Discussion Guide to the Novels of Kevin Brooks
- Grades: 9–12
About this book
About this book
About this book
Since the Spring of 2002, when his first novel Martyn Pig was published, Kevin Brooks has become an exciting new voice in young adult literature. His novels have been described as taut, fresh, edgy, and compellingly original. Kevin Brooks has an amazing ability to get inside the mind of his teenage protagonists and see the story vividly from their unique viewpoint. He says he can do this because he still feels closely in touch with the teenager in himself. However he does it, the result is books that are edge-of-your seat gripping and involving, that speak directly to teen readers in the "voice" of a teen. At the same time, the novels explore complex situations and themes in a thought-provoking way that makes them ideal for rich discussion and sharing of ideas.
Ages 10 and up 240 pages
Hardcover 0-439-29595-5 $15.95
Paperback 0-439-50752-9 $6.99
About the Book
"Gripping plot twists...fresh and edgy...will have tremendous teen appeal." - School Library Journal, starred review
"A breathless read...the macabre details are as compelling as the edgy realism." - Booklist, starred review
Meet Martyn Pig, a boy with a terrible name, trapped in a terrible life. His mother has left him. His father is a belligerent, abusive alcoholic. It seems his life can't get any worse. But then, the week before Christmas, it does.
In this roller coaster of a novel, Martyn narrates the happenings, introduces the people in his life, and espouses his philosophies. But there is so much is going on - so many surprises and reversals, secrets, and revelations - that we have little time to think about things as we are carried away by the fast pace. It is not until we have finished reading the novel that we have a chance to consider Martyn and his story - to raise questions and debate.
- Things don't just happen, they have reasons. And the reasons have reasons.
Things don't just happen, do they? They have effects. And the effects have effects. And the effects of the effects have effects. And then the effects of the things that happen make other things happen, so the effects of the effects become reasons. Nothing moves forward in a straight line, nothing is straightforward.
Talk about the events of the novel. Then trace them backward. What single thing happens that starts the chain of the subsequent effects? Does that thing have a reason?
Examine the events in your life. Do you find reasons and effects working in this way? Do you agree with Martyn's philosophy?
- The trick with plans is that you have to take into account unforeseen circumstances. However well you work things out, there's always a chance that something you hadn't thought of will happen.
On Wednesday, when his dad dies, Martyn Pig doesn't do anything. But, by Thursday, he's come up with a plan, and throughout the novel he creates, and to some extent executes, a series of plans to cope with everything he has to accomplish.
Discuss the plans Martyn devises and the unforeseen circumstances that threaten their success.
- Ever since he was 10 or 11 and received a copy of The Complete Illustrated Sherlock Holmes, Martyn has loved mysteries. He describes the work of his favorite mystery writer:
In case you don't know, Raymond Chandler is the best detective writer ever. Philip Marlow, that's whom he writes about. Blackmail, murder, mystery, and suspense. And a plot with more twists than a snake with a bellyache.
In many ways, that description fits the novel Martyn Pig. Talk about the blackmail, murder, mystery, suspense, and plot twists in the book. Do you think Martyn would say Kevin's Brooks's novel holds up to Raymond Chandler's works? Do you think the book works as a mystery? Compare it to other novels you have read in the same genre.
- What is Martyn's lowest point? Is it on Saturday, at the beach, when he thinks about death, perhaps suicide? Is it on Tuesday when he recognizes Alex's betrayal? How does Martyn cope with his feelings?
We meet all the characters in Martyn Pig through Martyn's eyes. Everything we know about them has been filtered through his perception and opinions. Yet, as readers, we draw our own conclusions, based on clues in the novel and on our own experiences and ideas. Do you agree or disagree with Martyn about the main characters in the novel?
- Aunty Jean
My Aunty Jean. Dad's older sister. A terrible woman. Think of the worst person you know, then double it and you'll be halfway to Aunty Jean.
Martyn's most horrible fear is that he will have to move in with his aunt. Yet, when he does, he tells us:
"It's not as bad as I thought it would be. Although that's not to say it's great or anything. There's plenty of Aunty's crap to deal with ..."
What is it about Aunty Jean that Martyn dislikes so much? How does she feel about Martyn? What do you think of her based on her actions?
