golf carts don’t get investigated for neglect.” In what ways are Well’s dad and Lou’s mom similar as parents? Explain your answer using examples from the book. Do you think it’s true that people with money are treated differently than people who don’t have as much? Can you think of examples of this that you’ve seen in your own life or community? How does it make you feel?
17. Why do you think Lou finally decides to let her guidance counselor, Andrea, help her come up with a plan to manage her SPD? Support your answer with examples from the book. Do you think she should have asked for help sooner? Why can it be difficult to ask for help? Have you ever waited longer than you should have to seek assistance? If so, why did you choose to delay, and what did you learn from the experience?
18. During rehearsals for Into the Woods, Lou’s drama teacher says, “The story doesn’t end when we get what we want.” What do you think she means by this? How might you apply it to Lou’s story?
19. During Into the Woods, Lou learns that her friend Tucker has a hard time with small spaces. Do you think Lou was surprised to learn that one of her friends gets panicky sometimes too? Why does she thank Tucker after he tells her? Have you ever found unexpected common ground with someone? If so, who was it, and what did you have in common? How did the experience impact you?
20. When Mary Katherine gets sick during the performance of Into the Woods, Well pushes Lou to step in to sing the final song. Why do you think Lou decides to do it, even though she’s terrified? Do you think the Lou at the beginning of the book would have made the same choice? Have you ever done something that really scared you? If so, how did it turn out?
21. After Lou’s performance in Into the Woods, Well’s father, who is a music producer, tells Lou to call him. Instead, Lou throws his card away. Why do you think she does this? Do you think she’ll regret it later? Explain your answers. Her mom sees her do it, but doesn’t say anything. Do you think that was hard for her? What does it tell you about their relationship?
22. Both Lou’s mother and Well’s father seem to have a hard time accepting their children as they are. List some examples from the book where you see this. How do Lou and Well feel about it? If you could give Lou’s mom or Well’s dad advice on how to treat their children, what would you say?
23. Do you think Lou and her mom will live together again someday? If so, how do you think it will go? Do you think Lou’s mom will pressure her to perform again? Explain your answers.
1. Throughout the book, Lou uses music to calm her emotions and help her feel stronger. Well notices this and shares songs and playlists with Lou. Create a list of songs for Lou that could help her cope with the challenges in her new life. Be sure to list why you chose to include each song. If you’d like, create the playlist in your favorite music app.
2. Research invisible disabilities, and read about kids who have them. What are they? What are some common ones? What are some of the challenges of living with an invisible disability? Design a poster to educate your classmates on invisible disabilities.
3. Lou is upset that her mom has kept so much of her own past from Lou. She says, “There are too many big black holes in my life, and I’m starting to see it’s because Mom chose to keep it that way. I don’t get it. I don’t get why everything has to be so hard.” Imagine that you are Lou’s mom. Write a letter to your daughter explaining why you have chosen to live the way you do. Then, imagine you’re Lou and write a response to your mom explaining why this was so hurtful to you. What was most surprising to you in writing from both perspectives? Which letter was easier to write?
4. Imagine Lou four years later, and write a short story about her life. How has she changed? How is she the same? Is she living with her mom again, or is she still with Aunt Ginger? Is she performing music again? Are she and Well still best friends?
5. Lou spends a lot of time wondering about her mom’s past and wishing her mom had shared more. For this activity, interview one of your parents or guardians to learn more about their life. For example, where did they grow up? What was their childhood like? What challenges have they faced over the years? If you’re able, consider interviewing your grandparents or other relatives about what your parent or guardian was like as a kid.
6. Watch a video of all or part of Into the Woods, the musical Lou and her friends perform for drama class. Why do you think the author chose to feature this particular musical in Tune It Out? What do the characters of the play and the book have in common? Draw a chart showing connections between the play and the book. Some themes you might want to consider are the relationships between children and parents, wishes, leaving home, and what it means to get what you want. Note for teachers: depending on your students, consider leading this conversation as a classroom discussion or in small groups. You can also consider reading a synopsis with your class in place of watching the full musical.
Chris Clark is a writer and reading teacher who lives with her family in coastal Maine.
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.
- Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (September 1, 2020)
- Length: 288 pages
- ISBN13: 9781534457003
- Grades: 5 and up
- Ages: 10 - 99
- Lexile ® 670L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®
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Raves and Reviews
* “Her voice alternately wry, naïve, and wise beyond her years, Lou confronts sensory overload, self-consciousness, and her simultaneous love for and anger toward her mother in poetic, poignant prose. . . A vivid, sensitive exploration of invisible disability, family bonds, and the complex reality of happily-ever-after.”
– Kirkus Reviews, STARRED Review
* “Readers will fall in love with Lou Montgomery in this uplifting story, as she learns the power of music and the importance of family and friends.”
– School Library Journal, STARRED Review
* "Employing Lou’s clear voice and well-drawn relationships between complex characters, Sumner explores the challenges Lou faces as a result of her neuroatypicality and financially insecure past, culminating in an appealing, sensitively told tale."
– Publishers Weekly, STARRED Review
Awards and Honors
- Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Junior Title
- William Allen White Children's Book Award Reading List (KS)
- Children's Sequoyah Book Award Master List (OK)
- Volunteer State Book Award Nominee (TN)
- SLJ Best Book of the Year
- Bluestem Book Award Master List (IL)
- Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year Selection Title
- South Carolina Book Award Nominee
- South Carolina Junior Book Award Nominee
Resources and Downloads
High Resolution Images
- Book Cover Image (jpg): Tune It Out Hardcover 9781534457003
- Author Photo (jpg): Jamie Sumner Photograph © Bethany Rogers(0.1 MB)
Any use of an author photo must include its respective photo credit
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