“Fall’s most provocative YA read.” —Entertainment Weekly
A New York Times bestseller.
Someone will shoot. And someone will die.
A compelling and complex novel about gun violence and white supremacy from #1 New York Times bestselling author Ellen Hopkins.
People kill people. Guns just make it easier.
A gun is sold in the classifieds after killing a spouse, bought by a teenager for needed protection. But which was it? Each has the incentive to pick up a gun, to fire it. Was it Rand or Cami, married teenagers with a young son? Was it Silas or Ashlyn, members of a white supremacist youth organization? Daniel, who fears retaliation because of his race, who possessively clings to Grace, the love of his life? Or Noelle, who lost everything after a devastating accident, and has sunk quietly into depression?
One tense week brings all six people into close contact in a town wrought with political and personal tensions. Someone will fire. And someone will die. But who?
Some people think guns will bring them protection, and others fear they’ll bring death. Some want to use them for revenge, and others wish to use them to intimidate. In People Kill People, six teens will find their lives forever changed by a single gun. Having previously opened conversations on topics such as addiction, sex trafficking, and kidnapping, New York Times bestselling author Ellen Hopkins tackles one of the most important issues facing America today: gun violence. By looking deeply into the lives of this group of teens, she helps us to understand why this debate is so fraught with emotion. Investigating the reasoning behind opinions and giving a human face to each argument, People Kill People will spark conversation and help a generation come to terms with a significant threat.
1. In the author’s note, Hopkins includes statistics on gun deaths in the United States. How do you know that these statistics are from a reputable source? Do these figures change your understanding of gun violence? When adults talk to you about this issue, would you rather they use facts and figures, or that they talk about the situations and feelings that surround it?
2. Hopkins’s books are usually in verse. Why do you think she chooses to alternate between verse and prose in this book? How does this technique change your understanding of the characters? What is the voice that speaks through the verse? Does the format give more or less credence to what that voice is saying?
3. The voice of Violence says, “You see, like a god / I am nothing / without you. / Nothing but energy / in need of a vessel / capable of action.” In what ways do you think this statement is true? Does the voice have any goals in common with the gods you know? Are any of their methods the same?
4. Why did Zane feel like he needed a gun? Were any of his fears warranted? Do you think stricter gun control laws would have made him feel more protected from terrorists? Would they have prevented Renee’s death?
5. Immediately after Renee’s shooting, it is said, “Too late / Zane understood / the seductiveness of power. / Too late / he realized total control / is a myth.” How would Zane have defined both this power and this control? What was he trying to control? Are there other characters in this story who are also looking for this kind of control?
6. At one point, Cami wonders whether “good parenting is something you inherit, or something you learn.” How does her parenting style reflect that of her own parents? Does Rand treat Waylon the way his parents treated him? Why do you think their parenting styles echo or diverge from that of their parents?
7. Why do you think Cami sell drugs? Is it all about making Waylon’s life better, or are there ways in which it makes his life worse? What else might these drug deals bring to Cami’s life?
8. Why do Rand and Cami decide to get married instead of dealing with her pregnancy in some other way? Do you think this ended up being the right choice for them? What does each of them give up by getting married? What do they gain?
9. When talking about human motivation, the voice of Violence says, “Above all, I worship / the most awful, awe-inspiring / human shortcoming there is. / Revenge.” What is it about revenge that causes it to top the list? Do you agree that the desire for revenge tends to lead to violence? Can you think of other emotions that could cause more trouble?
10. What does the Traditional Youth Network offer Tim, Ashlyn, and Silas? Do they have the same motivation for joining, and do they each derive the same satisfaction from membership? Where else could they have turned to get these same benefits? Explain their levels of commitment to the cause.
11. What is the role of women in the Traditional Youth Network? Is Ashlyn willing to take on this role as part of joining the movement? How does this attitude affect Silas’s feelings toward Grace? How does this view of women help spread violence?
12. Does gun violence affect only those who are shot? Which of the characters in this story have their lives changed by gunshots, even if no bullets touch their bodies? How do their attitudes toward guns differ from those characters who may not have experienced the effects firsthand?
13. The voice of Violence says, “You might not believe / a person still wading / through adolescence / could harbor such / malevolent intent. / . . . / Fewer years simply / equate to shallower / perspective, exacerbating / youthful impulsivity.” What is this passage saying about teens and violence? Which is more likely to lead to violent acts: impulsivity or learned emotions? Which is a stronger influence on your life?
14. Silas tells Ashlyn, “‘We are all owned, lamb chop. If not by parents or spouses, by the United States of America.’” Do you think there’s any validity to this statement? How much free will do we have as members of a larger society?
15. The voice of Violence says, “I am more / than narrator. / I am instigator.” What are some examples of this instigation? What other factors or tactics contribute to the book’s end result, where someone fires a gun and someone falls victim?
16. In “Human Resilience” and “Programming,” the narrative voice talks about nature versus nurture, a common theme in many social debates. Does the narrator believe that nature or nurture is more important? Do certain characters make you believe that one influence is stronger than the other?
