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Discussing Special Topics in Calamity Physics with teenagers 3

It’s been a couple of weeks because the students had mid-terms, scholarship applications, and then there was Spring Break. So this is a recap for around 3 weeks worth of discussion, which works out to be about an hour’s worth of actual conversation.

The students, for the most part, really enjoy the novel. The action has picked up (I mean there was a dead body in a swimming pool at the party they crashed), and the students are in.

What I’ve noticed most through the discussions are the numerous elements that need explaining. Not because the story is necessarily complicated, but because the story takes place predominantly on the East Coast and most of the students haven’t even made it to Northern California. The element that stood out this time around was the father/daughter relationship. Most of the students find Blue’s relationship with her dad a little creepy, but they understand why Blue would be so connected. It’s interesting seeing the father/daughter relationship through the eyes of students who either don’t know their father or don’t have a good relationship with him. It’s yet another aspect of the novel that they tend to react to as though the concept comes from Mars.

This week, hopefully, we’ll get to have more of a conversation. I’m trying to come up with more interesting questions that can be answered regardless of the number of chapters the students have read. We’ll see what the week holds.

Discussing Special Topics in Calamity Physics with teenagers 2

Well week two could have had a better discussion, but it wasn’t terrible considering the sophomores had just completed the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) and the seniors were all caught up in scholarship deadlines. So the number of students who had not completed the reading outnumbered those who had.

But we started with some predictions. For those that had completed the reading, they had a chance to predict some of what Blue will face. Most of them suspect that life for Blue will take another turn for the worse, but they still don’t have specific predictions.

For those who hadn’t completed the reading, I had them write their predictions for the chapters based on the paragraph synopses of the books the chapters pull their names from. Some of them were able to predict fairly well, but others did not draw a solid connection between the title and what could happen.

What I learned this time was that foreshadowing is more difficult if you haven’t read much. Most of the students in the reading group aren’t readers (yet), and I am learning that what seems obvious to me and jumps off the page as contrived or trite appears new to them. I have some suspicions as to why they are in high school and yet lack the skills to point to examples of foreshadowing.

Next week we will meet more of the characters who will play a larger role in the remainder of the story. We will also hit some of the longest and slowest parts of the novel, but I’m hopeful that the students trust my judgment enough to stick it out. I’d forgotten, until I reread it, that Pessl does a great job laying a solid foundation for the rest of the story to stand on. Why this fantastic world building may trip up several of the students is that so few authors do it anymore. And since many of the students prefer stories that keep up the action (and yet don’t like fantastical elements in their stories), the initially slow pacing may get the better of some of them. But I have faith in the students.

Discussing Special Topics in Calamity Physics with teenagers 1

Special Topics in Calamity PhysicsI facilitate a book club with the high school students at work. We started with Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell over their winter break. And we when finished it in Feb., I brought in several books for them to choose from for what we would read next. The consensus was Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl.

The book is a fantastic first-person recounting of the narrator’s, Blue van Meer, senior year in high school on the U.S. east coast. It’s an interesting choice for the kids I work with, because there will be little common experience. Most of the students have lived their whole lives in the city and have little experience with life outside of Southern California or Mexico. Continue reading Discussing Special Topics in Calamity Physics with teenagers 1