Nette Hilton - HarperCollins Children's Books

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Teaching Notes Prepared by Christine Sarandis Table of contents • Book description • Nette Hilton biography • Before reading • Reading the novel • General questions and activities • Setting • Themes • Thematic exploration of the novel • Characters • The ending • Further reading • Web references

Book description Lulah's my friend. We're on a wavelength. We could guess what the other's thinking. If you're on a wavelength, it might be the same as saying the words out loud. And I was thinking them, wasn't I, when she followed Samson out there and down the path. Even if she doesn't hear me, there are others that do. Secret others. Silent ones who pass like a cloud too close to a mountain top, felt but not seen. Ari and Lulah have been best friends almost forever. Living next to each other, they share every little secret. At least they did, until Ari began dating Samson, and Lulah started to slip away from her — and developed a secret life of her own. One that Ari knows nothing about. Now Ari thinks Lulah might want to come between her and Samson. Ari fears that in her jealousy she will bring harm to her friend. For as the seventh born of the seventh born, Ari has the gift of second sight. She didn't ask for this gift, and when her little brother's annoying friend Colin Bucket dies, she hates it more than ever — because Ari is certain that her gift has sent Colin to his death…

Nette Hilton biography Nette spent her early childhood in a small country town in Victoria, moving to Sydney when she was 11. She didn't adjust well to life in a city high school and her memories of this time are still with her and are reflected in her writing. After school, she 'floundered around for several years trying to work in office situations', but eventually gave up and went bush. For 12 months she worked on a sheep station, had another go at office work, and then decided to train as a teacher. The first story she ever wrote was for her daughter, who didn't like going to school. When Nette looked for a book about a child in a similar situation, she couldn't find any so she decided to write her own. 'It was my way,' says Nette, 'of saying things that I found easier to put into written words. I still use writing in this way - if I have something that needs to be said, and then I try to write a story about it.' Nette has to plan carefully to fit her writing into her busy life, even going so far as to allot time in her diary for thinking about the next book. 'It's important to me,' she says, 'that I spend time thinking about the way the book will go, what the characters will be like, how it will begin, how it will end. All these things go chugging around in my head for quite a while before I sit down and start with words on paper or a keyboard.' Nette went through the same process in preparation for her latest novel for teenagers, Hothouse Flowers, a book which she describes as being about suicide and mental illness, youth and age, living and existing, and the value of life. Other works by Nette published by HarperCollins include: A Proper Little Lady - shortlisted for the 1990 Children's Book Council of Australia Award (Picture Book); Square Pegs; The Friday Card; The Web - Honour Book 1993 Children's Book Council of Australia Award (Younger Readers); Hiccups; The New Kid; A Frilling Time; Seeing Things; Four Eyes - Notable Book 1996 Children's Book Council of Australia Award (Younger Readers); a number of books in the Surfside High series; The Foundling; and Clouded Edges. Other than writing and teaching, Nette's work also includes the Nestle Write-Around-Australia Competition where her role as author is highlighted in visits to schools around Australia and as a mentor for students who become finalists in the competition. Says Nette: ‘My life is about making up stories and writing them and then hoping somebody will like them enough to read them. So far I've been lucky and many people do seem to like my books - some like them enough to award prizes to them and others like them enough to write to me and tell me so. ‘Writing stories can be a very lonely occupation. For the length of a story my companions each day are the characters that I have made up - and my dogs who never seem to get bored snoozing at my feet while I tap away on the keyboard. I don't talk about my characters until I have finished writing about them and by then, quite often, I'm already searching around for my new story and my new characters, so it is a wonderful reward when I hear other people talking about characters that I have invented as if they were old friends. ‘I write each day - some days more than others because I teach at a primary school two days each week. I have my own writing space now - a delightful little house with leadlight doors and books, books, books everywhere! I have written my stories in many places - the kitchen table, the lounge room, the bedroom and, for a short time, in the laundry with two guinea pigs and a mushroom farm. One of the nice things about being a writer is that you only need paper, pencils and a corner of a table to get it going.’