17. What is Rand’s motivation for joining the police force? Do you think being a cop will help to fix the piece of him that was broken by Dean? Can you think of a healthier way for him to deal with being raped?
18. Why does Rand react so poorly to his co-worker’s comment about Cami? Do you think his reaction is justified? Do you think this is connected to the feelings he has when Cami hides her phone calls and visits to “friends”?
19. Silas—and later, Ashlyn—seems to accept his father’s longtime girlfriend, despite the fact that she is Mexican. How can he enjoy the time he spends with her while also causing harm to other Mexicans as a member of the Traditional Youth Network? How does he justify this contradiction in his own mind? Does his relationship with Zia call into question his commitment to the white nationalist movement?
20. During the robberies at Denny’s and the QuikTrip where Silas works, a “good guy with a gun” tries to intervene and stop the criminals. Are either of these attempts successful? Explain your reasoning.
21. Does Grace realize Noelle’s feelings for her? How do Noelle’s feelings shape their relationship after the car accident?
22. What did Noelle lose in the accident? How does this affect the way she feels about herself and about the other people in her life? Who do you think lost more in the accident—Grace or Noelle?
23. Why is Daniel hesitant to try to find his mother? Do you think his life is better in the United States than it would have been in Honduras with her?
24. Daniel’s mother once said, “If you give fear a voice, it will curse you.” What does Daniel fear most? Does giving it a voice curse him? Do any other characters give voice to a fear that causes them trouble in the future?
25. Noelle is overweight, which has come to define her to a certain degree. What activities does she avoid because of her weight? Why is her appearance such an important part of who she is? Are other characters as concerned about her weight as she is? What advice do you have for her?
26. When Silas leaves Ashlyn at the rally, she says, “Sometimes there are no heroes. Only survivors, and you’re determined to be one of those.” Does Ashlyn end up being either one of these things? Which of the other characters are survivors? Does anyone turn out to be a hero? Do anyone’s actions surprise you?
27. Do you think Cami blames herself for Grace’s death? Do you think she should? What lessons does she take from the shooting and from being arrested?
28. In the epilogue, are you surprised to learn that Daniel ends up dying on the street? What signs did you see throughout the story that showed he needed help?
29. Each character has a turning point or defining moment that sets them on a path toward violence directed at themselves or others. Describe this event for each character. Do you think it would have been possible for any of them to take a different path? Do the events of the story cause any of them to change direction?
30. The narrative voice says, “It’s said / Like metal to magnet / or stud dog to bitch in heat, / some people attract danger. / . . . But there are also those / who court danger, / stand in its path, thumb / their noses, dare its approach.” What do you think is the difference between these two types of people? Consider personality, background, life experience, and the effects of both lifestyles. Are both types represented in the story?
31. Where does Hopkins get her title, People Kill People? Do you believe this statement to be true? What does Hopkins say about this concept?
1. According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, there were 44 shootings in elementary and secondary schools in 2017, resulting in 25 deaths and 60 injuries. As of May 25, 2018, there had already been 28 elementary and secondary school shootings, resulting in 40 deaths and 66 injuries. Despite these rising statistics and the subsequent danger that school shootings pose to students, many politicians feel that you are too young to participate in the dialogue surrounding gun control. Write a letter or short speech defending your right to be a part of the conversation, and share it with your school board, local government officials, or national leaders. Work with your classmates to brainstorm other ways to ensure that your voices are heard. What have you seen teens in other schools across America doing?
2. “Five Flags” traces the history of Tucson and highlights the role that violence and war played in that history. Research your own hometown history, paying particular attention to how violence—or the lack thereof—shaped the community. If working in groups, each member can focus on a different time period in the town’s history.
3. Noelle contemplates suicide after her brain injury decimates her plans for the future. Find resources that are available in your town for those who are similarly troubled, such as suicide hotlines, support groups, or peer counseling opportunities. Sign up to volunteer with one of these organizations, or speak to a current volunteer to learn more about what they do and how best to talk to someone going through this type of experience.
4. This book highlights the complexity and emotionality surrounding the gun control debate, and how each side has valid reasons for their beliefs. Divide into two groups, and hold a debate on gun control. Did you or any of your classmates change your opinions based on these discussions? Did anyone change their opinions after reading People Kill People?
5. “Give Voice” uses imagery and metaphor to describe various emotions. Choose an emotion and create a work of art that you feel embodies it. Perhaps you will choose to write a poem, like Ellen Hopkins does. Maybe you will choose to paint your emotion, or create a sculpture that captures the feeling. The sky is the limit! Share your artwork with the class and see if they can guess your emotion.
Guide written by Cory Grimminck, Director of the Portland District Library in Michigan.
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.
Ellen Hopkins is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of fourteen young adult novels, as well as the adult novels Triangles, Collateral, and Love Lies Beneath. She lives with her family in Carson City, Nevada, where she has founded Ventana Sierra, a nonprofit youth housing and resource initiative. Visit her at EllenHopkins.com and on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter at @EllenHopkinsLit.