Pre Reading Activity:
Wendelin Van Draanen uses a lot of idioms and colloquial sayings throughout her story: swear to howdy (p. 7), dumber’n a post (p. 11), rakin’ rain (p. 49), jumpy as spit on a skillet (p. 58), and frog-stranglin’ rain (p. 124). Have students use an idiom dictionary to look up these phrases and see if they can find the origins of the sayings. Ask them to brainstorm idioms they use in their everyday language and look for more idioms as they read.
A funny, thought-provoking story of friendship from Wendelin Van Draanen.
Russell and Joey are true friends, swearing to keep each other’s secrets, no matter the cost. They do everything together: swim in the river, catch the biggest frog, conspire against their older sisters, shoot Joey’s .22 rifle, and even sneak out of the house. Joey always has a bright idea, and Russell is ready to help him in whatever plan he cooks up.
When Joey decides to keep the legend of the Ghost of Lost River alive by dropping a “ghost” out of the trees in front of passing cars, Russell participates even though he thinks it is a bad idea. When the prank causes the death of Amanda Jane, Joey’s older sister, the boys promise to keep their involvement a secret. Russell breaks the promise, but true friendship is the winner, and through Amanda Jane’s death, both families learn about love and betrayal.
1. Russell and Joey make a lot of promises to one another vowing not to tell each other’s secrets. They are honest with one another and keep their word, showing they have integrity. Have you been told secrets that prompted you to “swear to howdy” not to tell another living soul? Did you keep your word and the secret, or did you tell the secret? How did you feel if you told the secret? Did you feel justified in telling? What situations justify telling a secret you have sworn to keep?
2. Russell thinks, “People are pretty much alike. The folks on your left are pretty much like the folks on your right, and that they’re all pretty much the same as you.” (p. 23) Therefore when he witnesses Joey’s father’s anger and unfair treatment of Joey, he is shocked to learn that what he believed about people was wrong. Joey’s father is not at all like Russell’s patient, kind, and caring father. What events occur that show the differences between these two men as fathers? Do you think Russell acts wisely when he lies about his father to help put Joey’s embarrassment at ease after his father yells at him in front of Russell? How would you have handled this situation?
3. Since Joey thinks Amanda Jane hates him and enjoys it when he gets into trouble, he is puzzled when he finds out Amanda Jane did not tattle on him for buying new fish when they kept dying. Russell pinpoints her motivation by stating, “Maybe she likes you better’n she likes your dad.” (p. 32) Obviously, Joey’s perception of how she feels about him is not accurate. Can you think of a time you misjudged someone and later found out your perceptions was wrong? Or a time that someone misjudged you? How did your misjudgement of the person alter the outcome of the event?
4. Russell feels secure telling his father the truth about shooting Joey’s gun even though he knows his father will not like what he did. On the other hand, Joey is afraid to tell his dad the truth about anything. How do the boys’ relationships with their fathers ultimately shape the decisions they make? Do you feel secure enough to tell your parents what you do, even if you know they will be upset? If not, who can you talk to if you are in trouble?
5. Joey says several times throughout the story, “Life ain’t fair, Rusty-boy.” (p. 83) Why does Joey think life isn’t fair and why does Russell disagree with him? What events have occurred in your life to make you think life is fair? What are some positive ways to deal with the feeling that life isn’t fair?
6. When Sissy is caught cheating on a major test, Russell realizes that “Some times life’s more fair than others.” (p. 88) He learns that sometimes people do get what they deserve. Have you ever been in a situation where you or someone you know received the “fair and deserved” consequences of their actions? How do you determine what is “fair and deserved?” Does it seem appropriate to rejoice in the adversity of others? Why or why not?
7. Russell and Joey make a blood pact when Amanda Jane is killed, and they vow to be true friends. When Russell tells the truth about what happened, Joey ends their friendship. Was Russell being a true friend to tell what really happened? Why or why not? How would you define a true friend?
Prepared by Susan Geye, Library Media Specialist, Crowley Ninth Grade Campus, Crowley, Texas.
From the Hardcover Library Binding edition.