Did I hate him? He was a drunken slob and he treated me like dirt. What do you think? Of course I hated him. You would have hated him, too, if you'd ever met him. Yeah, I hated him. I hated every inch of him. From his broken-veined red-nosed face to his dirty, stinking feet. I hated his beery guts.
But I never meant to kill him.
Whether you think that Martyn killed his dad or that his death was an accident, the question of whether he deserved to die is something that can be debated. Discuss what kind of man William Pig was. It's clear he was an alcoholic. Does this explain all of his behavior, or is he indeed a horrible man through and through? Is there any evidence of a better relationship between father and son at some other point or in other circumstances?
From their first meeting, Martyn is crazy about Alex. Therefore we cannot trust him completely. In fact, it turns out, not only should we look beyond Alex's words and actions, but Martyn should have, too. Alex is, perhaps, the most complicated character in the book. What do you think of her? When do you believe she came up with her own plan for the money? And do you believe her when she writes to Martyn justifying her actions by spouting his own words back at him?
Badness is a relative thing ... something's only wrong
if you think it's wrong. If you think it's right and others
think it's wrong, then it's only wrong if you get caught.
Do you think Alex buys this, or is she just rationalizing?
Martyn Pig. Martyn with a Y, Pig with an I and one G. Martyn Pig.
Unless you've got an odd name yourself you wouldn't know what it's like. You wouldn't understand. They say that sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you. Oh, yeah? Well, whoever thought that one up was an idiot. An idiot with an ordinary name, probably. Words hurt.
What was your initial reaction, your first impression of Martyn Pig? Did your opinion change over the course of the story? Does Martyn always tell us - and himself - the truth?
Martyn tells us his philosophy of life in bits and pieces throughout the novel. He tackles the big questions and the small ones in his monologues. And he can be very persuasive.
- The thing about dreams, they don't come from anywhere else but yourself. It's not as if there's some evil demon waiting around somewhere, waiting for you to sleep so he can sneak into your mind and show you all his crazy things. It's you that does it. It's your mind. Whatever demons there are, you invite them in. They're your demons. No one else's.
Psychologists agree with Martyn on this. Dreams often help them understand people. It's interesting that Martyn only talks about demons in dreams - not happy visions and wish fulfillments that are also the stuff of dreams. What does this reveal about Martyn?
Do Martin's dreams foreshadow events in the book?
- Who knows what someone else is thinking? You can't even be sure that anyone else is thinking at all. How do you know? You don't. You'll never know.
Martyn lives a solitary life - much of it with his books and in his own head. Do you think this had contributed to his belief that you can't trust others? Do you agree with this point of view, or in your experience, are there people -- friends, family - whom you can trust and with whom you can share your thoughts?
- None of us has any control over what we do. If you're good, you're good - and if you're bad, you're bad. That's all there is to it. You can't change the way you're made. You can hardly blame a fly for being a dirty little buzzy thing, can you? It had no options. Just as we have no options. You get what you're given. Like it or lump it.
Do you agree or disagree? Certainly, Martyn believes you can change your circumstances, that once he has the money, he and Alex can make their lives better. Does he think he can be truly happy? Do you think he can?
- On Sunday morning, Martyn is listening to the radio: I asked myself what I'd take if I were stranded on a desert island. I wouldn't bother with any records, for a start. If you've only got eight, you're going to get fed up with all of them pretty soon. They'd start to get on your nerves. So, no records. That left me with a book and a luxury object." Martyn concludes: "There was nothing I wanted on my desert island, nothing at all."
It's revealing to look at Martyn's decision and his thinking process. What music, books, and luxury items would you take if you were stranded on that island? Compare your choices with Martyn's and with those of others in your book group.
Martyn's narration of his story is colored by his love of mystery novels and television shows. The places for the events feel like stage or movie sets. How do the various settings of the action establish a mood and contribute to the suspense? Look at the details that the author gives in describing each place. The busy pre-holiday city streets; the Pig apartment; the beach; the gravel pit; the police station.
As Martyn walks alone on the beach, he coaxes himself to keep thinking and plays a game of free association that helps us understand his frame of mind:
Sea. The sea. Salt water. Brine. Brian. Call me Brian. Destiny. Sea. Adriatic Sea. South China Sea. Irish Sea. Red Sea. The Dead Sea.
Read Martyn's chain of conscious thought out loud. Then try one of your own. Record it and listen to it. What does it say about your mood?
