Just Juice Discussion Guide
- Grades: 3–5
Nine-year-old Juice Faulstich, the middle child of five sisters, plays a pivotal role in her family. She takes care of her younger sisters, watches over her pregnant, diabetic mother, and helps her depressed father in his metal workshop. Though plucky and resourceful at home, Juice has had a hard time at school: She's been kept back in third grade because she can't read. Feeling that she'll never catch up and that she's really needed at home, she is often truant.
Money is tight for the Faulstich family. Juice's dad has been laid off from his job in the mines and most family meals consist of jelly sandwiches. Worse yet, her dad, secretly illiterate, has just received a letter warning him that they will lose their house if he can't raise the money for back taxes.
Family love triumphs over these difficulties. Juice's sisters figure out a way to teach Juice her letters, and her mom comes up with a way to save their house. In the climactic scene, Juice is the only one home when her mother gives birth. By reading the sugar monitor to prevent diabetic shock during the delivery, she saves her mother's life.
In addition to the triumph of family love, a central theme in this moving story is the pain and danger of illiteracy. Juice is humiliated by her failure in school, and she feels she must hide her inability to read from her family by "pretend reading" to her younger sisters. Her illiteracy makes her doubt her own considerable intelligence. Her father is humiliated when he must ask Juice's sister to read the threatening letter about back taxes due on the family house. Had Markey not been able to read, the family would not have known their home was at risk.
Juice is torn between going to school and staying at home to help her family. In one scene, she watches her sisters walk off to school as she turns back: "Half of me wishes I was going down that raggedy road with them. The other half is purely joyful I am not." At school she feels like a failure, but helping her father in his metal workshop, she feels a sense of accomplishment and pride.
The Faulstich family lives in very poor conditions in an Appalachian mountain town. Pa is out of work and food is scarce. The children exchange handmade gifts for Christmas. What other details does Hesse provide to describe their house and the town they live in? Where does Juice find the shed for Pa's workshop? How does Pa get to town? How does the family get the food they need to survive?
Throughout the book, Juice describes the weather using vivid metaphors. Find a few examples of these descriptions in the book. Then describe the weather in your own words. Why do you think Juice uses these metaphors to talk about the weather?
Hesse introduces several characters besides the Faulstich family, including Geneva, Miss Hamble, and the truant officer. What roles do these people play in the family's life? What do we learn about the town from these characters?
Juice thinks she's not very smart because she cannot read. What do you think? Do you think Juice is a typical 9-year-old? Why or why not? What does she do to prove her sense of responsibility and love for her family? What types of things bring Juice the most happiness?
Pa is another central character in the book. What do we learn about Pa by his actions and words?
How would you describe the Faulstich family? What qualities are important to everyone in the family? What actions do they take to look after one another?
What details did Hesse provide that made the characters seem real?
Is knowing how to read important? For Juice or for her whole family? Discuss how different family members feel about reading.
Most people think literacy only refers to knowing how to read, and yet there are other types of literacy. What does it mean to be computer literate, for example? Musically literate? Artistically literate? Do you have to go to school to be literate? Are Juice and Pa literate in other ways besides reading? What special skills do they have?
Literacy means more than being able to read books. How does Juice show she knows how to read? How does she use her reading skills to help Ma? Discuss reading for a purpose, or functional literacy. What can you read that others might have trouble reading? (For example, a computer game manual, poetry, or music.)
Juice's family doesn't have much money, and yet some people would say this family is very rich. What do you think? Does being rich always mean having money?
Juice has trouble reading. Does the author suggest any reason for her difficulty? Do you think that if a person is unable to read, he or she must be stupid? Why or why not?
Juice hates going to school because other kids make her feel she doesn't belong. What could her classmates have done to make her feel more comfortable in class?
Other books with similar themes:
All Joseph Wanted by Ruth Yaffe Radin (Simon & Schuster)
Amber on the Mountain by Tony Johnston (Dial Books for Young Readers)
Oh, How I Wished I Could Read! by John Gile (John Gile Communications)
Raising Sweetness by Diane Stanley (Putnam)
Read for Me, Mama by Vashanti Rahaman (Boyds Mills Press)
Three of Hearts by Kathleen Duey, Karen A. Bale (Camelot)