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A teen boy has to fight for the life he wants against overwhelming odds in this heartfelt young adult novel.

Fourteen-year-old Joseph Flood is the victim of his mother Betty’s addictions to crack and alcohol. An African American boy living in a North Carolina ghetto neighborhood, Joseph has little chance for survival if his soldier father doesn’t come home soon from Iraq to sort out the mess Betty has gotten them in.

Living in a shelter and being bussed to yet another new school, Joseph’s life looks like it’s hitting rock bottom. He’s afraid to leave his mother, but he knows he needs to find his own path before it’s too late.

Pre-Reading Activities & Research
1. Joseph Flood's mother is a drug and alcohol addict, and her addictions cause her to act in desperate and dangerous ways. Using an encyclopedia or a medical resource, research cocaine and alcohol. Specifically, what does each substance do to the human body, including the brain? What happens when people become addicted? Why are certain people susceptible to addiction? What are the warning signs? How do people overcome addictions?
2. Research homeless youths in America: How many are there? How do children and teenagers become homeless? Do they have certain factors in common, such as that they are members of a single-parent family or that one of their parents is addicted to drugs or alcohol or is mentally ill? Are there large numbers of homeless people in your area? What organizations or charities exist to help them?
Discussion Topics
1. Joseph Flood tells his own story in Joseph; in novel writing, this is called a first-person narrative. Would the book have been different if another character told Joseph's story? Do you prefer hearing a main character express his or her views directly, or do you like when a third-person narrator describes them?
2. Joseph's mother's serious drug problem has forced her to enter a rehabilitation center many times. Do you know anyone who has been through rehab? What do you think happens there? Why do you think some people become addicted to drugs or alcohol?
3. "I hate it when she calls me dude; like we are friends, instead of mother and son." Do you agree with Joseph's statement, that parents should speak from a place of authority when they interact with their children? Do your parents talk to you as if you are a friend? Do they use slang or try to speak as if they are younger than they really are? How does that make you feel?
4. There are many instances in the book where people judge others based on things like clothing, skin color, or social status. Give some examples. Can you really know a person if you only focus on the surface things about them? Has anyone made assumptions about you without ever talking to you? How did that make you feel?
5. "'Do not wait on the mountain to come to you -- climb the mountain yourself.' Grandaddy said this every day of his life." What does this expression mean? How does Joseph follow his grandfather's advice?
6. "I want to tell Principal Scott that I fight all day, every day to survive. I fight to eat. I fight to have a place to sleep. I fight for heat. I fight for my life. But I say nothing as he dismisses me for class." Why doesn't Joseph tell Principal Scott what is happening to him? Why doesn't he want the adults to know how difficult things are in his personal life? If you were Joseph, would you seek out an adult to share your problems?
7. Joseph says of his cousin, Jasmine, who lives with both her parents in a nice suburban house, "I just want a normal life like [her]." Have you ever wanted to live someone else's life? Why? If you could switch lives with someone, with whom would you trade, and why would you choose this person? Do you think you'd be happier?
8. After Joseph's father is deployed to Iraq, he and Joseph communicate mainly through letters and e-mails. Do you like to write letters or e-mails, or do you prefer to talk to people? How do you feel when you get mail?
9. What is the definition of "family" to Joseph? Do you think that it means living with both a mother and father? Who makes up Joseph's family? Does a family have to include two parents?
10. Many of the adults who know Joseph try to shield him from the true feelings they have about his mother. Is that a good thing for them to do? Would it be better for Joseph if people like his Aunt Shirley were more straightforward about what a bad influence his momma was, and how Joseph would be better off not living with her?
11. After Nick finds out that Joseph's father is in Iraq, he says, "I think everybody in this school knows one person in Iraq." Do you know anyone serving in the U.S. armed forces, whether they're stationed in Iraq or elsewhere? How does that make you and the person's loved ones feel, knowing this person is in a faraway place doing a dangerous job?
12. Would the story change if Joseph's father had the drug problem instead of his mother? Do you think Joseph's life would turn out differently?
13. Talk about the many ways Momma betrays Joseph's trust. In spite of all the terrible things she does, why does Joseph want to help her so badly?
14. What did you think of Momma? Did you have any sympathy for her at all? When Joseph overhears her admit that she never wanted to give birth to him, what did you think of Joseph's reaction? How did that disclosure make you feel about Joseph and about Momma?
15. How would you react if you found out one of your friends was keeping a deep secret about their home life, much like Joseph did? Would there be anything that would prevent you from helping your friend?
16. What do you think happens after the book ends?
Activities & Projects
1. Write a play, or a short story, where you are a parent and your mother or father is the child. Reverse roles among other figures in your story -- a student becomes a teacher, a doctor becomes a patient, etc.
2. Create posters to hang up at your school or place advertisements in your school or local newspaper that promote awareness of teen homelessness or drug/alcohol addiction. Include hot lines or information about support groups in your area that help people experiencing either problem.
3. Organize a clothing drive in your school, where students can donate old or outgrown clothes that children and teenagers in homeless shelters could wear, like Joseph did while he stayed at the shelter with his mother.
4. Write a short story where the main characters only communicate with each other only through letters or e-mails, and don't speak to each other directly.
5. There are many online organizations that allow people to write cards and letters or send care packages to American troops stationed overseas. Research some of these groups and organize a letter-writing campaign or care-package drive in your school.
Photo Credit:

Poet, author, playwright, and producer Shelia P. Moses was raised the ninth of ten children on Rehobeth Road in Rich Square, North Carolina. She is the coauthor of Dick Gregory’s memoir, Callus on My Soul, as well as the award-winning author of several books for young readers: The Legend of Buddy Bush; The Return of Buddy BushI, Dred Scott: A Fictional Slave Narrative Based on the Life and Legal Precedent of Dred Scott; and The Baptism. Shelia lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

More books from this author: Shelia P. Moses