Delve into the extraordinary abilities of the twelve-year-old mind in this “fast-paced, superhero-tinged spy novel” (Publishers Weekly), the thrilling start to a middle grade series that expands the possibilities of power.
No one has any confidence in twelve-year-old Christopher Lane. His teachers discount him as a liar and a thief, and his mom doesn’t have the energy to deal with him. But a mysterious visit from the Ministry of Education indicates that Chris might have some potential after all: He is invited to attend the prestigious Myers Holt Academy.
When Christopher begins at his new school, he is astounded at what he can do. It seems that age twelve is a special time for the human brain, which is capable of remarkable feats—as also evidenced by Chris’s peers Ernest and Mortimer Genver, who, at the direction of their vengeful and manipulative mother, are testing the boundaries of the human mind.
But all this experimentation has consequences, and Chris soon finds himself forced to face them—or his new life will be over before it can begin.
Reading Group Guide
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1. What is a prologue and what importance is the prologue to this particular story?
2. What was your first impression of Christopher Lane when he was introduced in the story, sitting in the school office waiting for the principal? Use descriptions from the book to support your answer. Did your impression of Christopher change as the story progressed? Why or why not?
3. What was the author’s purpose for including the scene where Christopher interacts with a spider spinning its web?
4. Christopher stole some money from his teacher. What does Christopher do with the money? How had Christopher and his mother been surviving the past seven years since his father’s death?
5. Christopher attempted to sell his father’s war medals at a pawnshop. What was Frank’s (the pawnshop owner) impression of Christopher? Compare and contrast your impression of Christopher to Frank’s. What did Frank see in Christopher that led Frank to lend him money in advance for work yet to be done? Was it possible that Christopher unknowingly was using his Ability on Frank?
6. Describe Christopher’s mother. What do you think is wrong with her? At twelve years of age, should Christopher be responsible for his mother’s actions?
7. While Chris attended the Black Marsh Secondary School, he was bullied by Kevin and four other boys. During one confrontation, Chris unwittingly discovered one of his abilities, as he was able to levitate Kevin across the room. Was a two-month suspension an acceptable punishment for Chris? What about the constant bullying Chris experienced at the hands of Kevin and his friends? Who else at the school could be considered a bully?
8. The school administration was aware of Chris’s home life as Miss Sonata had been warned about Chris’s home situation. Chris was only twelve years old, and his father had died when he was five years old. Was the school obligated in any way to help Chris? Could they have helped to find social services for Christopher and his mother?
9. Miss Sonata informed Chris that at Myers Holt Academy, Center for Excellence, they weren’t interested in how he was doing in school. They valued certain skills more than academic results. Skills such as imagination, observational skills, and empathy were important. They believed one makes the most progress if one works on the way one thinks rather than on the facts one knows. Is our educational system designed for only one way of thinking? In what ways do you think we could improve our educational system?
10. For what other purpose besides bodyguards does the author use the characters Ron and John? Use examples from the book to support your ideas.
11. Did the offer of going to school at Myers Holt sound too good to be true? Why or why not? All clothes, books, food, and excellent teachers were provided in exchange for not telling anyone of the work the students did at the school. Discretion was necessary because the methods used were unique and could be misused. If this was true, was it appropriate for Chris, at age twelve, to make such an important decision? Discuss the Official Secrets Act the students were required to sign. Did the students really understand what they were signing?
12. What kind of relationship exists between Chris and his mother? Does his mother love him? Does he love his mother? After Chris was accepted into Myers Holt Academy and turned down the opportunity to attend the school, did their argument change their relationship?
13. Compare how Chris was treated by the staff at Myers Holt Academy to how he was treated at home. Where did he feel the most comfortable? What constitutes a family?
14. While Chris was learning about his Ability he was told that the more power one had naturally, the more harm one could do with it. He would have to learn how to control it. When Chris got angry his natural Ability was stronger than others, and the possibility of someone getting hurt increased. Consider his confrontation with Kevin at Black Marsh Secondary School and his encounter with Mortimer during the Antarctic Ball. Even when he wasn’t angry, Chris had little control. Consider his lesson with Cassandra when he used a candle flame and caused an explosion, and the time he lifted John up in the air and crashed him against the ceiling. Is learning control, and having self-discipline, easier for some people than others?
15. Sir Bentley gave a warning to the students: “You must never, never use the Ability on one another. Or on any person, for that matter, unless you have a teacher with you. Do you have any idea how powerful Ability is?” Did the students understand the power they had? Can you think of a better way for Sir Bentley to demonstrate to the students how powerful they were so that they would understand? How does this warning relate to Chris later in the story when he is fighting Mortimer? There were teachers present, but were they able to help Chris? Did Chris overstep his bounds by attacking Mortimer, or was he justified in using his Ability as it was intended? How did Chris feel as he realized he had no control over what was happening to Mortimer and couldn’t stop his powers?
16. Another warning given to the students was that they should not try to use the Ability on the staff as they have all been trained to block entry into their minds. Chris’s natural ability did, by accident, allow him to access Ms. Lamb’s mind. Was Ms. Lamb’s revenge against Chris, asking the other students to find out what his most embarrassing moment was, an ethical lesson to teach?