Try some free association with your book group. Have someone get you started with a word, and have each person in your group add the next one. See where it takes you. What words seem obvious to everyone? What choices surprise the group and take the free association in an unexpected direction? Are the word selections arbitrary or purposeful?
Ages 12 and up 432 pages
Hardcover 0-439-45698-3 $16.95
Paperback 0-439-53063-6 $6.99
About the Book
"Brooks's second novel is an ambitious and intricately crafted tale of love and resurrection that more than lives up to its eye-catching packaging. Growing up on a beautiful but isolated island off the English coast, narrator Caitlin, 15, is deeply ambivalent about the onset of adolescence When rootless Lucas comes to the island, to camp out and live off the land, he becomes Cait's friend and stirs her heart. Lucas arouses the suspicions of the insular islanders, who (thanks to the scheming of some unbelievably brutish characters) come to believe that the boy is responsible for a violent sexual assault....[The novel's] powerful combination of big ideas and forthright narrative make this novel likely to linger in readers' minds." - Publishers Weekly, starred review.
"An edge-of-the-seat story...by turns sweet, taut, and terrifying....Teens may pick this up for its sheer intensity, but once they put it down, they'll ponder its many meanings." - Booklist, starred review
In Lucas, the arrival of a strange outsider is the catalyst for change, which begins with one teenage girl, and then sets off a chain reaction that affects the whole community. Kevin Brooks mixes mystery, romance, tragedy, and a morality tale in this powerful novel, and leaves us with many questions.
Throughout the novel, Caitlin makes choices - good and bad - that move the story along.
· That night after being accosted by Jamie Tait on the beach, Cait questioned herself:
...I knew I ought to tell someone about it, but I couldn't think who...
It was my word against his. ...And anyway, I kept thinking what actually happened? He hardly touched you, did he? He didn't do anything...he hardly touched you...
To whom could she have told this? Discuss what their reactions might have been. Could any of them have offered real help? How might the course of the novel have been changed if she had told?
· Cait chooses to go to town in Robbie Dean's car; she chooses to befriend Lucas; she chooses not to communicate with her father about her relationship with Lucas. How do these choices affect how the story unfolds? Were there alternatives to these actions? What choices would you have made in these circumstances? Would different decisions have changed the outcome or, as Lucas believes, would things have happened anyway?
- Lucas sat down on a rock and rolled a cigarette. ...He was sitting quite close to me. Close enough to talk but not too close. ... Lucas was looking thoughtfully at me. ...
Lucas: "Robbie's not the one you have to worry about. Angel's the one. ...
Is she ill, do you know?"
Cait: "Ill? What do you mean?
Lucas: "I thought I noticed something when she was at the bridge."
Cait: "Tell me."
Lucas: "That's it - nothing. That's what I saw. She didn't have a face."
Talk about what you thought Lucas meant when he asks Cait about Angel Dean. Did you understand it better at the end of the story?
- After the violent confrontation in the woods many things change.
· Cait walked away glad that she was safe.
I can't pretend that I didn't enjoy seeing Jamie Tait suffer...but whatever sense of relief I had was completely outweighed by my reaction to the violence itself. Its sheer power, its brutal simplicity, the way it cut straight to the heart of things-it was breathtaking. Up until then I'd always gone along with the idea that violence never solved anything...but now I wasn't so sure. And I wasn't sure I liked it.
How does this represent a change in Caitlin? Do you believe that violence can be a legitimate solution to a problem?
· Lucas takes Dom aside and talks to him. After that, Dom is a changed person. Cait never finds out what he had said.
What do you think Lucas could have said to Dom?
· Instead of telling their father what had happened, Cait and Dom concoct a story to explain their injuries. What are they trying to protect? Do they think that lying to their father and pretending that nothing happened will suddenly make things disappear?
- We smiled at each other. It was an awkward moment, with all sorts of unspoken things bubbling away beneath the surface, and we both looked away.
That was us, I realize now. Us - a moment. That was what we were: a moment. No past, no future, nothing beyond the present. It was almost as if we were different people when we were together, people who only existed in the present.
Talk about the relationship between Cait and Lucas from both of their points of view. Is this a one-sided romance or does Lucas share Cait's feelings? Cite details from the novel.
- At what point in the story, if any, did you realize that Lucas was going to die? At what point, if any, does Caitlin realize this? Could the novel have ended any other way?
