September 1, 2020

Twelve-year-old Lucy is not pre­pared to be the new kid at school. She’s still griev­ing her broth­er, Theo, who recent­ly died from a con­gen­i­tal heart defect. Her par­ents are so intent on a fresh start‚” that she does­n’t know how to talk to them any­more. And the oth­er kids in her grade are sur­vivors of a very dif­fer­ent kind of tragedy: a school shoot­ing that dev­as­tat­ed their small town four years ago.

With­out the shared past that both unites and divides her class­mates, Lucy feels lost. Even her love of math does­n’t offer the absolute answers she craves. But when an after-school mime class gives her a chance to forge new kinds of con­nec­tions, Lucy finds that while grief can take many shapes and sad­ness may feel infi­nite, love is just as powerful.

This poignant nov­el offers a lens through which young read­ers can process the weighty real­i­ty that school shoot­ings occur and leave a last­ing impact, while explor­ing how empa­thy and com­mu­ni­ca­tion are a way for­ward through all kinds of grief.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Emi­ly Barth Isler

  1. What Jew­ish cus­toms or tra­di­tions might help or have helped Lucy and her par­ents deal with los­ing Theo?

  2. Lucy’s moth­er ref­er­ences the Holo­caust, com­par­ing sur­vivors of it to the sur­vivors of the shoot­ing in Queens­land (page 63). In what ways is this com­par­i­son help­ful? In what ways are these two things different? 

  3. What might school shoot­ing sur­vivors learn from Holo­caust survivors?

  4. In recent years, Jews have been tar­get­ed in mass shoot­ings; most notably the tragedy at the Tree of Life Syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh. What do you think is the respon­si­bil­i­ty of Jews in terms of the activism to end such gun vio­lence in Amer­i­ca? How can Jews be good allies to mem­bers of the Black com­mu­ni­ty, the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty, and oth­er com­mu­ni­ties who are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly affect­ed by the preva­lence of gun violence? 

  5. Short­ly after the action of this book ends, Lucy and her fam­i­ly will face the first anniver­sary of Theo’s death. Imag­ine you could plan a whole day for them to observe his Yahrzeit. What would you sug­gest they do? 

  6. Lucy thinks a lot about exis­tence after death– her pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with Bette, her dreams of Theo and the ocean, her curios­i­ty about Avery’s broth­er. What does Judaism teach us about this idea?

  7. What does Judaism teach us about for­give­ness and sec­ond chances? How is Lucy’s deci­sion to for­give Avery and con­tin­ue to be friends inher­ent­ly Jewish? 

  8. What Jew­ish val­ues might con­tribute to Lucy’s deci­sion to befriend Avery and to keep being her friend even though the oth­er kids ostra­cize her? Does Judaism teach us to befriend those in need? To take care of those who are outsiders?

  9. What advice does Lucy take away from con­ver­sa­tion with her Rab­bi? Do you agree with Rab­bi Steve’s advice (page 18)?

  10. What is the Jew­ish take on this idea Lucy has of com­par­ing loss­es? Where Lucy feels that her loss of Theo is not on the same lev­el as the oth­er kids’ loss­es from the shooting? 

  11. In the class­room dis­cus­sion of infin­i­ty, what would the Jew­ish take be? (Chap­ter 7, pages 97 – 102) In the Torah, G‑d tells Abra­ham to go out­side and count the stars in the night sky, and that that will be the num­ber of his descen­dants. In what ways is that like the kids in the class try­ing to envi­sion infin­i­ty? How is it dif­fer­ent? Do you think G‑d was try­ing to show Abra­ham infin­i­ty in this example? 

  12. Relate Lucy’s par­ents’ dis­cus­sion of plant­i­ng annu­als vs plant­i­ng peren­ni­als to Jew­ish teach­ing. How does this debate have Jew­ish themes? What would the most Jew­ish” answer to this quandary be and why?

  13. If Lucy’s new school were a Jew­ish school, do you think the kids would treat Avery as they do or would they treat her dif­fer­ent­ly? If you were a teacher at this pre­tend Jew­ish school, how would you approach this dilem­ma about the way the stu­dents ignore Avery?

  14. Joshua’s par­ents decide to have a sec­ond child in the wake of his injury in the shoot­ing. Sim­i­lar­ly, many mod­ern Jews, in the wake of the loss of 6 mil­lion in the Holo­caust, attempt to have more than one child in an effort to replace those who were lost. Discuss.