Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"The Beginning of After" and "You Look Different in Real Life" in the Classroom (Jennifer Castle)

Well, hello! Maybe you're reading this because you follow the YA Outside the Lines blog and are curious to see how each of us is addressing this month's theme of "how to use our books in the classroom." Maybe Google spit you out at this link because you're looking for recommended YA reading on a certain subject, or because you searched on something involving "book club guides" or "educators' guides." All good. I'm glad you're here.

This is how I see my books in the classroom, and thankfully, not as the quiet, sullen person in the corner flicking paperclips at the back of your neck.

The Beginning of After
Themes: Grief & Loss, Overcoming Trauma, How Relationships Change, Forging Unexpected Connections

When The Beginning of After was still in ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) form, I gave it to a friend who teaches 8th grade English. I was curious about whether this was the kind of book that would "translate" well into the classroom. You know, the kind of book I remember from when I was in school. A book that wouldn't feel like homework. A book that would make me look forward to class, just so I could discuss it. I didn't write a book to be that kind of book, because you can't, really. But I knew it sure would make me happy if it became one.

My friend thought it was that kind of book. She put The Beginning of After in her curriculum, and I love the way she framed it: as journal writing prompts. Some of the prompts were given to students before they began reading the book, some came at specific chapters, and others after the book was finished. Because the novel touches on a wide range of personal experiences, from trauma and grief to friendship and romance, it turns out to be a wonderful "gateway" to getting students examining various aspects of and writing about their own lives. And anything that gets young people writing...that is useful indeed!

We've made these journal prompts and extensions available as a downloadable "Educators' Guide" to The Beginning of After.

Epic Reads, HarperCollins' online book community, also created a downloadable "Book Club" guide for the book that contains some wonderful discussion questions.

You Look Different in Real Life
Themes: Self-Identity, Self-Image, Effects of the Media, Effects of Social Media, How Relationships Change

Recently, I received an email from a high school student in Pennsylvania who was writing a book report on You Look Different in Real Life. She wanted to draw parallels between Justine and her friends having parts of their lives available for public consumption through the "Five At" documentaries, and today's young people making parts of their lives available for public consumption through social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. "Were you thinking of this parallel when you were writing the book?" the student asked me. And I was like, YES YES YES YES YESSITY YES.

Justine and her friends are the stars of a film series about their lives. In a similar way, social networks allow us all to make ourselves the stars of a multimedia narrative of our lives. The questions surrounding this are pretty juicy. Is the person we're projecting into the world really "us," or just a version of "us"? Does all this sharing help us figure out who we are, or make it more difficult?

I believe You Look Different in Real Life also has great value as a story about friendship. The interconnectedness of Justine, Nate, Rory, Felix, and Keira brings up some interesting questions about betrayal, hurt, forgiveness, misunderstandings, empathy, maturing toward or away from a person, and other elements we all have to navigate when it comes to healthy relationships with our peers.

Although I have yet to create an Educators' Guide for this book, Epic Reads does offer this wonderful Book Club guide, which has more discussion questions.

In the end, I hope my books are good reads that resonate with students, that spark thought and discussion, and inspire others to write their own they real or fictional, or somewhere in between.


  1. I love that you created that educators guide! And I loved those kind of books that didn't feel like homework. I wish I could have read the Beginning of After in school!

  2. I think the Educator's Guide is absolutely amazing. I'm going to ask my editor if we can include one in Some Boys right now!

  3. What a cool friend you have! Best response you can get for your book is from the intended audience...

  4. How fantastic that your friend incorporated your book into her lessons!