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Reading Group Guide The Grip
by Marcus Stroman About the Book
Young Marcus Stroman is about to enter middle school in the fall, but first he spends the summer participating in basketball and baseball camps. His heart is always on the pitcher’s mound, where he strives to one day be a professional baseball player. Unfortunately, Marcus faces many challenges as he prepares for his big game, and his inner struggles get the best of him. Is he truly too short to be successful as a pitcher? Will he be able to strike out his opponents and lead his team to victory? Can he make it to the next level while competing with other talented players on his team? These tough questions grip Marcus’s mind. In the end, it turns out that the life lessons Marcus learns on and off the field while he prepares for his big game are more valuable than anything he ever thought he’d learn . . . like how you can’t physically improve your game until you work on your mental health. Discussion Questions
1. Take note of the book’s title. What do you think the word grip
means in this book? Is it a noun, or can it be a verb? What do you think the book’s tagline means: “You grip the ball. But doubt grips you.” Can you think of a time in your life where you doubted yourself?
2. At the very beginning we get to know Marcus and his dad. What character traits do you think best describe his dad? What character traits do you think best describe Marcus? Use text evidence to support your answers. Explain the relationship they have and how these traits influence how they get along.
3. In chapter one, Marcus seems angry. What are some of the circumstances behind his anger? Can you relate to or understand Marcus’s feelings? Explain.
4. We learn that Marcus’s parents are divorced. Marcus tells us that he and his sister “have been ping-ponging between two houses.” How does the divorce affect Marcus, and how does he express his feelings about “being handed off between them”? (Chapter one) Explain the relationship that his parents have now that they’ve been divorced for a while. Has it improved since they first got divorced?
5. Marcus’s height is discussed throughout the novel. How does he feel about his height? Why do others think his height is a problem? Who specifically taunts him about it? Later in the story, Marcus says, “height can’t measure heart.” (Chapter nine) What do you think he means by this? How do you feel about it?
6. Marcus’s mom has a calm demeanor and always gives Marcus advice. Throughout the book, the word bounce
is used. She says, “‘Bounce it off, because once it gets in, it’s harder to get out.’” (Chapter two) Marcus uses this bounce technique to help him when he’s struggling. When do you see Marcus use this strategy? Does it work for him? Do you think it would work for you?
7. In books, authors introduce secondary characters that can be sidekicks, advisors, or challengers. Which type of character do you think describes James? Explain your reasoning with evidence from the text. Why do you think he acts this way? Is it fair for us to judge his character? Do Marcus and James have anything in common? Explain.
8. Marcus has two coaches who make an impact on him: Coach Fuller, his basketball coach, and Coach Clark, his baseball coach. Describe each coach’s personality. Do they have similar coaching styles? Do you think one of these styles would produce better athletes and teammates? Explain why you think this. Who would you rather play for and why?
9. Marcus thinks an assessment for a sport is different from an assessment for school. How? Which type of assessment does he prefer? Which would you prefer, and why?
10. Often in books, characters have inner struggles. Marcus is certainly one of these characters. What is Marcus struggling with? Explain how he reacts to Mom and Dad when they try to understand what he is going through. Do you agree with his reaction? How else could Marcus talk to his parents in a more productive way?
11. Danny is a pitcher on Marcus’s travel baseball team. What type of player is he? Does he work hard? Is he worried about the assessment? How do Marcus and Danny get along? Are they friends or competitors? Explain.
12. How does Marcus feel about baseball and school? Why does he prefer one over the other? What is something you do that you feel you are naturally good at? Explain. What is something you think you need to work at to feel successful? Explain.
13. Dad and Marcus have a complicated relationship. Sometimes Dad can be a challenger, but at other times he can be an advisor. Use text evidence to note scenes that support both ideas. How does Dad help Marcus realize you need to use brains in baseball, too? Does this moment show Dad’s challenger or advisor personality?
14. Marcus and his grandmother have a very important heart-to-heart conversation in the novel. After basketball practice and dealing with James, he tells her that “‘every team has to have its jerk.’” She responds with words of wisdom like, “‘You’re not going to love everyone, that’s for sure, but you should try your best to get along with them. . . . And you can respect what they’re bringing, even if you don’t like the way they bring it.’” (Chapter six) How does Marcus respond to this advice? Can you think of a situation you may have been in where these words could have helped you get through it?
15. Sometimes characters say or do the opposite of what you would expect. When we meet Sabria, Marcus’s sister, she expresses her angst that she must spend her weekends at his playoff and tournament games instead of being with her friends. However, later she has Marcus’s back and shares the made-up Namorts program with James. What is “Namorts”? Where did it come from, and why was it created? How does Sabria standing up for Marcus lead to her giving Marcus the best advice he has heard so far? What is that advice?
