Discussion Guide: Blind Faith

Blind Faith

By Ellen Wittlinger

 

About the book:

After Liz Scattergood’s grandmother, Bunny, dies, Liz’s mother spirals into a deep depression. She barely gets out of bed let alone does any work in her pottery studio like she used to. Then Liz’s mom starts attending a spiritualist church, where she believes she can communicate with Bunny through a medium. Liz thinks it’s weird, but she agrees to go along- maybe it’s a way for her and her mother to bond. But for Liz’s atheist dad, the spiritualist church has the opposite effect- it drives him away from her mom and their family. Without anyone to talk to, Liz turns to her new neighbor, Nathan, who’s dealing with his own mother’s terminal cancer, and together, Liz and Nathan help each other cope in the wake of loss. In this moving novel, acclaimed author Ellen Wittlinger explores how a loved one’s death impacts those who are left behind.

About the author:

Ellen Wittlinger is the critically acclaimed author of the teen novels Lombardo’s Law, Sandpiper, Heart on My Sleeve, Zigzag, The Long Night of Leo and Bree, Razzle, What’s In a Name, and Hard Love (an ALA Michael L. Printz Honor Book and a Lambda Literary Award winner), and the middle grade novel Gracie’s Girl. She has a bachelor’s degree from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, and an MFA from the University of Iowa. A former children’s librarian she lives with her husband in Haydenville, Massachusetts.

 

Author Interview:

Author Interview for BLIND FAITH

1. After writing so many books for teens has it gotten easier?

The way in which the writing gets easier is that I trust myself more now to be able to finish what I’ve started. I’m more confident that I can write myself to an ending. But the day to day work hasn’t changed. Sometimes it flows; sometimes it’s an uphill slog.

2. What five books would you take with you to the afterlife if you could?

Only Five? Surely there’s a celestial library where I can borrow more? Okay, well…
100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of my favorite books which would surely stand up to repeated readings.
The Collected Stories of Grace Paley because I love her voice and the humanness of her characters and would be happy to spend the afterlife with them.
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust because I haven’t taken the time to read it but I’d like to, and in the afterlife I’ll have lots of time.
The Collected Works of William Shakespeare because that alone could keep me laughing and weeping and pondering throughout eternity.
Hard Love by me, to remind myself what my work on earth had been.

3. You tackle some weighty topics in this novel. What inspired you to do so? What do you hope it accomplishes? 

A few years ago a friend of mine had started attending a Spiritualist church where she felt she had gotten in touch with some of her dead relatives. Even though I’m a skeptic about such things, I went with her a few times to see what it was all about. What struck me was, once I was there, I wanted to believe what the preachers said too! Being in the church atmosphere where everyone else believed was very powerful, though once outside again I went back to my skepticism. I thought it would be valuable to talk about this in a book: why do people believe what they believe? Why is blind faith so helpful to some people but not others? I didn’t mean to give any definitive answers, just to pose the questions.

4. Do you worry about censorship with this or any of your novels?

None of my novels have been formally challenged or censored, that I know of. But I don’t worry about it too much—you can’t allow other people to dictate your book to you. A challenge usually just brings more publicity for the book anyway. Not that I want my books challenged—I certainly don’t, because that means there will probably be some people who are kept from reading them. And, even worse, it probably means that some valiant teacher or librarian has to put her/his neck on the chopping block on my behalf, which would be terrible.

5. What are you working on now?

The next book to be published will be Parrotfish in summer, 2007, a book about a female-to-male transgendered teenager. This book, which explores the meaning of gender, is very close to my heart. The novel I’m working on now doesn’t have a title yet. It’s a companion book to Hard Love, but this time I’m writing from Marisol’s point of view. The story continues about four months after Hard Love ends.

 

About this guide:

This guide includes discussion questions and projects intended to extend the use of the novel into classrooms, book clubs, and literature circles. It should promote discussion on the themes of the novel including family, friendship, spirituality, death, and hope.

Pre-reading:

What does it mean to have blind faith? What does it mean to have any kind of faith? How does some one get it?

Discussion Guide:

  1. Why do you think Wittlinger opens the novel with a funeral scene? What are we able to learn about each family member because of it? If you had to describe each member of Liz’s family in one word which one would you choose after reading the beginning of the novel?
  2. Describe the relationship Liz has with her mother. Compare it to the one Christine and Bunny shared. Why do you think it hasn’t trickled down into the next generation?
  3. Who is Monica Winters? What does she offer Christine? Do you believe in a spirit world? Can some people see more than others? What makes you think so or not?
  4. How does Liz feel about boys? Roxy, her best friend, feels differently. How has this changed their friendship? Does this often happen between girls? Does it  affect boy’s friendships too?
  5. Who are Nathan and Courtney? Why have they landed in Tobias? Where does Nathan feel like he really belongs? What do you think it would be like to live with Mrs. Crosby?
  6. Why is Liz’s dad so angry over Singing Creek? Do you think he’s overreacting?  Is he being fair to Christine after her recent loss? What’s his story from childhood?
  7. What happened at the recital? How would you feel if this had happened to you? Are you willing to share your most embarrassing moment? Why or why not?
  8. Do you think Roxy is a good friend to Liz? Would you want to be Roxy or Liz’s friend? Why? Do you think their friendship will last? Does it too deepen by the events of the novel? Why doesn’t Liz ever tell Roxy that she too makes her mad sometimes?
  9. Liz says, “I might have believed almost anything he told me- at least while I was inside the church, under his spell- because I wanted to believe…” (p. 106) Is this true of all faiths? Is this why organized worship is so important? Do you think this is how people become brainwashed into cults and other dangerous organizations?
  10. Do you think Nathan and Liz make a good match? Are they good for each other? Will their relationship survive all the conflict in their lives? Predict what you think their lives will be like a year from now.
  11. Do you blame Liz’s dad for leaving? Is there ever a good reason for parents to split up a family? How does it change Liz too?
  12. Courtney often surprises everyone with her ability to see beyond her years. Do you think this is a natural ability for some people or do their lives force them to see things differently? Defend your answer.
  13. Liz finally calls her mother out about their relationship (reread p. 230) Why does it take her so long to say what she’s been thinking? Is her assessment of their relationship accurate? How does her mother react? How would yours?
  14. Who would you have been mad at during the funeral? In your opinion, should Courtney ever be introduced to Singing Waters? Do you think it is a black and white problem between Liz’s parents or are their shades of gray? Why?
  15. How does Liz change from the beginning of the novel until the end? Which event changed her the most, Bunny’s death or Nathan’s mom? What makes you think so? How can the death of a loved one really change those left behind?

Projects:

Language Arts:
Write five journal (or blog) entries that Liz would create over the course of the novel. Have several of the other characters also respond.

Music:
Create an I-pod playlist for Liz. Which songs do you think she would choose? Which ones would you choose for her? Why? Listen to the Mozart pieces that she mentions playing in the novel and write a response to them. Include these responses in a brief journal which you also turn in with the playlist.

Art:
Create a piece of art which represents Liz’s internal conflicts. In a brief artist’s statement explain why you made the color, form, media and style choices that you did.

Drama:
Write a scene between any two characters from the novel. It can be before it opens, during the novel or after it closes. Be sure to use standard play format.

This guide was created by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, a reading specialist and author of Reaching for Sun (Bloomsbury). Visit her website to find dozens of guides to YA literature.

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