1. How familiar are you with the genre of a “graphic novel?” Have you read one before? How is your reading experience changed by the inclusion of visual images? Some critics argue that this addition robs you of the opportunity to use your imagination in reflecting on the story. Do you agree or disagree with this position?
2. How does the prologue set up some of the central themes of the novel? Why did the author use the image of Jarrett learning to drive? And why did he place this driving lesson alongside his grandfather in a cemetery?
2. What are we to make of some of the angry and intolerant behaviors of Jarrett’s grandmother? Similarly, how should we respond to Jarrett’s mother’s irresponsible acts during his early years? How much empathy do you feel for them, even if you don’t condone their actions?
3. One of the details from his childhood repeated by the author is how he saved the marshmallows from his cereal until the very end of breakfast. Why do these tiny very specific memories matter so much in a story? Why is this such an effective technique in a memoir?
4. Jarrett suffers from nightmares that speak to the frightening upheaval he experienced when his mother disappeared from his life. Do you think he is suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? What is PTSD and what are some of the major symptoms? How might the fights between his grandparents trigger his earlier memories?
5. It is almost literally halfway through the memoir before we learn that Jarrett’s mother is addicted to heroin and has spent much of her time in prison. Apparently, the author considered writing the memoir without revealing the specific reasons his mother was absent so much. How would this have changed the book for you?
6. Learning about his mother’s addiction, does this give you more compassion for her? How responsible do you hold her for actions throughout Jarrett’s childhood? Do you agree with him that she was “a good person who made bad decisions?”
7. What special gift do Jarrett and his mother share, even during the years she is primarily communicating to him by letters? How important is this to Jarrett’s course of development as a person?
8. What is the great advice that Mark at the Worcester Art Museum gives to Jarrett? Could you relate this to a similar moment in your own development?
9. Think about this quote, “With my comics, I was in charge of what happened. I could escape fully into these worlds I created. But the real world, it kept coming for me, and I controlled none of it.” Are there other examples that you might consider of how an activity or action can grant the momentary feeling of control in a period of life when having control seems impossible?
10. How does the author tackle the problem of emotional ambivalence throughout the novel? Why does Jarrett’s grandmother respond negatively to receiving his painting of her and his grandfather? Why does Jarrett claim that he “hates” his absent father and unreliable mother? Why do both of Jarrett’s grandparents talk so openly and lightly about their own deaths?
11. In the author’s note, Krosoczka says, “If you ignore the ghosts of your past, they’ll haunt you. Yet his grandfather counseled him, “If you dwell on the ghosts of the past, they’ll haunt you.” Who do you think is right? Is it possible to strike a balance?
12. What argument does this book make for the importance of art education, and for art, in general? Do you think we are giving our young people sufficient opportunities to explore and develop in the arts?
13. How has this book broadened your perspective about important personal and/or societal questions? How has it challenged your thinking about family, social class, addiction, and the boundaries of art and literature?