Before reading • Providing students have not read the blurb on the back cover, have them look at the picture on the front cover carefully. Then ask them to think of five things suggesting what the novel might be about.

Reading the novel • First determine whether the novel will be read in class or by students at home. • If encouraging the students to read the story outside class time, it’s a good idea to give them a particular page or chapter range each night. You could even draw up a timetable with a beginning and end date for when the novel needs to be completed prior to commencing class work. • Alternatively, the novel can be enjoyed by allocating some class time for reading in which pairs or small groups of students compile a synopsis of a chapter or section of the story to present in about 60 seconds. Each group should identify the characters and main events and make note of narrators for their section. Then arrange the groups so that the telling of the story can be completed in a single lesson. General questions and activities • How would you describe the predominant mood or tone of the novel? • Discuss the importance and impact of dramatic tension throughout the novel? • What effect does Ari’s retelling of events have on our understanding and enjoyment of the story and her character? • Discuss the use of implication in the novel and how it creates a sense of secrecy amongst the characters. • Ask pairs or small groups of students to dramatise a chosen scene from the novel. • After completing the novel, students could create a mind map of the events to demonstrate their understanding of the links between events and characters in the story and also the relationship between imagined and real events. • Through visual imagery and word association, the author brings the story to life. After reading the following quote, students search for other descriptive phrases or passages in the story and then practice writing their own descriptive piece to share with the class; e.g. p. 188 “New clouds bunching like grapes on the horizon.” How important are these visual descriptions to our engagement in the story? • Find out about gypsy customs and beliefs such as theories about the seventh daughter and create a Word or PowerPoint document to demonstrate and share what you have learnt. Setting • Ari lives in a beachside suburb surrounded by areas of bush. Why do you think the author created this setting and does it impact or enhance the story in any way? • What reason might the author have had for choosing this kind of setting rather than a city one? Would this story work in the city? Support your ideas. Themes Superstition, family relationships, friendship, love relationships, secrets, death, neighbours, jealousy, deceit, supernatural spirits, growing up Thematic exploration of the novel Students could either work on individual thematic studies or they could work in groups to answer a range of questions for one or more of the following sections. Alternatively, they could choose one of the themes not fully explored by these questions such as jealousy, neighbours or growing up. 1. Superstition • Discuss Ari’s experience of rainbow walking and what it represents? • What is the significance of the snake on the shirt she wears for Fungus’ funeral and why is she compelled to wear it?

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Ari learnt of her gift at the age of seven. How did she feel about this? Discuss her thoughts. How significant is this in light of the fact that she was also the seventh born daughter of a seventh born daughter? (From a superstitious perspective, apparently the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter possesses the power of second sight. Discuss this concept and what it meant in her life.) What warning did Yette give Ari after she revealed the secret of their gift? Why did Ari feel an urgency to find Fungus in the graveyard? Ref. Ch’s 1 and 2. Discuss Ari’s lack of choice in accepting her gift. Can you relate this to an experience in your own life where you feel you had no choice about accepting a task or responsibility? What happened when Ari walked past Sunshine Village Home for the Elderly? How did this affect your view of Ari’s possible involvement in Fungus’ death? Ari believed Colin died because she “took her gift lightly”. Discuss. Ari sensed that she has found Fungus in her own yard pp.63-64. Reread this reference and discuss the way the description made you feel. How was the sense of creepiness invoked through the writing? Why did Ari suddenly feel that she has cursed Lulah and how did this make her feel? Ref. pp. 84-85. How did Ari’s fear of this curse unfold as action later in the novel?

