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Tradition

Reading Group Guide

    A Reading Group Guide to

    Tradition

    By Brendan Kiely

    About the Book

    Jules Devereux and James Baxter are both seniors at the prestigious boarding school Fullbrook Academy. Jules is the daughter of an alumnus, and James is an Ohio hockey player on athletic scholarship. As their unlikely friendship grows, they begin to truly understand the dangerous traditions that allow sexism, harassment, and rape culture to go unchecked at Fullbrook. After Jules is sexually assaulted, she turns to James and their small group of friends to help her reveal the truth, even if that means sacrificing their futures.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Based on their words and actions, what are your first impressions of James, Ethan, and Freddie? When readers first meet Jules, she’s passing out women’s health pamphlets to incoming students. What does this tell you about Jules’s character?

    2. James feels like an alien at Fullbrook Academy, a “dumbass from corn country.” How does this feeling make James susceptible to peer pressure from Freddie? What does James mean when he thinks, “Still, I like the banter. Liked being a part of it all. There was something familiar—not the words, just being part of the conversation”? Describe a time in your life when you felt like James. Why do you think James burns the stolen picture, even though he doesn’t really want to?

    3. Jules and Javi talk on the quad after Mrs. Attison makes Jules stop passing out women’s health pamphlets. Javi tells Jules that the tables and papers will “get cleaned up.” Jules hates this phrase that she hears too often at Fullbrook, thinking, “As if it wasn’t expected that those who made the mess had to clean it up.” How is this thought a metaphor for the way the administration fails to address sexual abuse and assault, effectively enabling it to continue? How are students’ inappropriate actions “cleaned up” for them before they can face the consequences?

    4. Throughout the book, Freddie and the other hockey players refer to girls by demeaning terms: new prospects, hos, meat, a 9 or a 10. How does this sexist language promote the belief that women are sexual objects? How is the “senior carpet” tradition sexist and degrading to the female students? How does objectification lead to a normalization of rape culture? Do you hear this kind of language used by anyone around you or in the news? What can you do to try to change these conversations? Discuss what Jules means after Freddie and his pals tell her “‘You’re still an 8,’” and she thinks “it was like they weren’t even really talking to me, but rather, right at my body, wrenching the two apart. That seemed so dangerous, to think of me and my body as two separate things—as if one could be sacrificed to protect the other.”

    5. Discuss the scene where James and Javi scratch demeaning graffiti off lockers. How is this a true moment of clarity and social action for James?

    6. Javi refers to Ethan as “Fullofit.” How does Ethan display his insincerity?

    7. Why do you think James feels a sense of home when he first meets Jules? Why do you think Jules sees honesty in James? How does James prove to be an honest and authentic person? James opens up to Jules and confesses to injuring Vinny Dawson. Why does he choose to tell Jules at this moment?

    8. Discuss the meaning of the following lines: “Rumors become stories. Stories become the truth. And we live by the lies we believe—at least until the actual reality becomes overwhelming.” Give examples of this pattern from the text and from real-life events.

    9. Students at Fullbrook Academy struggle with the expectations placed on them by the school, their families, and the pressures of tradition. Discuss how the various characters cope with the burden of expectations. What does Jules mean when she asks her friend, “‘Does it ever feel like it could all just come crashing down on you at any time? Like if you don’t hold it up there above you, everything’s going to collapse around you.’” What expectations are placed on you? How do you cope with them?

    10. Throughout the story, characters are faced with moral decisions. Why is being able to do the right thing of utmost importance to James? When James learns of Freddie’s puck collection, he is disgusted. How is this a turning point for James? Discuss Jules’s realization with these lines: “It wasn’t that I just knew the facts. It was so much deeper. To know right from wrong, and to know it so profoundly, was a gift.” Why does she view it as a gift? Why does she feel it’s important to think beyond the facts?

    11. When Jules and Javi find the bra on the tree branch, it deeply upsets Jules. Why do you think she is moved so deeply? Zak and Tucker, two guys on the hockey team, later discover Aileen and James together in these same woods. What does Zak mean when he comments, “‘Or . . . I mean, we are a team, right?’” How do comments like these contribute to the larger misconception of acceptable behavior? Why does Aileen snap at James afterward and say, “‘These are your boys?’” Why does she include James in this group? Is James responsible for the actions of his teammates?

    12. Discuss the meaning of manliness from the point of view of the book’s characters. How does the school’s culture promote a twisted idea of what it means to be a man? How does the Fullbrook athletic program permit its male athletes to behave so badly?

    13. Reread chapter nine, and discuss both teacher and student reactions to the conversation Jules opens up by placing a tampon on her desk. Compare these reactions with James’s reaction. What do James’s actions reveal about his character? How do they put him at odds with the other hockey players as well as with the unwritten gender and sexual codes at the school?

    14. Jules is frustrated that her campaign to normalize the idea of menstruation isn’t as effective as she’d hoped; she tells James and Aileen, “‘It’s not normalizing anything if everyone just pretends they don’t see it or that the tampons don’t exist.’” What does it mean to normalize something? In what ways are people in denial at Fullbrook Academy? Think about this from the perspective of the students, teachers, and administration.

    15. The nature of true friendship is one of the themes of Tradition. Discuss what Jules means when considering how she used to treat Aileen: “She had no reason to be extra nice to me, but I’d never been outright mean to her. I thought back, though. I guess I hadn’t said anything when I’d seen others be that way to her. Collateral damage is real. What about collateral accountability? I hadn’t thought about that.” What qualities do you see in Jules’s, James’s, Javi’s, and Aileen’s friendship? In what ways do you see them supporting each other?