17. How dangerous is the Ability in inexperienced twelve-year-olds? There were many instances when Chris lost control of his Ability. What about the other students? Did they also have problems controlling their Ability? Did the school have the time to correctly teach them how to use and control their individual Ability before they were required to work? How had the teachers improved their teaching skills to help the students learn control and how to use their Ability since the academy was closed thirty years before?
18. What is your opinion on the use of the dog Hermes for the students to practice on to learn how to command someone to do exactly what they wanted? Implanting thoughts into someone’s mind was the most difficult thing to do with the Ability. How is this different from what is known as brainwashing?
19. Sir Bentley instructed the students on how to stop someone from trying to perform Inferno. It was not a practice lesson, meaning the students could not actually perform the exercise. Is there a difference in learning by doing versus learning by books and lectures? Are there different styles of learning? Which style of learning do you prefer?
20. How do you explain Chris’s insistence on sneaking out of Myers Holt Academy to pay a debt to Frank, the pawnshop owner, when he was specifically instructed not to do so? Chris broke his promise to Sir Bentley and lied to Ron and Jon in order to repay his promise to Frank. Why would Chris jeopardize his new life by repaying this debt? Was using his Ability to pay for his taxi rides to and from the academy an ethical thing to do? What does this say about Chris’s character and his integrity?
21. How did John help Ron to understand Chris and his transgressions with security?
22. Describe the relationship between Ernest and his brother, Mortimer. How does this relationship compare to the relationship between Ernest and his mother? How would you describe Dulcia Genever? Does your opinion of Dulcia change after you learn what she thought of Ernest and Mortimer once Ernest was caught at the Antarctic Ball? Why or why not?
23. Sir Bentley had given very specific instructions to security on how to proceed with the imprisonment of the captured boy from the photograph. Where did the miscommunication happen that allowed Ernest to escape?
24. In times of emergency does one forget fear and just do what needs to be done? Did all the practicing the students did help them?
25. Discuss how the student’s teamwork helped contain the chaos at the Antarctic Ball and prevent serious injury to the honored guests and visitors at the ball.
26. Was Mortimer’s death Chris’s fault? Why or why not? Could others have prevented the death? If so, what could they have done differently?
27. As Chris waited to go home for the holidays, he was surprised by how sad he was to leave his school and classmates. He watched as the others were picked up by their families. When he arrived home he was not greeted with hugs and smiles but a gruff, “Turn the television back on and get me a cup of tea” from his mother. Are all families loving and happy? What was Ernest’s family like? Did Chris’s and Ernest’s families have anything in common?
28. Throughout the story it was mentioned that other countries also knew about the Ability. Some countries had even experimented with trying to kill people using the Ability. A person’s survival instinct automatically kicked in and created a block. Instead of killing a person, a technique was discovered called Inferno, which damages a person for life. Since only twelve-year-olds are capable of performing Inferno, would this be an ethical skill to teach a student? Do other countries have the same standards as we do? How could an international community control such teachings? What did Sir Bentley teach the students at Myers Holt Academy?
1. What part of Myers Holt Academy is your favorite? Use descriptions from the book to show evidence of your choice. Write an essay about Myers Holt Academy as if you were a student there and showing a new student the school. What would you tell the student was the best part of the school?
2. Go to the library or research online to learn about jellyfish. Is there a reason why the pulsating of the jellyfish is supposed to be calming?
3. Is it a fact that fear reduces performance? Search the Internet for any information that may confirm or disprove this theory.
4. Research telekinesis using the Internet or a library. How would you define it? Is there any basis for this ability to move objects by mental power?
5. Write a press release from the Prime Minister’s office explaining the unusual activities that occurred at the Antarctic Ball. Topics to be explained could include a mumbling prime minister, flying children, incapacitated security guards, and two deaths.
6. Make a chart comparing the different Abilities of the students at Myers Holt Academy. Make another chart of the students who were at Myers Holt Academy thirty years ago. How do these two teams of students compare to each other?
7. Research the definition of revenge. To seek revenge for Mortimer’s life, does Ernest need to kill Christopher Lane? Make a prediction about how Ernest will seek revenge against Christopher.
8. Read aloud the scene between Ernest and Mortimer when Ernest was presented a kitten as a motivational tool to improve his Ability. Discuss Ernest’s strengths in dealing with the situation.
9. Draw the cityscape of your own mind and design it in a way that reflects your personality, knowledge and interest. Think about the style of architecture. What would be the tallest building in your mind? The smallest?
Guide prepared by Lynn Dobson, librarian at East Brookfield Elementary School, East Brookfield, MA.
This guide, written to align with the Common Core State Standards (www.corestandards.org) 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.
M.M. Vaughan (also known as Monica Meira) lives in the UK. She loves to write, to listen to Janis Joplin, and to embark on adventures of any kind. She is the author of The Ability, Mindscape, Six, and Me and My Friendroid.
“Readers will enjoy the candy-shop wish fulfillment in this fast-paced, superhero-tinged spy novel. With its comics-style origin stories and vows of revenge, this first book in a planned series has an intriguing concept that could hit a middle-grade sweet spot.”
– Publishers Weekly
“Mystery intertwined with fantasy, and chapters arranged by date, give urgency to the fantasy-mystery-action hybrid.”