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Shrinking Violet


High school senior Teresa Adams is so painfully shy that she dreads speaking to anyone in the hallways or getting called on in class. But in the privacy of her bedroom with her iPod in hand, she rocks out -- doing mock broadcasts for Miami's hottest FM radio station, which happens to be owned by her stepfather. When a slot opens up at The SLAM, Tere surprises herself by blossoming behind the mike into confident, sexy Sweet T -- and to everyone's shock, she's a hit! Even Gavin, the only guy in school who she dares to talk to, raves about the mysterious DJ's awesome taste in music. But when The SLAM announces a songwriting contest -- and a prom date with Sweet T is the grand prize -- Sweet T's dream could turn into Tere's worst nightmare....

This reading group guide for Shrinking Violet includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Danielle Joseph. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Questions for Discussion

1. Does being shy mean you lack confidence? How much of a role do you believe Tere’s self-image plays in her being shy?

2. What is your initial impression of Tere’s mom, Delilah? Does it remain the same by the end of the book?

3. Tere states, “I’m glad I have Audrey to talk to, but still I can’t share everything with her. Not the depths of my soul.” Does this change your thoughts on their relationship? Should best friends be able to share everything? Do you think that Tere and Audrey’s friendship is one that is lasting?

4. What are your thoughts on the novel’s structure considering that the narrative is told from only Tere’s perspective? Do you think you would have the same impression of the characters if it was told from a different perspective?

5. Why do you think Gavin and Tere are so connected? How do you think their upbringing and lifestyle affect who they are?

6. Considering how shy Tere seems, is Derek’s decision to make Tere a prize in a contest inconsiderate? Why do you think Rob went along with the idea?

7. Was Stacy’s anger at Tere justified?

8. Discuss the theme of wearing a mask in Shrinking Violet. To which characters does this apply, and why?

9. Did Tere become more self-assured through being a DJ or do you think it was caused by multiple factors? Explain.

10. Do you believe the book’s title, Shrinking Violet, to be an apt description of Tere?

11. Is there anything about Tere and her experiences that are similar to situations you’ve had to deal with? Discuss.

12. What would be the next chapter in Tere’s life as she graduates and goes on to college?


Enhance Your Book Club

1. Tere has a real love of music. The music she plays also taps into the emotions she’s feeling. Share your top five favorite songs with the book group and what you feel when you play them.

2. Before your book club meeting, look up your favorite author, tell the group why they are your favorite and share something new and interesting about them.

3. Helen Keller was a real inspiration to Tere. Read The Storyof My Life by Helen Keller.


A Conversation with Danielle Joseph

1. Was your high school experience at all like Teresa’s? Is that when you got involved with radio broadcasts?

I was shy growing up but not nearly as shy as Tere. I loved being involved in drama, not necessarily center stage, more on the side. I also had a good group of friends that I felt secure in and was able to express myself within that group. Like Tere, I’ve always loved music and used to spend hours making mixes. Then when I went to college, I got involved with the radio station and loved being behind the mike. There was something comforting about the fact that I was alone in the studio, speaking to thousands of people that could hear me but not see me.


2. You mention many types of masks throughout the story. (The mask that radio provides, the heavy makeup that people wear, the transformations of Teresa’s mom with each new boyfriend.) Why do you think so many people are compelled to disguise or hide themselves? Is there a particular mask that you wear? If so, why?

When people feel insecure about their inner or outer appearance, they often put up a mask in the form of a wall. Some masks help you grow as a person, while others hinder you because they don’t allow you to overcome your fears and insecurities. Sometimes somebody who appears to be really put together is actually hurting inside. Two examples from Shrinking Violet are Delilah, Tere’s mom, and Stacy. You really have to unpeel the layers to get to know them. I have always tried not to put up a front and be myself. However, instead of wearing a mask, in certain situations, I hid behind my shyness. Going off to college really allowed me to open up. When you come from a small town like me, it’s hard to break free of the mold that you are in. Being on the radio, behind the mic, allowed me to “wear” a mask that enabled me to show my true colors in a positive way. By the end of my time at the radio station, I was much more comfortable speaking to people and expressing myself.


3. With fashion magazines, music videos, and countless other media outlets, it’s often difficult for a shrinking violet to find themselves amid all of that manufactured beauty. What would you say to the Teresas of the world?

I would say the most important thing is to be yourself and not to sell out. You will never find long-term happiness behind a mask. It may not be today, but eventually you will be rewarded for your honesty, for staying true to yourself. If you don’t like the way something is going in your life, fix it. Things will not happen overnight, but if you set small attainable goals, you should be able to meet them with success. And don’t forget that manufactured beauty is air-brushed!


4. Tere really seems to love hip-hop (though her loves seem to stretch to various genres, from post-punk to “edgy” tunes). Given your radio involvement, are you a rap fan? Who is your favorite musician? (Who is your PJ Squid? Your Maltese?)

