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From the New York Times bestselling author and award-winning creator of Essex County, Secret Path, Descender, and The Underwater Welder comes an all-original graphic novel about a brother and sister who must come together after years apart to face the disturbing history that has cursed their family.

Derek Ouelette’s glory days are behind him. His hockey career ended a decade earlier in a violent incident on ice, and since then he’s been living off his reputation in the remote northern community where he grew up, drinking too much and fighting anyone who crosses him. But he never counts on his long-lost sister, Beth, showing up one day out of the blue, back in town and on the run from an abusive boyfriend. Looking to hide out for a while, the two siblings hunker down in a secluded hunting camp deep in the local woods. It is there that they attempt to find a way to reconnect with each other and the painful secrets of their past...even as Beth’s ex draws closer, threatening to pull both Derek and Beth back into a world of self-destruction that they are fighting tooth and nail to leave behind.

Simultaneously touching and harrowing, Roughneck is a masterwork from New York Times bestselling writer/artist Jeff Lemire—a deeply moving and beautifully illustrated story of family, heritage, and the desire to break the cycle of violence at any cost from one of today’s most acclaimed comic creators.

A Reading Group Guide for
Roughneck By Jeff Lemire

Discussion Questions

These questions can be used to facilitate class conversations about key themes and elements of the novel. Teachers may also choose to use these questions as prompts for writing activities, or can expand upon individual questions to design full lessons.

1. In the first 8 pages of the novel, we are introduced to the town of Pimitamon (from the Cree, for “Crossroads”) and the character of Derek Ouellette. In these 8 pages, what do we learn about Derek and the town? Make sure to consider information presented visually, as well as textually.

2. At various moments throughout the novel, Derek encounters a wild dog. What role does the dog play throughout the novel? How does Derek's relationship with the dog change over the course of the story? What could this symbolize?

3. What is Al's relationship to Derek and Beth? How does he help the Ouellette siblings throughout the novel?

4. Shortly after returning to Pimitamon, Beth accuses Derek of "leaving her" alone when he went to play hockey. What do you think life for a young person would be like in Pimitamon?

5. Hockey, for better and worse, has played a major role in Derek's life. What role did the game play in his childhood? What was his relationship to the game in his prime? How does the game continue to affect his life?

6. Based on the flashbacks to Derek and Beth's childhood, what role does their father play in each of their lives? Does his abusive nature have an identical effect on Derek and Beth?

7. Derek and Beth's heritage on their mother's side is Cree. Prior to moving to Pimitamon, their mom was a student at St. Anne's Residential School in Fort Albany. What do you know about the residential school system in Canada? Why do you think Jeff Lemire included this detail in the novel?

8. What motivates Derek to resort to violence throughout the novel? Is the cause of Derek's fights always the same?

9. As Derek walks through the bush in the final pages, his steps lack the "crunch" that has accompanied his movements for most of the novel. What might the noise that accompanies Derek, Beth, and others' footsteps represent?

10. The novel closes with Derek heading off into the bush, and Beth on the road to Fort Albany. What are both characters heading off to? How have their journeys been similar? How have they differed?

Extension Activities

1. The final 9 pages of Roughneck rely heavily on visual storytelling, with text used very sparingly. In many ways, Jeff Lemire has created an ending to this novel that both allows and forces the reader to bring the story to their own conclusion.

This activity is designed to allow students to explore their individual interpretations of the novel's end, and allow them to practice and develop their own creative writing skills.Students should choose the perspective of one of the characters present in the final pages (Derek, Beth, Al, or the Dog) and write a 1-2 page conclusion to the novel from their point-of-view.

2. Working individually or in small groups, have students conduct research on a topic that will provide a deeper understanding of the plot, setting, characters and themes of the novel. The topics can be researched concurrently to reading the novel, or can be assigned after completing the in class study of the book.

Possible topics for research:

-Issues Facing Teenagers in Northern Ontario Indigenous Communities
-The Post-Hockey Lives of NHL Enforcers
-Cree Spirituality and Religion
-St. Anne's Residential School
-The Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions
-Camp Onakawana
- Teachers may also opt to allow students to generate their own topics for research.

After researching their assigned topic, students will create 5 minute presentations for the class. These presentations should summarize the key findings of their research, and should contain appropriate and informative visuals. In addition to demonstrating their understanding of the topic gained through research, presentations should explain how their research has led to a better understanding of Jeff Lemire's novel.
Photograph (c) Jamie Hogge

Jeff Lemire is the award winning, New York Times bestselling author of such graphic novels as Essex CountySweet ToothThe Underwater Welder, and Roughneck, as well as the cocreator of Descender with Dustin Nguyen, Black Hammer with Dean Ormston, Gideon Falls with Andrea Sorrentino, and many others. He also collaborated with celebrated musician Gord Downie on the graphic novel and album The Secret Path, which was made into an animated film in 2016. Jeff has won numerous awards, including an Eisner Award and Juno Award in 2017. Jeff has also written extensively for both Marvel and DC Comics. Many of his books are currently in development for film and television, including both Descender and A.D. After Death at Sony Pictures, Essex County at the CBC, The Underwater Welder and Plutona at Waypoint Entertainment, and Gideon Falls with Hivemind Media, as well as the Eisner-Award winning Black Hammer at Legendary Entertainment. He lives in Toronto, Canada, with his wife and son, and their troublesome pug, Lola. Visit him at or on Twitter @JeffLemire.

“Jeff Lemire stands alone. A storyteller, deep and clear.”

– Gord Downie

“The Stephen King of comics.”

– Macleans

“When Princeton and Duke are offering graduate degrees in the graphic novel form twenty years from now, a lot of students will be writing their Masters’ theses on Lemire's Essex County trilogy." 

– The Oregonian

“The power of Lemire’s hushed, deliberately paced storytelling is in his . . . linework: raw, scratchy, and sometimes minimalist, it conveys a lot with a handful of ragged lines.”

– Publishers Weekly

“With a casual grace that would make the late Raymond Carver envious, Lemire’s stories build out of innocuous and seemingly unconnected moments that gather and gain weight when viewed in a cumulative light. . . . Lemire’s characters weather their lives with resolution and quiet despair. We feel for them because of Lemire’s talent for revealing their inner strength, not their outer weaknesses.”

– Darwyn Cooke

“His work is hall of fame–worthy.”

– Blastr

More books from this author: Jeff Lemire