16. A turning point in the story is when Dad and Marcus are practicing just before the baseball assessments. His dad patiently tells him, “‘everyone can tell you, ‘You can do it Marcus,’ but until you believe it yourself, then it’s like you’re running in place, going nowhere fast.’” (Chapter eleven) How is this moment a turning point for both Marcus and Dad? What life lesson can you take from this advice?
17. Kai, Robbie, and Marcus are considered the “Three Musketeers.” However, they all have very different personalities. Describe each character and how they each feel about baseball. Using text evidence, show how they support one another even with their differences. Who do you think you are most alike and why?
18. When Robbie and Kai are trying to understand why Marcus is struggling with his pitching, Kai helps Marcus express his fears. Kai repeats words like Then what?
Explain how Kai uses these words to help Marcus talk about his fear of failing. How would you respond to someone who also has a fear of failing? Did you ever feel like Marcus? Explain.
19. Throughout the story, Marcus asks himself many tough questions. When realizing how worried he is about baseball tryouts, he asks himself, “Can I fix myself, though?” When Marcus takes the day off and skips both basketball and baseball camp, he says to himself, “I love doing both. Why do I feel so relieved?” However, one of the toughest questions is when Kai tries to help Marcus with his struggles and asks him, “‘The question is, Marcus, what are your expectations? Do you think you can do it?’” How does Marcus respond to this tough question? What other tough questions does Marcus have to face?
20. Marcus has a serious talk with Mom about seeing a mental health coach. What is a mental health coach? How does Dad feel about Marcus seeing one? What does Mom say to convince Marcus that it would be a good idea? How is Marcus’s first appointment with his mental health coach, Gary? How is Gary able to get Marcus to trust him?
21. Gary introduces Marcus to the idea of visualization. What is visualization? When does Marcus try this technique, and does he find it helpful? Have you ever tried visualization? Tell us about it. Did it center you and calm you down?
22. During the assessment game, Marcus constantly talks to himself. What are some of the things he says to himself? Is he still full of doubt or does he now have confidence? How does Marcus’s new mental health training get him through the game? Is he successful or not? Explain.
23. After the game, Marcus remembers some of Gary’s wise words. “‘There are no perfect endings. But there are satisfying ones. If you try your best, you have to be at peace with whatever way it ends.’” (Chapter thirteen) Explain what this lesson means, and how it could help you in life.
24. Each story ends with a resolution. What is the resolution in The Grip
? How does Marcus feel about himself after the game? What considerate gesture did Marcus make to James after the game? Why did he make this effort? Do you think their relationship will change going forward? Explain.
25. Discuss how the title, The Grip,
relates to the book’s major theme, believing in yourself. Explain how relationships, teamwork, competition, and change are also themes. How do they intersect, or run alongside, the major theme? Extension Activities
1. The author uses many expert baseball words in this story, like scrimmage
, and adrenaline
. Do you know their meanings? Write down what you think these words mean based on context clues. Add any other baseball terms you came across when reading to your list. Then look up the definition of each word and write out next to your thoughts the exact definition, and then compare how close your thoughts were.
2. The author also uses examples of figurative language to express ideas throughout the book. There are similes such as “My throat feels like a desert,” and personification like “My heart is jogging in place.” Make a chart with examples of this figurative language and explain their true meanings. Add some of your own favorite expressions and examples of figurative language to your chart and share these with the class, explaining in your own words what they mean.
3. Some of Marcus’s friends complain that baseball is boring. However, Marcus thinks it’s fascinating. Create a Venn diagram comparing baseball to another sport or activity. Join other students in your class arguing for the same sport, and debate with another group about which activity is more entertaining and why. Use points from your Venn diagram to form your argument.
4. The author, Marcus Stroman, believes that mental health is the key to success on and off the field. Research what mental health coaches do to help their clients. Discuss with a partner why you think this is such an important job. What are some other careers that focus on mental health awareness, and how do they help the community?
5. Marcus is self-conscious and is taunted because of his height. He plays point guard on his basketball team because he isn’t as tall as the other players. However, there are many short professional basketball players throughout history. Research talented point guards, such as Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues, Charlie Criss, Earl Boykins, and Greg Grant to learn of their successes in the National Basketball Association despite their height.
6. The author of The Grip
, Marcus Stroman, is a professional Major League Baseball player. He has played for the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, and Chicago Cubs. Marcus Stroman has made it his mission to share his message with kids who need it most by creating the HDMH (Height Doesn’t Measure Heart) Foundation. Research this charity and learn more about Marcus’s mission off the field. See how you can help. https://hdmhfoundation.org/Angela Benevento is a literacy specialist and former elementary school teacher who lives with her family in New York. 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. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.