|Pieces of Why
Penguin Young Readers Group, September 2015
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Full of humanity, Pieces of Why is a timely story that addresses grief, healing, and forgiveness, told through the eyes of a gifted girl who hears rhythm and song everywhere in her life.
Some exciting news: Pieces of Why has been selected to Wisconsin’s Just One More Page! 2015 master reading list! Tia’s in some fantastic company!
Listen to an NPR interview with KL about the book.
Listen to an audioclip:
“More than anything in the world, Tia dreams of being a singer—and not just any singer, but one like Nina Simone, Adele, or Mahalia Jackson, a singer whose voice can change the world. But, she thinks, “seeing as I was only twelve and poor as dirt, that was a universe away.” Perhaps. In the meantime, Tia takes voice lessons from Ms. Marion and sings in the Rainbow Choir with her best friend Keisha. But then there is a drive-by shooting, and, in its wake, Tia learns a shocking truth that will change her life and compromise her ability to sing. Is her dream gone forever? Going’s new novel, with its nicely realized New Orleans setting, is a tender, accomplished story about the coming-of-age of a girl whose good intentions are challenged by uncertainties and her efforts to do what is right, even when that’s frightening and painful. Readers will empathize with Tia and wish her well as she struggles to deal with the truth and hold on to her dream.”—Michael Cart, Booklist
“When Tia was four years old, her father robbed a house and was sentenced to life in prison. It’s not until a baby dies in a neighborhood carjacking eight years later that Tia learns the whole truth: he killed a 12-year-old girl during the robbery. The baby’s murder stirs bad memories in Tia’s working-class New Orleans community, and she unjustly bears the brunt of this ill will. Tia’s reclusive mother avoids talking about the past, while her own shame and questions so overwhelm her that she loses the ability to do her favorite thing: sing. Her voice teacher, Ms. Marion, wisely tells her, “Sometimes if you’re having trouble creating something beautiful, you’ve got to find the joy in your life.” Surrounded by a strong supporting cast, Tia is a sympathetic protagonist searching for that joy, and the answers she needs to rediscover her voice come from some unexpected sources. Going (Fat Kid Rules the World) skillfully tackles topics of race, class, and violence in a moving testament to family and friendship, love and loss, and the power of forgiveness.”—Publishers Weekly
“Tia’s gift for singing has led to solos in her youth choir in New Orleans where she lives with her single mother. At 12, Tia knows that her mother is working all the time to provide for them, and often turns to her friend Keisha’s family for support. Tia knows that her father is in prison, but never had much other information from her mother until the recent shooting of a baby during a carjacking in the neighborhood gets people talking. She soon hears that her father murdered a 12-year-old girl during a robbery years before. Suddenly Tia’s voice leaves her as she tries to cope with the guilt and shame as well as her feelings of empathy for the family whose baby was the victim of the recent shooting. Though Tia finds warmth and caring within her friend Keisha’s family, she overhears a visiting aunt claim that Tia’s whiteness and her father’s background make her a bad influence on Keisha. Kenny Lin, a boy who stutters yet is a warm and caring friend, provides romantic interest and expands on the diversity of this multicultural community. Crucial to Tia’s working through her concerns is the leadership of Ms. Marion who directs the choir and helps Tia face her mother and eventually her father in prison. A concert to benefit victims of crime subtly shows that the families of the perpetrators are also victims. VERDICT: Going’s straightforward prose doesn’t overwhelm the story, but keeps it on a level that the likely audience will find appealing.”—School Library Journal
“Unspoken tension pervades the New Orleans home where twelve-year-old Tia lives with her guarded and overworked single mother. The two don’t talk about why her mother never attends Tia’s choir concerts, and they certainly never discuss Tia’s father, incarcerated for armed robbery and completely removed from their lives for the past eight years. When the shooting of an area toddler brings the truth of her father’s crime to the surface, Tia questions her own character as she wants to know and understand her father. Her conflicts–with her mother, with the specter of her father, with her best friend, and with herself–are true and unembellished, as is her growing curiosity about her absent parent. Though Tia is white, the multiracial cast and evocative New Orleans setting offer readers multiple points of access to this compelling and sensitive exploration of self-determination and coming of age. Tia’s remarkable singing voice and the importance of music in her life add a nice point of attraction for musically inclined readers in this novel about relationship, identity, and forgiveness.”—Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“Tia is 12-years-old and lives in New Orleans with her single mom. Tia’s passion is singing, she and her best friend Keisha sing in the Rainbow Choir, a diverse group of young people. One night at choir practice, a gunshot rings out and the subsequent events shock Tia to the core. She cannot sing anymore. She discovers the truth behind her father’s incarceration and the world as she knows it will never be the same. Going understands young adults and gives Tia a powerful voice with which to tell her story. There are so many memorable phrases to draw readers in and keep them there. I read the book twice and would read it again!.”—School Library Connection
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Questions for Discussion, by Chapter
Chapters 1 – 8
- On the first page of the novel, Tia says: “More than anything, I wanted to be a great singer. Not a rock star, but a singer who’d change the world with my voice, like Nina Simone, Whitney Houston, Adele, or Mahalia Jackson.” How do our dreams and goals define us? What roles do our heroes play in creating our ideas about who we want to become?