2. Family relationships • Reread Ch. 2 of the novel and discuss what it reveals about the relationship between Ari’s parents? • When Ari was caught eavesdropping on their conversation, how did her father react and what did this indicate about both his personality and their relationship? • Discuss situations in which you may have overheard something either by accident or on purpose. Why do adults sometimes choose not to include their children in conversations? • Ari’s mum has made her do a lot of things since Yette arrived and told her about ghosts. According to Ari, these included going to Sunday School and learning about God and the Bible as well as seeing the school counsellors. Consider the relationship between Ari learning about ghosts and her mother insisting she learn about God. Discuss. • Examine the relationship between Lulah and her mum. Who or what threatens their relationship? 3. Friendship – Ari and Lulah • What was the basis of Ari and Lulah’s friendship? • Neighbourhood friendships can be different than others. List some of the characteristics that make them unique. • How and why did Ari and Lulah’s friendship begin to break down? • In what ways are Ari and Lulah alike or different? Draw up a table to highlight their differences. Ref p. 43 • Who was dominant in the relationship, Ari or Lulah, and how did this impact on their friendship? • Reread the following quote and discuss what it conveys about Ari’s sense of her self in her relationship with Lulah: p. 59 “Lulah studies me. She knows everything about me. She’s lived her whole life one step ahead of where I’m going.” • Describe the circumstances in which Lulah asked Ari to cover for her one night. Ref. Ch. 18 & 19. 4. • • • • • • •

Love relationships Ari is in love with Samson; how would you describe their relationship from her perspective? If you could image Samson’s thought, how might they differ? How do relationships between girlfriends change when either of them becomes involved with a boy? The same questions could be asked in reverse. Ref. Ch. 9. Ari appeared paranoid and jealous about the possibility of a secret tryst between Samson and Lulah? How is this conveyed in the novel? Ref. pp. 49-50 and pp. 51-52, 59, 62-63. How did Ari’s suspicions about Samson and Lulah affect her friendship with her boyfriend? How did Samson react? What do you make of the emotional tension and flirting between Bryce and Ari on pp. 53-58, 60? How is Ari’s discomfort and embarrassment conveyed by the author? Ari is confused by her feelings for Samson and Bryce. Which incidents fuel her confusion?

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How different might the story have been if Lulah had been honest with Ari about her relationship with Bryce? What stopped her from confiding in Ari? At one stage Ari recognized that her feelings for Samson were real and those she has for Bryce were pure fantasy. Discuss.

5. Secrets • Ari keeps her rainbow walking secret form everyone, including Samson. How hard do you think that must have been? Ref. Ch. 3. • Make a list of some of the secrets in the novel and then assign an outcome of each secret to the resulting action. Discuss why people keep secrets and how they can affect relationships. • List the reasons Lulah had for keeping her relationship with Bryce secret. • Discuss the way in which secrets can develop and become more complex. What can break a cycle like this? Is there ever a good reason to keep a secret? • Ruby and Lulah’s relationship as mother and daughter is compromised by Lulah’s secret tryst with Bryce. Do you think Ruby had any idea of what was going on and how hard would it have been for Lulah to keep this secret? • Why do you think Samson chose not to tell Ari that he’d seen Bryce and Lulah together? • Lulah and Bryce had a secret about Fungus. This secret is central to understanding Fungus’ death. How important was this secret in compounding Ari’s belief that she caused his death? • In the end, why do you think Ari and Lulah didn’t reveal the truth about Colin’s death? 6. Death • Central to the story is Fungus’s death and the mystery surrounding it. Not much is revealed about the cause or circumstances of his death by the author or the characters until the very end of the novel. Why do you think the author chose to hold this information back? • How did this impact on your reading of the novel? • Which of these is more important to understanding the novel – how Fungus died or the circumstances that led to his death? Discuss. • When Ari remembers Fungus’s death scene in the novel, what was the major question she asked Lulah and what was Lulah’s response? Ref. pp. 148-150 Characters Major and minor characters • List the major characters in the novel and choose one to describe in detail and then describe their relationship with another major character. • How are the characters developed in the novel so that you have an understanding of their personalities and complexity? • How are Lulah, Ari, Samson, Ruby and Bryce connected? Using the following pairings, have students make a list of the suspicions and secrets that surround these relationships: Ari and Samson; Ari and Lulah; Lulah and Samson; Ruby, Bryce and Lulah; Lulah, Bryce and Fungus. Compare these ideas amongst the class. Ari • What kind of a person is Ari? • Jot down her main characteristics and compare these with a friend’s list. • What sort of a friend is Ari to Lulah? • Ari feels everything very deeply. Do you think her sensitivity and suspicions about Samson and Lulah are realistically portrayed? • Ari is haunted by her part in Fungus’s death, and insecure about her friendship with Lulah and her relationship with Samson and Bryce. P.92 “I’m the weirdo that kills people. Wishes ‘em dead. Is that what I am? Is that what Samson sees? And if he doesn’t, isn’t he seeing a lie? Maybe that’s what I am – a lie. Someone whose outer shell is not who I am. Maybe I really am the ugly toad under the rock that Fungus exposed.” Is self-doubt a normal part of growing up and if so, how might Ari have dealt with it better?

