Discussion Guide: The Long Night of Leo and Bree

The Long Night of Leo and Bree

by Ellen Wittlinger

About the Book:

Leo is losing it. It’s the fourth anniversary of the brutal murder of his sister, Michelle. And since then his dad has left the family for Kentucky, his mom has lost touch with reality, and Leo hears his sister’s voice telling him to hurt someone. Bree is the privileged girl from Hawthorne trying to break free of her mother’s constant worry and her boyfriend’s control by “slumming” it in working-class Fenton. In the course of one long night the two meet and both lives are changed forever.

About the guide:

This guide includes discussion questions and projects appropriate for book clubs, literature circles, and classroom discussions. It is intended to provoke thought and insight into the themes of this novel which include family expectations, violence, privilege, healing, and self-identity.

Author Interview:

What inspired the story of Leo and Bree?

 I had a good friend to whom something similar happened. She was older than Bree and didn’t end up in a basement overnight, but she did talk her way out of the situation by “making herself real.” That was the part of her story that I wanted to dissect–it was so interesting to me.

How do you stay connected to teen’s voices and culture?

My own children are in their twenties now, so I don’t have the voices in my house anymore, but I do lead a teen reading group at my local library. And doing school visits is another way to stay in touch. But a trip to the local mall is almost as helpful. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open. And it’s not really work for me to do this–I still feel like a kid myself (at least in my head) and enjoy teen movies, books, TV shows, etc.

What do you hope readers take away from this story?

As in all my books, I hope I’m shaking up the stereotypes a little bit. Is Leo really a terrible person? Is Bree as perfect as she looks? I also hope readers think about what it means to “make yourself real” to someone, and why that might be the thing that breaks down barriers.

Do you plot your novels or just follow where they lead? Why?

I plot them less than I once did. I usually have an idea of where I HOPE the book will end, and then I work my way toward that end, but sometimes the characters have minds of their own and I don’t end up where I thought I would. That’s what makes writing fun.

What advice would you give young adults hoping to become writers?

The advice I give to everyone who wants to write is simple: read everything you can get your hands on, and write every day, if only in a journal. Just as in playing an instrument, practice is the secret to writing well.

What can your fans look forward to next?

The next book to be published is called BLIND FAITH. It’s about two teenagers who have lost or will soon lose beloved family members, and how that calls into question their beliefs. I know, it sounds heavy, but there is actually a lot of humor in it.


Discussion Guide:

  1. Describe Leo’s family. Who is living in the family home? Who is missing and why? Would you stay if this was your circumstance? Why or why not?
  2. Bree says, “I’m sick of listening to all these people trying to convince me what experts they are on my future.” (p.8) To whom is she referring? Do you think all teenagers feel this way? Why? How is Bree trying to break free from these ties?
  3. Do you think Leo is mentally disturbed? Why? What evidence do you have from the text to support your answer? Would anyone lose touch with reality under these circumstances? Why are some people able to piece their lives back together after tragedy while other families fall apart? Is this family even capable of healing?
  4. On page 35 Leo gives a long list of “What if” sentences. What does this show about his grief? How do his actions get so out of control so quickly? Predict what you think Leo’s life would’ve been like without the murder of his sister. Can anyone be capable of this kind of faulty thinking? Are all humans violent?
  5. What is the one piece of advice that Bree remembers from her self-defense class? Do you think it saved her life? Why do you think this technique is so successful? Do you think you would be able to maintain enough composure to get your assailant to talk like Bree did? What would you tell him about yourself?
  6. Leo alternates between objectifying Bree and feeling protective of her actions. Why doe he keep waffling between these two extremes? What is motivating his responses to her? How is she becoming more human? Where do you think the turning point happened for Bree’s safe return?
  7. Compare Leo and Bree’s families. What, if anything, do they have in common? How are they different? Do you think Bree’s family will become closer because of the events of the story or will it only drive the wedge deeper?
  8. Despite his erratic behavior and threatening of violence, Leo is still a sympathetic though complicated character. Do you think all criminals deserve to be understood? Why or why not?
  9. Describe the main setting of the story. How does it add to the psychological landscape within the pages? What locations would not be appropriate for this type of novel? How does it add to the tension in the story?
  10. How do you think Bree and Leo will be changed from this experience? Is it possible that they will both be better people because of it? Do you think Bree might slip and give away Leo’s identity? Would you protect him?
  11. What act is the beginning of healing Leo and his mother’s life? How is it accomplished? Would you be willing to help your attacker in such a way? Why?
  12. What does Bree do at the restaurant? What does this show you about her path for college and beyond? What realizations did Bree come to during the night?


Language Arts:

Write a letter from Leo to Bree but date it two years past the close of the novel. Explain what has changed in his life since the events of that long night. Respond as Bree.


Create a soundtrack for the movie release of The Long Night of Leo and Bree. Use at least eight different songs and explain your choices in a brief journal.


Create two pieces of art- one inspired by Bree, the other Leo. Don’t just think about the figures but be purposeful in your choice of color, design (abstract? realistic?) and media. Explain your choices in a journal.


Research what your actions should be if you are attacked. What are the actions of most survivors? Create a reminder to review occasionally and keep in the glove box of your car or locker.

This guide was created by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, a reading specialist and author of the poetry collection Sketches from a Spy Tree. Visit her website and find many other guides to young adult novels.

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