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Abby, Tried and True


Fans of The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise and Shouting at the Rain will love this “authentic and warm” (Kirkus Reviews) story of the bond between siblings from the award-winning author of Lily and Dunkin and The Paris Project.

When Abby Braverman’s best friend, Cat, moves to Israel, she’s sure it’s the worst thing that could happen. But then her older brother, Paul, is diagnosed with cancer, and life upends again. Now it’s up to Abby to find a way to navigate seventh grade without her best friend, help keep her brother’s spirits up during difficult treatments, and figure out her surprising new feelings for the boy next door.

Reading Group Guide for

Abby, Tried and True

By Donna Gephart, author of The Paris Project

About the Book

After her best friend, Cat, moves to Israel, Abby expects life couldn’t possibly get any worse. But then it does when Abby’s teenage brother, Paul, is diagnosed with cancer. As her brother faces surgery and four grueling rounds of chemotherapy, Abby must summon the courage to be there for her brother while also navigating seventh grade without Cat. With the help of her loving moms, texts from Cat, and the cute boy who moves into the neighborhood, Abby discovers the true meaning of bravery, and that to change into “Abby 2.0” just means finding the best version of who she was all along.

Discussion Questions

1. When the story begins, Abby is twelve years old and just about to begin seventh grade. Her best friend, Cat, has just moved to Israel, over six thousand miles from Florida where Abby lives with her moms and sixteen-year-old brother, Paul. Abby thinks that saying goodbye to her best (and only) friend is the worst thing that could happen. Think about events in your life that you first thought would be awful, but that turned out differently than you expected. Why do you think that many people tend to expect the worst when change occurs?

2. In the days after Cat’s move, Abby mopes around the house in despair. Paul tells her, “‘I know it seems impossible right now without Cat, but time will make it better.’” How can time ease sad or painful feelings? What does the phrase “time heals all wounds” mean? Do you agree or disagree with this common saying?

3. Abby perceives that Paul is different from her in many ways. Where Paul is outgoing and funny, Abby is shy and quiet. Discuss how Paul and Abby are alike. Compare how Paul helps Abby get over missing Cat with how Abby helps Paul during his chemotherapy treatments. Cite examples from the text where they show support and empathy for each other.

4. After the family drops Paul off at sleepaway camp, Abby doesn’t want to “cry in front of Mom Rachel and hear again how sensitive she was being.” At this point in the story, Abby believes that being sensitive isn’t a strength or something to be embraced. What does she discover about her sensitive nature that causes her to begin to feel differently about herself?

5. Although Abby’s last name is Braverman, courage is not something she believes she possesses. Discuss the various scenes in the book in which Abby puts her negative self-beliefs to the test. How does Cat’s support through their texts help Abby begin to take safe social risks? Cat suggests that Abby talk to Conrad: “It could be like . . . a birthday present to yourself.” What do you think Cat really means? How do these moments help Abby face her fears about Paul’s illness?

6. Part of Abby is content to be an introverted, quiet person, but another part of her wants to reinvent herself, take more risks, and make new friends. She describes this new self as “Abby 2.0.” Why does the idea make Abby “shiver with excitement”? For her twelfth birthday, her moms give her a book titled How to Be Your Best, Boldest Self. What does it mean to be bold? Discuss Abby’s realization that she can be “quiet and sensitive plus brave and bold at the same time.” Do you have conflicting traits or feelings that exist all at the same time? How does that make you feel? Explain your answers.

7. Describe Abby’s first encounter with Conrad. Why is she so nervous? How does their friendship evolve? Give examples from the novel to support your answer. How is Abby’s decision to shoot baskets with Conrad an example of her growing self-confidence?

8. Discuss examples of how Conrad is a compassionate friend. Why does Abby trust Conrad with her feelings? What does Conrad’s gift of poetry tiles to Abby reveal about his character? How are Conrad and Abby being brave when they each reveal that they only have one friend? What does bravery mean to you?

9. Abby often shares her feelings with her pet turtle, Fudge. Abby tells Fudge, “‘Turtles are supposed to be quiet. It’s when turtles try to be playful otters or barking seals that the trouble starts. Why can’t the rest of the world appreciate turtles for exactly who they are?’” What do you think Abby means by this thought? How is Abby like a turtle?

10. Bubbe Marcia tells Abby, “‘When a door closes, a window opens. So don’t look so long at the closed door that you miss the open window.’” How can this advice apply to Abby’s experiences in the story? How does it apply to Paul’s?

11. On the first day of school, Conrad and Abby react in physical ways to the noisy and crowded school courtyard. Conrad covers his ears, and Abby crosses her arms tightly over her chest. What do these reactions reveal about their natures?

12. Abby is afraid to talk about Cat with the other girls at school because “tears in middle school were like blood in water filled with sharks.” Why might kids feel it’s dangerous to express true feelings in front of peers? How can you and your classmates make one another feel safe enough to talk about how you’re really feeling if/when you’re ready to share? Describe Abby from Miranda’s point of view. What do you think Abby could do at school to “give a little,” as Paul advises her?