- Lucas was walking across the Stand. Although he was on the small side, he wasn't as slight as I'd first thought. He wasn't exactly muscular, but he wasn't weedy looking either. It's hard to explain...
The air became still; birds stopped calling. Everything was in slow-motion. It was dreamlike.
Lucas was undeniably beautiful. Then he was gone in a flash.
Lucas is full of contradictions. He can be kind, thoughtful, and gentle one minute, and violent and vicious the next. Who is he? What do we know about him? How do you account for the effect he has on people and animals? What role does he play in Cait's life? What role does he play in the life of the town? Do you see Lucas as a symbol? If so, for what?
- The island of Hale is a character in the book. What about it makes it more than a setting, more than a backdrop, but a real participant in the story? How do the places in which people live shape the way they think?
- Bill says to Cait:
"At least I'm making an effort to grow up. You can't learn everything from books, Cait. You can't stick your head in the sand and pretend that everything's how it used to be. We're not little girls anymore. Things change. Sometimes you've got to get out and do things for yourself."
Good friends often give each other advice like this. As readers we believe that Bill and Cait were good friends, but now we see that Bill has no idea what is going on with Cait.
Talk about the character of Bill and what she is looking for in life. How has her friendship with Cait changed? After the events of the summer, can they ever be close friends again? Have you had friends with whom you are no longer close? What changed?
- In most young adult fiction fathers are shadows, one-dimensional characters. But in John McCann, Kevin Brooks has created a parent who is interesting and who participates in the resolution of the conflict.
Discuss the type of person Cait's father is. What are his strong points and what are his flaws? How would you characterize his relationship with Cait? What causes him to be so critical of Dominic?
- Caitlin's father tells her to write a story about Lucas.
"Anyone can write a story. All you have to do is tell the truth, tell it like it was."
"I don't know all the details, the facts."
Stories aren't facts, Cait, they're not details. Stories are feelings. You've got feelings haven't you?"
If stories are based on feelings, then how accurate are the events portrayed in the novel? Can we trust Cait's feelings to reveal the truth? What do you think the truth really is? Do you discover truth through logic, feelings, or some combination of both?
- Cait is appalled by Robbie Dean throwing stones at the boy (Lucas).
A surge of anger welled up inside me. I saw their mocking faces, teeth, lips, burning eyes, and the air around them tainted with cruelty, and it hurt so much I wanted to scream. But I knew it was pointless. It would always be the same. There was nothing I could do to change it. So I just turned around and started walking.
Cait stands up for defenseless animals in the RSPCA. Why doesn't she stand up for the boy? Do you agree that there is nothing she can do? Shouldn't you stand up even when you think the cause is lost?
- Lucas knows the mind of small town people, and he understands their bigotry.
Lucas: "People don't like it when they don't know what you are. They don't like things that frighten them. They'd rather have a monster that they know than a mystery they don't..."
Follow the progression of Lucas from stranger to scapegoat. Why are the people of Hale so antagonistic toward him? Discuss times when you witnessed or were the victim of this kind of treatment.
...Although the rain was holding off, the sky looked ominous. There was a gloomy feeling in the air. ...The weather cast a shroud on everything.
The sea looked like thunder.
Throughout literature the fury of nature often sets the mood for the action and serves as a foreshadowing of things to come. On the day of the regatta when Lucas is accused of molesting a girl, a raging storm approaches. Discuss the symbolism of the storm. Find other instances where the author uses the weather to set the stage for the action.
The island sky has its own unmistakable light, an iridescent sheen that moves with the moods of the sea...
The mudflats shimmered eerily in the sunlight, giving off a dull gleam that stilled the air.
The hazy air, the mottled colors, the dappled light...it was like a scene from an impressionist painting.
In Lucas Kevin Brooks paints pictures with words. Scan the book and find more sensory images. Read them aloud to your group. Discuss the adjectives he chooses, the rhythm of the sentences, and other writing techniques Brooks uses to set scenes and create moods.
Kissing the Rain
Ages 12 and up 336 pages
Hardcover 0-439-57742-X $16.95
About the Book
Overweight and shy, Moo Nelson is happiest spending time on a secluded bridge above the highway, watching the cars go by. One day, from his special spot, Moo witnesses a murder that changes his life forever. Now the police, the gangsters, and even the school bullies all want something from Moo - and he must find out the truth behind the crime...before it's too late. In this thought-provoking thriller, Kevin Brooks tells a story of pain and discovery that will resonate with young adult readers everywhere.
