To Henry, The Birth of Sorrow

Sneaking away from fourth grade

across the playing field

to the convenience store where

shelves of candy—all child-height and

shiny—lead you from mischief

into deceit. Your father

once ran out the double doors

and hid in a shady spot where books

and teachers could not reach him. You

have learned to ignore consequence,

to call being good by many

other names. Your father

used to drop worksheets on the floor

beneath his desk and wander home

with a clean conscience.


You, Henry, are indeed, my son, and

I am scared that you will get a C on

a report card four years from

now and, assume, just as I did, that time           

neither plods nor sprints, that teachers

neither care nor hate, that parents

will always forgive and childhood is

the playground where sorrows are planted far

too deep to ever cause us harm.


 A Not-So Peculiar Reader’s Guide

I was wondering what to blog on and my thoughts turned to the novel’s reader’s guide. I think I’ll have a little fun and riff off the questions, providing answers and thinking out loud about the things that inspired and shaped my life.

So…which question should I start with?

  1. Why do most people refer to the adults at The Mountainside School by just their last names? What does this practice reveal about the culture of the school?
  1. Is Goldie really a villain? Is she paranoid and dangerous or, considering her circumstances, are her actions justifiable?
  1. Are Greenie, Candy and Gunnar models of good leadership? How do the members of this power trio balance their political and romantic goals?
  1. Is Cassandra Diaz more than a clever student and an object of desire? How would the story change if she were not in it?
  1. What effect has Greenie’s mother had on his life? What lessons has she taught him?
  1. Does Mary Katherine Kimball make brave or foolish decisions throughout the novel? Ultimately, is she a saint or a sinner?
  1. Who were the Shakers and what lessons do they have for the characters in this novel?
  1. What’s up with the super long title? Are there incidents involving Shaker chairs that shed light on the role of these particular pieces of furniture in the novel?
  1. Do Greenie’s decisions at the end of his last year on The Mount bring clarity or confusion to the story?
  1. What moral questions does this story ask? When all is said and done, which characters seem most conventional and which seem most unconventional?
  1. What aspects of life at a small rural boarding school are satirized in the novel? What is the point of this satire?
  1. A lot of teaching and storytelling goes on in this novel. What makes a good teacher and a good storyteller, and what do those motifs contribute to the larger tale?

To learn more about these topics, the author and his other writing, visit his website