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The Decoding of Lana Morris
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The Decoding of Lana Morris

Written by Laura McNealAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Laura McNeal and Tom McNealAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Tom McNeal

· Knopf Books for Young Readers
· Hardcover · May 8, 2007 · $15.99 · 978-0-375-83106-5 (0-375-83106-1)
Also available as an eBook and a trade paperback.

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The authors will donate 10% of their net
proceeds to The Arc of the United States, an
organization which advocates for the rights and
full participation of children and adults with
intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Visit for more information.


When Lana arrives at her foster home, a family
comprised of a wicked mother, a sexy father, and
a house full of special needs kids, she thinks her
life is over; she soon discovers her complicated
journey has only just begun.

For 16-year-old foster child Lana Morris, life
presents more questions than answers. Resolute
and determined to survive, she tries not to care
that Trina and K.C. won’t allow her into their club,
and she denies her connection to the special needs
kids in her foster home. She also is confused about
her feelings for Whit, her foster father; clearly
hates Veronica, her foster mother; and is surprised
when her friendship with Chet, the boy next door,
threatens to blossom into love. One day, however,
after another hellish ride tagging along with the
cool kids in K.C.’s trunk, she discovers Miss
Hekkity’s antique and curiosity shop, where she
trades her cherished two-dollar bill for 13 sheets
of drawing paper. Soon Lana finds her life is
changing in mysterious ways, ways that resemble
what she has drawn on her new paper. Could she
really have
the power to make her deepest desires come true?


Laura McNeal is a freelance journalist and former
English teacher. Tom McNeal is the critically
acclaimed author of many short stories and the
adult novel Goodnight, Nebraska, winner of the
1999 James A. Michener Memorial Prize. They have
collaborated on other young adult novels, including
Crooked (an ALA Top Ten Book for Young Adults),
Zipped, and Crushed. The McNeals are married
and live in Fallbrook, California.


As you read the first
chapter aloud to the
students, ask them
to write down what
they learn about
Lana. Then, as a
class, compile the
information gleaned
from listening to the
chapter on the board.
From this list, ask
students to formally
compose questions
the author has
introduced about
Lana and her life
situation. Write these
questions down on
the board as well,
and as the students
read, allow them
to answer the
questions, draw
conclusions, and
generate additional


The first time Whit meets Lana he tells her, “I’m going to make it
my personal mission to learn the Morris code. . . . Everybody’s got
their own secret code and then one day—along comes the Decoder.”
(pp. 14–15) What are Whit, Veronica, Chet, and Lana’s secret codes?
Who is the decoder for each of them? How are their secret codes

Lana is willing to ride in the trunk of K.C.’s car in order to spend
time with people who make fun of her. What does this say about
Lana? How is Chet different from K.C. and Trina?

On page 86, Whit tells Lana that everybody worries too much,
including her. “It’s a widespread affliction. Someday I’ll help cure
you of it.” Does Whit help Lana overcome worry? How does worry
play a role in Lana’s life?

Eventually, Lana’s thoughts of Whit begin to replace her thoughts
about her father. What does this say about her growing affection
for Whit? Why is she confused by Whit’s actions? Are Whit’s actions
toward Lana inappropriate? Why or why not?

Lana learns about wishes from Whit, from Chet, and from the
special paper that she purchased from Mrs. Hekkity. What does she
learn from each of them? How does what she learns help her to be
a better person? How do her wishes change from the first day at
Whit and Veronica’s house to the day she leaves?

Lana comes to the realization that some people have “zipped-tight
hearts,” and she despises them for the pain they have caused the
innocent. (p. 115) What prevents Lana from zipping up her heart?
How do the Snicks change Lana’s life? What needs do they meet
in each other that no one else can meet?

K.C., Spink, and Trina terrorize the Snicks and Lana when they
make their trip downtown to buy groceries. What motivates the
three of them to bully those that are less fortunate than themselves?
Why does Chet step forward to help Lana and the Snicks? How
does this event change the relationship between Chet and Lana?

When Lana begins listening to Chet on his late
night podcast, she realizes she has underestimated
Chet. What does she learn about Chet from
listening to him? Why is Chet so secretive about
what he does? How does Lana help Chet with
his program?

Lana is not afraid of taking risks, but when she
steals Veronica’s car and kidnaps the Snicks,
she and Chet could wind up in major trouble.
Is doing something wrong for the right reason
ever okay? Why or why not?

After Veronica comes home from the hospital,
she confronts Lana about her feelings for Whit.
How is Veronica’s angry outburst on pages
220–222 a blessing for Lana? How does Veronica’s
revelation begin to open Lana’s eyes?

Lana believes the Ladies Drawing Kit brings her
wishes to life. What evidence does she have to
support this belief? What other reasons could
explain the unusual reactions her drawings bring?
Is the paper really magic? Why or why not?

Mrs. Stoneman, Garth’s mother, reports to the authorities that the Winters’ home is not an
acceptable environment for her son and the other children living in the home. Ask students
to choose one of the following letter writing activities: (1) assume the voice of Lana and
write to Mrs. Stoneman assuring her the Winters’ home is a great place for her son, (2)
assume the voice of the Child Protective Service (CPS) employee explaining to Mr. and
Mrs. Winters why they are removing the children from their home, or (3) assume the
voice of Mrs. Hekkity detailing her reasons to the CPS for wanting all six children. Have
each student read their letter to the class.

Chet’s podcast brings enjoyment and entertainment to Lana and a select audience of
listeners. Ask students to work with a partner to write a script for a podcast similar to
Chet’s, including humor, thought-provoking questions, commercials, and
advice to callers. Then, have students record their podcasts to play for the class.


The authors’ unique word choices bring
nuances of meaning that ordinary words
don’t carry. Ask students to keep a two-
sided vocabulary journal as they read the
book. On the left side of the page, they
should copy down phrases such as the
ones below that convey unique word
choices. On the right side, students should
react personally to the word choice through
explanation, drawing, personal association,
and/or revision.
“A hint of truculence in her voice” (p. 4)
“This one is stellar” (p. 5)
“Low, rich, mellifluent voice” (p. 5)
“A cranky old misanthrope” (p. 35)
“Not especially acquisitive or covetous
by nature” (p. 39)
“Wear a label saying OMINOUS” (p. 51)
“Then raucous laughter from the Snicks”
(p. 65)
“She feels discombobulated” (p. 94)
“I like the Mrs. Hairball moniker” (p. 124)
“Hard derisive laughter” (p. 162)
“Stare with theatrical petulance” (p. 165)
“An odd, ardent expression forms” (p. 173)


Prepared by Susan Geye, Library Media Specialist, Crowley Ninth Grade Campus, Crowley, TX.