Michael - or Moo - depending on how you want to think about him - is a mighty complicated fellow. Overweight, friendless, victimized, unsociable, he's not easy to like. And he sure doesn't want our pity. Yet we're caught up in his story, his situation, and we can't quite figure out what he's going to do - even what we think he ought to do. And, while he talks a lot about the truth, we're never quite sure we can believe his perception of things. It all makes Kissing the Rain a terrific book to talk about.
- Chapters 1 & 2 are the starts of the intertwining story lines of the novel. Chapter 1, The Start of the Truth, introduces the incident that Michael witnesses, and Chapter 2, The Truth of the Start, tells us the beginning of his transformation from Michael to Moo. How do these two stories mesh and depend on each other?
- Word gets around school that Moo has witnessed an incident of road rage and a murder, and he's treated as if he is a celebrity. There is no RAIN. He knows that all the kids in the school want to know what happened. They want him to give it up. Why doesn't he capitalize on the situation and use it to gain acceptance from the other kids? Why does he refuse to talk about it?
- Moo has had seven months to think about the incident he witnessed. Seven months of the police, lawyers, Keith Vine, Brady, the kids at school. How accurate do you think his story is? Can he be wrong about what he thinks he saw? What do you think happened?
- As the end of the trial approaches, Moo concludes that the solution to his problem is to kill Keith Vine.
All we got to do is take him out. End of story...
The clock's tick- ticking. And if I ain't gone soon, it ain't gonna happen...And that's the TRUTH. I'm gonna stay here forever, stuck in this hole, and NOTHING'S GONNA HAPPEN...
WHAT YOU GONNA DO?
· What do you think Moo is going to do? Do you think he is capable of killing someone?
· Does it surprise you that Moo concludes that the solution to his problems is to kill someone?
· You've heard about kids who, through desperation, commit unspeakable acts. Is Moo one of those kids?
· What's more important? - that Moo makes a decision? - or that he actually comes through with it?
- Of all the words, the teasing, the pity, the RAIN, the one thing that has haunted Moo is what he heard three girls say at the playground a few years earlier:
"What'd you rather do? Kiss Moo or eat dog poo?"
"Yeh, kiss Moo or die."
"I'd kill him, then I wouldn't have to do neither."
How has that experience and memory shaped the kind of person Moo is? How does he use this memory to, in his own mind, make things right? How does he interpret it into the idea: KISS THE RAIN?
- "...I ain't asking you to feel sorry for me. I ain't looking for PITY or nothing, all I'm doing is showing you the RAIN, letting you feel what it is like, cos you gotta feel stuff to understand it, don't you? So, if I'm gonna be telling you stuff about ME - which it looks like I am - then you gotta feel what it's like to be ME, else you won't understand it."
Talk about the kind of kid Moo is. What kind of self-image does he have?
Do you agree with Moo? Do you have to "walk in someone's shoes" to understand what they're feeling?
- You feel bad cos you're FAT, so you eat to make yourself feel better, which makes you get FATTER which makes you feel badder, so you eat some more to make yourself feel better...
Do you know people like Moo whose behavior keeps them trapped in a cycle of victimization? Have you ever been caught in a cycle that you felt you couldn't get out of? How difficult is it to change behaviors and patterns? What advice would you give Moo
- ...You don't have to see Brady's face to recognize him. He's about 2 feet tall...well, OK maybe a bit taller than that. I mean, he ain't a dwarf, exactly...but he's pretty damn short. Short and squat. Stubby little hands. And a head that's way too big for his body. Yeh, that's Brady for you - pretty as sin.
Moo sees Brady in the same way as the other kids in school see him. None of them recognize and treat Brady as a human being. Based on other things Moo says about him and your own perceptions, draw a more complete description of Brady.
- "...Friends? What's a friend? One minute they're this and the next minute they're that. Friends are nothing, and even if they ARE something-which they ain't-you still got no CHOICE. You get what you're given...you get what you DESERVE."
In adolescence-yours and Moo's-friends are critical for growth and survival. Why is he so cynical about relationships? Does Moo have any friends? How different would it have been if Moo had a friend to confide in?
