Coming of Age


"First Born" by John Grey

1. Is someone who is in the hospital, but not sick, really a patient?
2. What defines a patient? (Is it the condition they have or the care they receive?)
3. Do we do patients a disservice when we don’t differentiate the healthy from the sick?
4. Why is the husband defensive about his wife's “illness"? Does he feel threatened or powerless in the face of the changes occurring to her?
5. Is the husband embarrassed by her good health, and that they will all leave the hospital happy and healthy? (Was obstetrics always this way?)
6. What brings these individuals together in the hospital experience?
7. What is each one waiting for?
8. Discuss the image “two steps behind her smile”.
9. What image in the poem stands out most for you?
10. What do you make of the final image?

Keywords: Healthcare, Hospitals, Marriage, Medicine, Relationships


"Breathe" by Caroline Leavitt

1. Why is the woman angry in the beginning of the story?
2. What were you were expecting to happen when his mother knelt down before Sammy as he was leaving for school?
3. “There was only one thing that could hurt him and that was his asthma.” Discuss the impact of illness on the boy.
4. Both the doctor and Sammy’s mother use the phrase “don’t hold your breath”. What are the different implications?
5. Discuss the power of the inhaler.
6. “As he loses his breath, she deflates.” Analyze the use of breath and air in the writing.
7. How do you feel about a mother abandoning a sick child because “I deserve a life too?”
8. Can you empathize with the mother?

Keywords: Caretaking, Coming of Age, Empathy, Family, Illness, Independence, Relationships


"If Brains Was Gas" by Abraham Verghese

1. The narrator begins by telling us that she had just turned thirteen at the time of the story. What events or shifts in perspective mark her initiation into adolescence?
2. What are some clues that indicate the narrator’s style of living? What is her family situation?
3. What is the relationship between the narrator and Mamaw, her grandmother? What is the grandmother’s role in the family? How does she treat the granddaughter, particularly in terms of monitoring her social life, and why?
4. J.R. is a vital presence in the narrator’s life. Pick out some of her descriptions of him. What do you make of the narrator’s adoration of her uncle, an infatuation that seems to be confused with or at least complicates her sexual feelings for Elmo?
5. J.R. takes the narrator along with him to smoke marijuana in the Kmart parking lot. How does the narrator feel in this scene? How does this scene reflect on J.R.? Does it point the way to a different perspective on J.R., one that departs from the extreme adulation the narrator has felt for him?
6. In this story, J.R.’s dentures are almost characters in their own right. What do they signify about J.R.’s history and his relationship with his mother? What do they symbolize between J.R. and the narrator? How do they indicate the changes that the relationship undergoes by the end of the story?
7. The title of the story refers to a saying the narrator and J.R. share. How/why do they use this saying? What does it mean when the narrator uses this saying against her uncle?
8. When Abraham Verghese submitted this story to the Bellevue Literary Review, he told the editors that they could edit anything in the story except the title. He said, “Please don’t change it to ‘If Brains Were Gas.’” (subjunctive vs. indicative). Which is grammatically correct? What is the significance of “was” vs. “were” for this particular story?
9. How does the narrator view J.R.’s infidelity? How does it shape her thoughts about love, family, and sexuality—feelings that throughout most of the story are unformed and developing? How does it change her view of her uncle?
10. Consider the final scene of the story. What does it mean for the narrator to chew the condom and be calmed by this action?

Keywords: Abandonment, Anger, Coming of Age, Drug Use, Family, Home, Independence, Loss, Love, Marriage, Relationships, Sex and Sexuality


"See Photo Below" by Rick Moody

1. The poet provides a clue as to the meaning of his poem in the footnote—how does this relate to the text?
2. What is prohibited and what is allowed?
3. Note the rhyme scheme: reprobation, veneration, liberation, information, termination. Comment on other structural and rhythmic aspects of the poem.
4. The last verse “feels” different than the rest of the poem—why?
5. “Driven by passion, he and his sweetheart drive to a neighboring state whereupon they lie down gently.” What image does this provoke for you?

Keywords: Chaos, Coming of Age, Freedom, Independence, Social Norms