Lulah • What are your impressions of Lulah? How would you describe her personality? • What sort of a friend was she to Ari? • Samson believed that Lulah was using Ari. What do you think? Have you ever been put in a situation where you had to cover or lie for someone? Have you ever asked anyone else to do this for you? • How hard do you think it would have been for Lulah to keep two important secrets – firstly her affair with her mother’s boyfriend, Bryce; and secondly, the secret about Fungus and the consequences of her and Bryce’s actions on the day he died? • How do you think the secret of the events surrounding Fungus’s death would have affected Bryce and Lulah’s relationship? • Revisit the scene in which Lulah makes a plaster cast of Ari’s face. Why did Ari feel a presence at this time; discuss the way in which these kinds of incidents have greater meaning once more information about the characters is revealed. (E.g. We later realise that the person Ari sensed was Bryce) Ref. pp. 121-122 • Do you believe Lulah felt responsible or remorseful about Fungus’s death? Explain your answer. Fungus • How is our impression of Fungus developed throughout the novel? • What do we know about Fungus himself and also what others thought of him when he was alive? (Please refer to the section of these notes entitled Things people thought and said about Fungus.) • Brainstorm the personality traits that are revealed through other people’s memories of him. • Read the quotes below and discuss people’s thoughts about Fungus. Do you think they were being fair about him? • After thinking that Fungus was a creep, why did Ari think: p. 37 “He had to be. It’s easier to think of him as a creep. Especially now.” • When someone dies or a friendship is over, what are we most likely to remember about that person? Discuss. • Compare feelings about Fungus after completing the novel. Do you feel differently about him at the end? Discuss. • Why did Ari begin to think of Fungus as Colin towards the end of the novel?

Things people thought and said about Fungus

Samson to Ari pp. 31-32 “It’s hard to feel bad about Colin … He’s not like Nate or Mikey. They’re just there … you know.” “He watched me once while I was having a shower. What’s that about? I’m all soaped up, can’t see a thing and there he is.” “He’d come over to find Mikey or something … He didn’t even come right in. Just opened the door far enough so he could watch me through the crack. Like, if he’d come in I guess it wouldn’t have been so bad, but he was hiding out there, watching me.” Ari Ari remembers back to when she was ten and on a Sunday School outing. She is desperate to go to the toilet and is humiliated when she squats down to pee. p. 36 “And I see him. Watching me. Peering out from behind the fence, his face between the fronds. He knows that I’ve seen him and he ducks down. But I know he can still see me through his green-leaf curtain. I’m his captive and I know it.