    16. Discuss the banana scene. Jules thinks, “Even in a room full of girls it was all about the guys.” Why do the girls go along with this tradition? Why was Jules so infuriated by it? How do the girls treat one another? How might this situation have been different if they were able to have an open conversation about the social pressures and behaviors expected of them?

    17. Fullbrook has many traditions, including the senior party at Horn Rock. How can this type of environment serve to elevate the objectification of women and bring unwanted attention or advances? Why does the administration look the other way knowing that these parties and the things that happen at them are damaging to many of the students? How does this contribute to Jules’s version of Fullbrook’s unspoken motto: “This is how to grow up—eat shit and learn how to smile?”

    18. Javi and Max are outed at the senior party when someone posts a video of them kissing. Discuss the influence of social media on behavior, and its possible consequences.

    19. How do class structure and white privilege factor into the story? Why do you think Freddie and Ethan feel entitled to be condescending toward James? Do you think there is a problem with the Fullbrook chant “That’s all right, that’s okay, you’re gonna work for us someday”? Why is James unsettled by it?

    20. Ethan sexually assaults Jules, despite her very clear protestations of “No” and “Stop.” Discuss how you felt as you read this chapter. Why does Gillian deny what she saw?

    21. After the assault, Jules begins to think that somehow she is at fault. Why does she feel this way? Why does she feel ashamed? How does Ms. Taggart’s belief in Jules’s potential fill Jules with hope? Why is it so important for Ms. Taggart to advocate for Jules? After their meeting with Mr. Patterson, Ms. Taggart tell Jules, “‘We’re just getting started. We’ve alerted him. Now we’re going to push and pressure him.’” Why doesn’t the headmaster want to act on Jules’s accusations? Why is it important for Jules to speak up about the culture at Fullbrook and what happened to her?

    22. What is post-traumatic stress disorder? Describe Jules’s PTSD symptoms. When Jules tells Javi about the rape, she thinks, “I’d said it out loud . . . now I could use it, say it.” What does she mean by this?

    23. When Jules approaches Gillian after math class, she realizes that “there was something waking in me, something rolling over, lifting its head, and beginning to crawl up and out of me. I felt it, a weight rising. A heartbeat.” What do you think Jules is feeling? How does she act on that feeling?

    24. How does Ethan twist the truth when Jules confronts him? Why does he know that he is safe to do so? How is Ethan’s uttering the word rape a turning point for Jules? Reread and discuss this passage and its implications. Jules realizes that what Ethan did to her was a form of stealing. What did he steal from her?

    25. Reread and discuss chapter twenty-seven and the meaning of consent. When James and Aileen’s kissing begins to lead toward sex, Aileen stops suddenly. Discuss James’s reaction to her discomfort. How is he the exact opposite of Ethan and Freddie? How is James’s reaction a demonstration of the respect he has for Aileen?

    26. After the Winter Ball committee publishes the list of dates for the dance, and Jules watches Lianna with Freddie and two of his hockey buddies, she thinks, “This wasn’t a new normal. It was the same old normal that has been here for years—just dressed up in a brand-new jacket and tie.” Discuss what she means by this, and cite examples from the text that support this statement.

    27. At its core, sexual assault is about power and control. Discuss how Jules, James, and their friends begin to exert control over the rape culture at Fullbrook. How might their actions be the beginning of real change?

    Extension Activities

    1. First Women

    Jules is fascinated by the forgotten first women of history. Have students read through a list of female pioneers in a variety of fields and choose a person to research. Then have them present their findings “in character.” They can dress up, bring props, incorporate mannerisms, etc.

    2. This Is What a Feminist Looks Like

    Have students compile a list of feminist organizations and leaders and study their goals and messages. Challenge them to identify social actions that they can engage in to become better feminists. Brainstorm other movements and organizations that fight for the rights of marginalized or silenced peoples.

    3. Forgotten Things

    Aileen and Jules undertake a photography project to document the forgotten things in

    Cray-Cray’s toolshed. How is this project a metaphor for the girls at Fullbrook? Have students create photo collages by taking pictures of things around campus or in the community that have been forgotten. Give students time to present their work to the class.

    4. No Means No

    Share the Time.com opinion piece, Rape Culture Is Real, by Zerina Maxwell (http://time.com/40110/rape-culture-is-real, 3/27/2014). Have students discuss and debate its main points while relating them to the themes of Tradition.

    5. Me Too

    Undertake a serious study of the #MeToo movement by examining news articles, blogs, and other cultural moments around this movement. Encourage students to relate what they uncover to examples from the text. What #MeToo statements might each of the main characters have made?

    Guide written by Colleen Carroll, literacy specialist, education consultant, and author of the twelve-volume series, How Artists See and four-volume How Artists See, Jr. (Abbeville Press). Contact Colleen at www.colleencarroll.us.

    This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

More Books From This Author

The Last True Love Story
All American Boys
The Gospel of Winter

About the Author

Brendan Kiely
Photo credit by Gary Joseph Cohen

Brendan Kiely

Brendan Kiely is the New York Times bestselling author of All American Boys (with Jason Reynolds), The Last True Love Story, and The Gospel of Winter. His work has been published in ten languages, received a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, the Walter Dean Myers Award, the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award, was twice awarded Best Fiction for Young Adults (2015, 2017) by the American Library Association, and was a Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014. Originally from the Boston area, he now lives with his wife in New York City. Tradition is his fourth novel.

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