Discuss the relationship between Moo and Brady. Are they friends? Do they do the things that friends are supposed to do for each other? Does Moo think he deserves friends? Do you think he does?
Talk about your friendships. What do you expect from your friends? Do you set limits on what you would do for them?
- It's the same every Day. The RAIN of words, the boys on bikes spitting their spit, the PITY looks from parents in cars, the girls in short skirts with their spite and their PITY...
RAIN comes in many forms. How well do you know the RAIN that Moo talks about? Have you or anyone you know ever been the victim of it? Have you ever RAINED on someone else?
- Moo struggles with the truth.
The truth as he knows it: TRUTH = lies. Lies = TRUTH.
The truth D.I. Callan wants: "Sometimes you got to do what's wrong to make things right...."
The truth that D.S. Bowker expects: "I'm your conscience Mike. I'm your truth."
Is truth the same for everyone? Is it absolute or is it relative to the situation?
- I NEED TO TELL THE TRUTH...and I just kinda THINK of someone to tell it to. I IMAGINE this person...I dunno who they are. He ain't got a face or a name or nothing...like a mirror inside my head...an echo or something...
An inside ME...
Or maybe an inside YOU...
Whoever they are-whatever WE are-I bring em out, sit em down and tell em the TRUTH.
At the end of the novel, but really the beginning of the story, Moo confesses his need to purge himself of the burden of what he saw and the loneliness of the life he's leading. As readers we become the listener he imagines.
Have you ever had something you just had to tell to someone? Why does Moo need to tell this story? How will that change things?
He imagines a listener to tell his truth to, but whom is he really telling the story to? Explain.
Michael escapes into his own world on a footbridge over a highway, looking down on the traffic passing beneath him. Every day after school and at times during school, Michael goes there to empty his mind by watching cars go by. He is alone and away from the forces in school that torment him, tease, terrorize, and depress him; RAIN on him.
What is the symbolism of the bridge? Talk about a special place where you go to be alone.
Kevin Brooks uses sounds, descriptive language, repetitive words, names, and capitalization to emphasize the way Moo is feeling and to hear Moo's voice clearly. How does it affect the way you read the novel? Find some of the more powerful examples of his use of language. What techniques do you use to enhance the quality of your writing?
Comparing the Novels
"When I write a book it's alive in my head. But it only really comes alive when it finds a life in someone else's head. It's the reader who makes it special."
Kevin Brooks invites you to be a part of his novels. First by reading them and then through discussion with your reading group
The voices Kevin Brooks uses to narrate his novels are distinct and unique. Have someone in your book group pick up one of the novels and read aloud, leaving out proper names and telling details. In a matter of moments, everyone will know who is talking - which novel is being read. Compare the voices of Martyn, Caitlin, and Moo. Talk about why you think Kevin Brooks developed these particular styles for each story. Which of the narrators do you trust the most? Which the least? Imagine hearing one of the stories in another character's voice. What would change?
- I closed my eyes, kept perfectly still, and listened. It was only a very light breeze, and at first it was hard to separate from all the other sounds of the night -the creaks and hums of the house, the occasional sound of a distant car, the faint roll of the sea. But the more I listened, the clearer it became, and after a while I could distinguish the different sounds coming from different trees - a dry rustling from the elm in the back garden, a leafy rush from the poplars along the lane, and from the ancient oak in the field at the back of the house, a tired groan, like the sound of an old man getting up from a chair.
Kevin Brooks is attuned to sounds, and he describes them so precisely that we hear them acutely: from the sounds of the night as Caitlin lay in bed, to the bustling pre-holiday city streets that Martyn walks, to the noises of the cars passing under "Moo's bridge." Look through the novels and read aloud sections that describe sounds. How do these sections help to build a reality for each novel? How do they help identify feelings of loneliness? How do they help establish character?
- Martyn Pig, Lucas, and Kissing the Rain all deal with outsiders - both as characters and as themes. And, although the outsider is a common character in young adult fiction, Kevin Brooks's treatment is new and fresh. In what ways do you think Martyn and Alex, Caitlin and Lucas, and Moo are outsiders? How does this affect their stories? What insights about outsiders did you find as you read the three novels? Do you sometimes feel like an outsider yourself? How do you see yourself in relationship to your world: home, school, and community?