He doesn’t call out or try to get away so I pretend I don’t see him. I straighten up and pull my cossies over my chest. I make my face look uncluttered like I don’t care. Inside I’m dying. “I know he’s still watching, but when I sneak a look in that direction he’s gone, as silently as he arrived.” p.47 “ … I can smell the unwashed hair and snotty nose stink that always seems to hang around whenever he’s too close.” p.64 “He used to hang around the adults because they always took his side. ‘He’s young,’ they’d say, or, Leave him alone, you big bully’. Or they’d make us play with him. ‘Go on,’ they’d say, ‘give him a turn.’ ” Ari to Samson p. 37 “He was always watching … Or stealing something that he fancied. Or just hiding stuff.” “Why did he do that do you reckon? ... He was a creep.” p. 38 In relation to Fungus’ death, Ari says to Samson: “I wish it hadn’t happened though.” And then, “It was my fault.” In this section we learn that Ari had wished Fungus dead and that she believes his death occurred because of that wish. Discuss. Lulah to Ari and Samson pp. 70-71 “He was a lying little sneak. So don’t come the bullshit like you’re sorry he’s gone and all that.” “You bloody hated him. Don’t be such a hypocrite.” “We didn’t like him. We all stood around saying prayers and looking sad and we didn’t even like him.” Ruby to Alison p. 44 “He was a bastard of a kid really. Didn’t need that to happen to him though.”

The ending The ending of the story requires a great deal of discussion and interpretation as it impacts on all the things that come before it. Reread the last three chapters of the novel to the class before commencing these questions. Ask students to form groups of three to discuss the ending of the novel and use one or any of the following questions to generate discussion. Have each group make a list of theories and ideas to share with the class after a period of about twenty minutes. Sample questions and quotes to revisit: • Who was Lulah’s mystery boyfriend and what caused her mixed feelings about him? • How did Ari eventually learn about Bryce and Lulah and why did Samson withhold this information? • What really led to Colin’s death and did Lulah have any remorse? • How did Lulah’s secrecy about Bryce and the events surrounding Colin’s death impact on her friendship with Ari? • Was the ending of the novel a complete surprise or did the clues enable you to deduce the mystery central to the novel? • Outline the reasons Ari kept having visions of Fungus whenever she was with or near Bryce? • Why did Bryce appear to be understanding of Ari’s experience of ghosts? Ref. pp. 136-138 • Reread p. 154 Ari nearly stumbles upon the truth surrounding Colin’s death in this section. How did Lulah distract her from the truth? • How different might things have been if Lulah’s boyfriend was an unknown character, unrelated to anyone else in the novel? • When did Ari realise that Fungus knew about Bryce and Lulah and that he had tried to tell her about them? P. 224 “It’s been bothering me at night, Colin and Bryce. That blue shadow always wherever

Bryce happened to be. Showing me. Telling me. Making sure I got the message. He wasn’t hiding behind him. He was pushing him forward.” Describe the resolution between Lulah and Ari at the end. Would their friendship ever be the same? Consider the following quotes. P. 224 Ari talking to Lulah about Lulah’s mysterious boyfriend: “Colin knew, didn’t he?” “He tried to tell me.” P. 225 Lulah to Ari about Colin: “We chased him …” P. 227 “I wished him dead, Lu.” “The day before he died, I wished him dead.” P. 227 Lulah says to Ari: “You only wished it. “ “I did it.” P. 230-231 Ari sits by Colin’s grave. “He’s not there and I’m not sorry.” “But he hung around long enough to save us.”

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What was the purpose in the novel of Colin’s spirit haunting Ari? How do you interpret Ari’s experience of being haunted by Fungus? Consider some alternative endings to the novel.

Further reading Other supernatural, ghost or magical stories • Babbitt, Natalie - Tuck Everlasting • Banks, Lynne Reid - The Indian in the Cupboard series • Carmody, Isobelle - Alyzon Whitestarr • Wynne Jones, Dianna - The Chronicles of Chrestomanci series • Le Guin, Ursula - A Wizard of Earthsea • Knox, Elizabeth – Dreamhunter series • Nix, Garth - Keys to the Kingdom series • Nix, Garth - Old Kingdom trilogy • Langrish, Katherine - Troll Fell series • Crew, Gary - 13 classic tales of the macabre and fantastic Web references Omens, superstition, ghosts • • • • • • • • •