Reading Group Guide The In-Between By Katie Van HeidrichAbout This Book The In-Between
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is a testament to resiliency in the face of adversity. In richly evocative verse that feels immediate and accessible, author Katie Van Heidrich writes about her childhood experience with temporary homelessness. As the book describes Katie’s moves from a series of temporary housing units, it explores the complicated relationships between parents and children. Katie’s experiences, while hard, ultimately bring her family closer together and help her discover the power and promise of her own voice.Discussion Questions
1. What is a memoir? How is a memoir different from a biography or a novel? What makes a book written in verse different from a book written in prose?
2. Describing her family’s many moves, Katie says that everything “has its place, / its compartment, / books and / pictures and / feelings, too” (Things Fall Apart). Then she observes that “with each move, there are fewer boxes to carry” (Things Fall Apart). What does it mean to put your feelings in compartments? Why would there be less to carry with each move?
3. Using a metaphor, Katie compares her siblings and herself to different kinds of volcanoes. Explain the differences in their personalities. Explain what you believe is the best way to handle anger. When you get angry, do you resemble Josh, Haley, or Katie?
4. Explain the difference between “slow moves” and “quick moves”? Although the narrator never explains why some moves must be quick when some are slow, what can you infer about the reasons that her family sometimes has to move quickly?
5. Katie writes about copying new words down in her journal, noting that words help, “describe what I’m experiencing” and “successfully name what I was going through” (My Notebook). Examine the section titled “It’s Mourning Time.” The title is a play on the word mourning
, which sounds like morning.
How does the word mourning
help explain what Katie is going through in this section?
6. Why does Katie refer to EXTENDED STAY AMERICA as a “disaster” (Hello Disaster) and an “apocalypse”? How is the motel different from the other places her family has moved?
7. Describe Katie’s friendship with Maia. What causes their relationship to become strained? Find textual evidence that suggests that Katie regrets growing apart from Maia.
8. Why do you think Katie does not tell anyone she is living in a motel? What do you think would happen if she told people that her family did not have a permanent home? Why is it sometimes difficult to let people know when you are going through a hard time?
9. Explain how Katie’s relationship with her father’s new wife, Ning, changes over time. Why does she initially find it difficult to connect with her stepmother? What realization helps her see Ning differently?
10. Compare and contrast Katie’s visits with her father and her life with her mother. Why does she say she feels like a guest when she visits her father? (Always Together) What does she learn about the reason that her father does not ask her to live with him all the time?
11. In the poem “Running Starts,” Katie describes her dreams. What do you think her dreams symbolize?
12. Why is Katie’s mother angry when her ex-husband sends Katie home with groceries? How does her reaction relate to the metaphor of an eagle that Katie uses to describe her mother?
13. The poem “Are We Broken Too?” is placed midway through the memoir. What is this section about? How do you think it connects to the poems that come before it?
14. Why does Katie hate the towels her father brings home from the country club where he works?
15. The poem “Rainy Dayz” describes a series of memories that Katie has of Josh and Haley. What do these memories reveal about the relationship between the siblings?
16. Katie refers to the library as “a safe space for stillness / and silence” (Daydreams). Why is it important to have a place that gives you a sense of safety and acceptance? What is your safe space?
17. Examine the section titled “Again.” What does the poem that Katie writes reveal about her feelings about staying in the hotel? Why do you think she feels like she needs to hide her feelings from her family?
18. What causes Katie to confront her mother? What happens after the confrontation?
19. Consider the section “Sometimes Things Fall Together” as it relates to the first section of the book: “Things Fall Apart.” If you could write a letter to Katie, how would you answer her question, “If things were always eventually going to get better / …why did God see fit for it to be this hard?”
20. The words in between
are not typically hyphenated, but the author chose to hyphenate the words in between
in the book’s title. As punctuation, a hyphen indicates that two words create a combined meaning, in this case being both in and between at the same time. What does In-Between
mean in the context of the story? How does the last section of the book, “The In-Between—,” help you understand the meaning of the title? Extension Activities
1. With each move Katie’s family makes, they must make decisions about what objects they want to keep. Katie observes that she and her siblings are “clinging too tightly to things that should definitely be thrown out” (Where Are We Going?). If you had to pack one box of objects to keep, what possessions would you choose to save? Write a narrative essay that describes the significance of each item you would keep. You may wish to include photographs of each object and use them to create a photo essay.
2. Katie describes her favorite teacher, Ms. Lucca, by writing: “she is unequivocally herself / and gives us space to be ourselves, too— / and we love her for it” (Ms. Lucca). Write a description of a teacher that has inspired or encouraged you. Describe the teacher and explain how they helped you become the person you are today.
3. Katie’s social studies class has motivational posters that say things like, “Hard work spotlights the character of people: / some turn up their sleeves, / some turn up their noses, / and some don’t turn up at all.” (“Family Friends”) The message on this poster relates to what we call the bootstrap narrative
: the idea that if a person just works hard enough, they will be successful. Why does this message frustrate Katie? As a class, debate whether it is true that hard work is all that is required for success.
4. Katie mentions a lot of artists, books, and songs throughout her book (“Troubles” by Alicia Keys, A Painted House
by John Grisham, “Impossible” by Christina Aguilera, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou). Look up one of the songs or books that Katie mentions and use textual evidence to explain why she connects to it. Then create a poster with your own collection of quotes that mean something to you. As an extension exercise, provide a bibliography with correctly formatted citations for the sources of each of your quotes.
5. In the section “Are We Broken Too?” Katie remembers a car accident that her family survived when she was younger. Although the accident was frightening and painful, thinking back on it gives her strength because it reminds her that they are survivors. Think about a time in your life when you overcame a challenge or struggle and write a narrative about that time, focusing on what it taught you about yourself. You may choose to write your narrative as an essay or as a poem in the style of The In-Between
6. In Ms. Wofford’s class, Katie is given a writing assignment to write “from the perspective / of an inanimate object, / pondering its purpose” (Purpose). Katie ends up writing about leaves. Write your own short story or narrative poem from the point of view of an inanimate object of your choice.
7. When Katie and her family need to find temporary housing and they struggle with food insecurity, her mother does not seek help, and Katie, Josh, and Haley do not tell anyone what is happening. Work alone or with a group to research organizations in your state or local community that could help someone in a similar situation and compile your research into a fact sheet that provides information on available resources. Give your fact sheet to your school guidance counselor, school social worker, or school nurse so that they can share the information if it is needed.Guide prepared by Amy Jurskis, Academic Dean at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida. 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.