- There are police officers in all three novels. What roles do they play in the plots? Are they stereotyped, idealized, or genuine? Are they to be trusted? Are they like police officers that you know - either from your experience, from other books, movies, or television? Do they solve mysteries or are they part of the problem? Compare the officers in each book and then compare the officers in all three novels. What motivates them? Are they good or bad?
Does the law differ from the truth? If so, how?
- Talk about the fathers in Martyn Pig, Lucas, and Kissing the Rain and how they relate to their children.
- A theme all three novels share is the dilemma of what is right and wrong - the conflict between conventional wisdom versus discovering your own personal truth. What happens when they come into conflict? In Kevin Brooks's vision, there is not a black-and-white distinction, but rather a spectrum of grays. As children and teens, we are often given much clearer definitions. Talk about what is right to the various characters in his books. With whom do you agree?
Another way of describing this is to say that all three novels are about the search for Truth. What is Truth according to Kevin Brooks? Is it facts, perceptions or feelings? What is Truth for Martyn, for Caitlin, and for Moo? Do any of them find The Truth? What do you do when your sense of truth differs from that of those around you?
- All of the narrators - the protagonists - seek solitude near water: Moo goes to "his" bridge over the roadway, which he calls "the river." Caitlin returns to the beach after the first encounter with Jamie Tait. And Martyn spends Saturday at the beach.
The beach? Why not? There'll be no one there, it'll be empty. Cold, big, wide open, and deserted ...
Why do they need to be alone? What is it they find in being near water or, in Moo's case, images of water? Where do you go to find peace and to think things through?
If you could ask Kevin Brooks a question, what would it be? Have your group discuss what they would like to talk about with the author.
About the Author
Kevin Brooks counts among his many jobs being a crematorium assistant, a refreshments vendor at the London Zoo, and a civil servant. But he always wanted to be a writer.
It was the publication of Martyn Pig that changed everything. After being turned down by a number of publishers, Kevin Brooks sent his manuscript to The Chicken House, who jumped on the chance to publish it. They released Martyn Pig in the spring of 2002. In the U.K, the book went on to be short-listed for the Carnegie Medal and win a Branford Boase Award for a first best novel. And in the United States, it was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start and an ALA Book of the Year, among its many accolades.
One of Brooks' favorite genres is the detective novel, and this shows in his writing, "I think my awareness of plot comes from having read a lot of crime fiction. When Martyn Pig came out, the reviewers were saying things such as ‘well plotted' novel. I found that surprising because I didn't have any idea that I could plot or structure a story. I do plan, but I'm not consciously aware that I'm building a plot that creates good suspense; it comes naturally because I've soaked myself in those sorts of plots."
Why did he decide to write for children? "There are not many differences, I don't think, between writing for children and writing for adults," Brooks says, "because children aren't that different from adults. But I would say the story is the main thing, with children. With adults you might use different styles and structures, perhaps indulge in fiddly niceties. Writing for children brings you down to basics."
Critics have compared his second novel, Lucas, to classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Ox-Bow Incident. Told through the eyes of fifteen-year-old Caitlin, Lucas captures the pain and grace of an adolescent girl faced with a moral dilemma - with only her heart to guide her. "An ambitious and intricately crafted tale of love and resurrection," says Publishers Weekly in a starred review. Lucas was long listed for the Guardian Fiction Prize, was a Book Sense 76 pick and was also chosen for Barnes & Noble Teen Discovery Program.
His latest title, Kissing the Rain, will be published in March 2004. It is a story that Brooks had in his head for a long time. "When the time was right, I just opened the door and let it out," he says. Kissing the Rain is the story of Moo Nelson, an overweight teenager who becomes the key eyewitness in a murder trial. "I became Moo Nelson," he says "I became his mind, his body, his words, his truth, and I lived out his journey - from truth to lies and back again; from loneliness to loyalty, from denial to acceptance, from weakness to strength... It was a hard journey at times, but I loved every minute of it."
Kevin Brooks is married and lives in Manningtree, Essex, England.
To order copies of Martyn Pig, Lucas, and Kissing the Rain by Kevin Brooks, published by The Chicken House, an imprint of Scholastic, contact your local bookstore or usual supplier. Teachers and librarians may call toll-free 1-800-SCHOLASTIC. Prices and availability subject to change.
This guide was prepared by Clifford Wohl, Educational Consultant.