Discussion Questions

"Year of the Amphibian" is a kind of book that lends itself to discussion, because it's a portrait. There's much that could be debated in a book club or classroom. So here I've assembled some questions that I've thought of so far (all better to ask after having finished reading the entire book). If you end up using these, or think of your own questions, I will be thrilled to hear about it.

Also see the "references" pages.

Spoilers!


Story

At the very beginning of the book, what does Conrad say he wants? How does that color how he behaves after he returns to Los Angeles?
How is Conrad's behavior in Los Angeles similar to his life by the lake?
In Mid-October the kids run up in to the hills above West Hollywood. At the end of this section, before they return home, those hikes are described as "more than just playing". Why is that?
What do you think really happened with Anise? Is it simple, or complicated? Mull over various theories.
When Conrad tells his mother that he wants to stay at his dad's, it comes after a number of dramas. How would you describe what's actually motivating him and what he's actually feeling?
How has Conrad changed by the time the school years ends, before he returns to the lake?
What are the differences between Conrad's fantasy view of the woods and the reality of the place? Who / what make him see those differences? On the other hand, in what sense is he not wrong? Also, that is not the only case of "fantasy vs. reality" - what other examples are there in the story?
At some point during the summer, Conrad reaches a tipping point, after which he (eventually) tells his dad that he doesn't want to stay after all. When is that tipping point, and what builds up to it? How do other characters effect this turn of events? What pushes him over the edge? And then, how does he react to the realization?
How is Conrad changed when he returns to Los Angeles? How does that affect how he behaves there?
Conrad says different things to different people about why he chose to return to Los Angeles. What's the truth? How much of his own mind do you think he knows? How would you characterize his own perception of his choice?
How do you feel about the end of the story? Is it a happy ending?
Similarly, do you empathize with Conrad, or do you see him in a negative light, or both? Why?


Themes

How do the circumstances of Conrad's life affect his relationships in each place he lives?
What are the parallels between the subject of Conrad's history project and his own life?
In Mid-October, Mr. Sebastien tells Conrad that he's mixed up in his approach to his proposal. Looking at what he says to Conrad, what else does it make you think of?
How does the art that Conrad experiences (and creates) affect his thinking?
After this book was released, somebody on the internet tagged it with the category "America Studies". How would you say that the book reflects on American culture?
How would you describe Conrad's feelings about race and racism, and how does it figure in the story? How seriously can we take Conrad's objections to racism? Does his stance ultimately cost him anything? What are all the examples of racism you noticed in the story - and does Conrad himself notice them?
What role does food play in the story? Why so many mentions of food?
The story is set in 1983-84. How might it have played out differently if it were set in today's world?
Describe the polar themes in this book (such as city vs. country).
How is this story different than other books about young people that you've read?


Characters

The story starts with Conrad and his two sisters. Describe each sister, and Conrad's relationship with each of them. How are they similar to him, and how not? How do they effect the outcome of the story?
How would you describe Conrad's mother Sueanna? What can you say that's positive or negative about how she relates to her kids?
How would you describe Conrad's father Henry? What can you say that's positive or negative about how he relates to his kids?
Compare Conrad's relationships with Anise, Stacy, and Helen. He has feelings about all three of them, but what is the difference? And does Conrad make any sort of progress in the way he relates to them? How would you define that progress?
What role does Mr. Onter play in Conrad's life, and vice-versa?
What role does Babs play? How do you think Babs really feels about Conrad's situation?
How do Conrad's friendships change through the story, and how do his feelings about his friends change?




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