13. Discuss Paul’s cancer diagnosis announcement at the family’s Rosh Hashanah dinner. How does Abby show courage and empathy by going into Paul’s room to talk and ask questions? How does her sensitive nature during their exchange help her brother? Why does having the urge to cry about the news cause Abby to criticize herself for being “too sensitive”?

14. In the chapter called “How to Atone for Your Sins,” Abby makes a bargain with God. Reread this chapter. Describe a time when you believed that something you did or did not do caused a present-day event. What can be the effects of this type of thinking? Why is it easy for Abby to believe that not putting up the mezuzah somehow contributed to Paul’s illness?

15. In the chapter called “Feeling Your Feelings,” Paul and Abby have a serious conversation about the surgery scheduled to happen the following day. Abby is angry when the family has a going-away party for Paul’s testicle. Discuss what Paul shares with Abby about choosing laughter over misery. What does Paul mean when he tells Abby, “‘. . . you can laugh about almost anything. Just depends on how you approach it’”? Do you agree or disagree with his statement?

16. Discuss what Paul means when he tells Abby, “‘The world is loud and unexpected.’” Give examples of this from the book and from your own life.

17. As Abby and Paul are leaving the park, she wishes “she could stay in the park like this forever. No cancer treatments. No lonely lunchroom in the crowded middle school. No Miranda and Laura. But staying in the park forever would also mean no more walking to and from school with Conrad, and that wouldn’t be worth it.” What is Abby realizing in this scene?

18. In the two scenes that Abby is alone with Paul in his hospital room, she is confronted with a decision to act or remain silent. In the first, she remains silent. In the second, she acts. What accounts for the changes in her willingness to speak out that allow her to take action to help her brother?

19. Abby is worried about Paul after he returns home from his first round of chemotherapy. She decides to give her brother the “endless” afghan to help keep him warm. How does this act of loving kindness help both Abby and her brother?

20. Mom Rachel takes Abby and Conrad to the ice cream parlor; there they realize the importance of appreciating the “splendid” days amid the difficult ones. How can gratitude, even in the hardest times, be a healing force? Give other examples from the novel and from your own life that support your answer.

21. Accepting the changes that life brings is one of the major themes in Abby, Tried and True. Discuss how the author weaves this theme throughout the story. What additional themes can you identify in this text?

22. Why do you think the author chose Braverman as the family’s surname? Discuss Paul’s description of bravery: “Being brave is when you’re scared to do something but you choose to do it anyway because you know it’s the right thing to do.” How does Abby learn to live by this description? Why is it okay to be “imperfectly” brave?

Extension Activities

1. Abby writes poetry in the journal that Cat gives her as a goodbye present. Look back through the many poems from Abby’s journal that appear in the story. Choose one of Abby’s poems on which to base an original poem that relates to your personal experiences.

2. Bubbe Marcia and Abby love to crochet. Abby gives Paul her “endless” afghan that she’s been making for months after he comes home from his first round of chemotherapy. With the art teacher or another experienced teacher, start a lunchtime or after-school crochet club. Begin by creating simple projects, like hats, scarves, and small blankets. Donate the finished projects to a children’s hospital or homeless shelter.

3. Conrad gives Abby a set of poetry tiles as a present. Recreate this fun poetry activity by working with your classmates to type up or write out a list of 200 random words. Print out and laminate the pages. Cut each word into a separate tile. Place all the tiles in a paper bag, pull out a handful, and arrange the randomly chosen words into a poem. Replace words that don’t work with additional words from the bag. Share your poem with your classmates.

4. Abby, Tried and True is filled with beautifully descriptive figurative language, such as this line that describes Abby and Cat saying goodbye: “Eventually, the moms needed to grab the girls’ shoulders to pry them apart, like separating tangled roots of garden plants, and guide them apart from each other.” Go on a quest for additional examples of figurative language. Find one that resonates with you and create an illustration that depicts the line. Use the actual line as a caption, or write a description of the scene.

5. Abby’s moms give her a book for her twelfth birthday called How to Be Your Best, Boldest Self. Write a one-page essay describing what this title means to you. Be bold and read your essay aloud to the class or to a trusted friend.

6. Get creative! Think about your favorite scenes from the book or thoughts you had while reading. How do the characters get creative? What are they passionate about? Create your own activity or project based on Abby, Tried and True. It can be anything from creating a poetry collection to making hats to donate to cancer patients who have lost their hair to a game based on a theme in the book, such as bravery. The details are up to you!

This guide was created by Colleen Carroll, literacy specialist, curriculum writer, and children’s book author. Learn more about Colleen at

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. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit or
Photograph by Rhea Lewis

Donna Gephart’s award-winning middle grade novels include Lily and Dunkin, Death by Toilet Paper, How to Survive Middle SchoolThe Paris Project, and others. She’s a popular speaker at schools, conferences, and book festivals. Donna lives in the Philadelphia area with her family. Visit her online at

"A touching story about finding inner strength during a challenging time."


More books from this author: Donna Gephart