I am a big fan of rap/hip-hop music from the old stuff like the Beastie Boys, Run-DMC and A Tribe Called Quest to newer voices like Outkast, Estelle, and Sean Kingston. It’s hard to pick just one PJ Squid, or one Maltese, but an artist that I really admire is Wyclef Jean. One of the main reasons is because he does not wear a mask. He is proud of his roots and his heritage and has successfully incorporated his background into his music. He is the total package and gives back to others.


5. What inspired you to tell this story?

I was inspired to tell this story because I think sometimes we box people into certain categories very early on in their lives and that hinders their self-esteem. I don’t ever think you should tell someone that if they don’t work hard enough, they can’t be what they dream of being. Take Tere’s mom for instance: If Tere had listened to her mom, she would most likely have never found a home at the radio station, a place where she clearly belongs. If you believe in yourself, that is all that matters. Set your own limitations. Don’t let others do that for you.


6. What do you think initially attracts Gavin to Tere? What about Tere to Gavin?

While some people might be turned off by Tere’s shyness, Gavin appreciates that when she does speak, she usually has something important to say. He is attracted to her because she is her own person. She’s not trying to be the same as everyone else. Tere is attracted to Gavin because he too is doing his own thing and she is intrigued by his mysterious nature. Of course there is a chemical attraction—she thinks he’s cute. Plus, music is a great bonding tool and immediately they both are drawn to each other’s taste in music.


7. Do you think people like Stacy, Tere’s mother, and Derek are partially responsible for Tere’s self-discovery? Do you think negativity can have an impact on someone’s life in a positive way?

Yes, I do think a lot of the time people are propelled by the negativity in their lives to prove those pessimistic forces wrong. It can definitely affect one’s self-esteem, but if you are able to turn a deaf ear to the disapproving voices and really focus on your goals, you can push through any barriers that are set before you. At the end of the day, you only have to look at yourself in the mirror.


8. Do you see Teresa as a modern-day Helen Keller? Do you see parallels between her transformation and Helen’s triumphant story? Why did you compare Stacy to Danielle Steele?

I think Helen Keller was one of a kind. She persevered against all odds. And for that she serves as a wonderful role model for Tere. Tere was able to gather strength from Helen’s story and use that strength to propel her forward. From reading more about Helen’s life, Tere was able to appreciate the gifts that she does have and to make use of them. Both Helen and Tere were able to overcome their own personal obstacles and did not let anyone or anything stand in their way. I compared Stacy to

Danielle Steele because Stacy is the type of person who would pick an author to represent, solely based on the author’s popularity. Stacy wants to be liked and thinks that money and fame prevail over what’s inside your heart.


9. Where did you get the idea for the songwriting contest to win Tere as a prom date? Is that something you actually experienced or witnessed?

The prom contest idea came from the notion that Tere so quickly dismissed the idea of going to the prom and the only thing that could get her there was her love for her job. She also loves to discover new artists and this was the perfect opportunity for her to do so. I have never been a part of a contest like this but was inspired by the likes of American Idol—how contests like that are responsible for giving people their big breaks. It’s great to see people succeed based on their own merit and that is what happened with Gavin. Just like Tere, the idea of being the “contest prize” would be mortifying to me.


10. Are you working on another novel? Do you have any more stories of Tere to tell, or do you plan to create different characters? Will the focus stay mainly in high school, or would you ever branch out into an older world?

Yes, I am working on another young adult novel, involving a mix of humor, love, and intrigue. It would be a lot of fun to write the next chapter in Tere’s life as her relationship deepens with Gavin, as she prepares to head off to college and deals with life at the radio station after her mask has been lifted. I love writing for teens but have been carrying an idea for an adult novel in my head for a few years so I’m sure one day I will sit down and write it.
Photo Credit: Michael Sylver

Danielle Joseph was a college DJ for five years on the Gyroscope, a world music show. She also interned at several top Boston radio stations while earning her BFA in Creative Writing and an MA in Marketing Communications and Advertising from Emerson College. She has taught Creative Writing and English to Middle school students.  Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, Danielle now lives in Miami, Florida with her husband and two young sons. These days you can find her cruising around with the tunes blaring and her internal DJ hard at work.

"Bella, eat your heart out. Tere is the girl every young woman truly wants to be.... Brilliant work, Danielle Joseph." -- Ellen Hopkins, New York Times bestselling author of Identical

"Danielle Joseph takes readers into the glamorous world of Top 40 radio, with a character who is both funny and relatable. Readers will cheer when Tere finds her voice!" -- Alex Flinn, author of Breathing Underwater and A Kiss in Time

"A funny, romantic, and truly inspirational Cinderella tale for any teen who's ever been shy, loved music, or dreamed of going to the ball. Wait, that's pretty much everybody." -- Gaby Triana, author of The Temptress Four