Personal Thoughts: What is one dream or goal that you have? Name three people that embody that dream or goal.
Activity: Listen to music by each of the four singers that Tia names.
- Does Tia’s environment shape her identity? If so, how?
Personal Thoughts: Has your environment shaped your identity? What different qualities might you have if you’d grown up elsewhere?
- In addition to our identity as individuals, there are also cultural identities that encompass groups of people who share common history or qualities. Sometimes these group identities allow us to celebrate our differences, but other times they can come between us. In the start of the book, Keisha and Mary-Kate argue over whether white people should be allowed to sing gospel music since this type of music has its roots in African American history. What do you think? Should people be allowed to participate in traditions that are not their own?
Personal Thoughts: Have you ever felt excluded from something?
- In the beginning of the book, we see Tia lying. What kind of identity is she trying to create with her lies?
- Tia’s mother also uses lies as a means of communication. Why do you think she continues to lie about why Tia’s father is in prison?
Personal Thoughts: Have you ever lied about something? What made you do it?
Chapters 9 – 15
- After learning the truth about why her father is in prison, Tia is drawn to visit the Raven woman. Why does she identify with this woman even though she doesn’t even know the woman’s real name?
- After the shooting, Tia’s identity within the community changes. How do you think they see her?
Personal Thoughts: How do you think your community sees you? Do you wish they saw you differently?
- As Tia begins asking questions about her father, she struggles with anything that might portray him in a positive light, such as the photo of him as a happy young man. Why do you think this is hard for her? As a society, do we prefer people to be either all good or all bad?
- In Chapter 14, Ms. Evette questions whether the police arrested the right men. Do certain groups get judged differently based on stereotypes? Is a stereotype different from a cultural identity?
- Why is it hard for Tia to believe that someone in prison might sing? Why would learning the truth about her father stop Tia from singing?
Personal Thoughts: Have you ever felt as if you didn’t deserve something good?
Chapters 16- 23
- Ms. Loretta and Ms. Evette argue over Tia’s identity. One sees her as a potential threat and the other says she’s a “great kid”. Why might they see the same person so differently? How has history shaped their viewpoints?
- Ms. Marion believes that: “No one shines unless we all shine.” In many cultures, people take their identity from the group, but in our culture, we are used to thinking in terms of individuality. We’re taught that the highest good is to be “the best”. Do you participate in any activities where your identity as a member of the group is more important than your individual identity? (For example, girl/boy scouts, a musical ensemble…)
- Just as Tia is judged because of her father’s crime, Kenny is judged because of his stutter. Have you ever been judged? How did it shape your identity?
Personal Thoughts: In Chapter 17, Tia and her mom talk about reinventing themselves in California. Have you ever wanted to reinvent yourself? What type of person would you want to be?
Activity: Draw an alternative you.
- Why do you think Tia feels the need to apologize for something she didn’t do? And why did it hurt to be recognized by Danielle’s grandfather?
- In chapter 19, Tia makes a concerted effort to stop lying. In the beginning of the book, we discussed why Tia needed to lie. Now, why does she need to stop? How does telling Kenny the truth help her heal?
- When Khalil cheats on Keisha, how does this betrayal change how she sees herself? Do you think this change will be permanent or temporary?
Personal Thoughts: Have you ever gone through something (good or bad) that changed the way you saw yourself? Was that change permanent?
- Tia’s mother’s identity has been shaped both by Lyle’s crime, and by how she responded to it. How might Tia’s life have been different if her mother had responded differently?
Chapters 23 – 30
- Danielle’s parents have been profoundly changed by what Tia’s father did. How did they choose to respond? How else might they have responded?
Personal Thoughts: Do you know anyone in real life who has overcome a tragedy? How did they keep going?
- On page 161, Dwayne talks about the ways that Tia changed after her father’s crime. Although many of those changes were negative, one change was in her singing. Is it possible for positive changes to come out of bad experiences?
- After Keisha experiences the effects of Khalil cheating, she feels terrible. But eventually, this experience allows her to develop empathy. She realizes how much she judged Tia’s mom, and can see how unfair her judgement was. Can making mistakes truly make us better people? If so, why do we try so hard to get everything right?
Personal Thoughts: Are you ever afraid of making mistakes? What was the most recent mistake you made and how did you feel about it? Did it change the way you saw yourself?
- In chapter 24, Tia recognizes her singing as a gift that she can give to her community … In many ways, this brings the story full circle, back to the opening quote where Tia talks about changing the world with her voice. Only this isn’t quite what Tia had imagined. How do you think Tia’s identity has changed from the beginning to the end of the novel?
- In Chapter 26, Tia has a second experience with the men who scared her in the beginning of the book. This time she sees them differently, but she still makes choices to keep herself safe. What role do fear and safety play in how we view others?
- This is a book where almost all of the characters have communication barriers that they must overcome. The Raven woman doesn’t speak English. Tia loses her ability to sing. Kenny stutters. Tia’s mother hides from the world. Lyle Frank is behind bars. What does communication have to do with identity?
Personal Thoughts: Have you ever been in a situation where it was hard to communicate? What other forms of communication do you rely on besides words?
Activity: Listen to Pyramid. Play charades!
- Why was it important to end the story by giving the Raven woman and the baby their rightful names?