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Essential Maps for the Lost

Reading Group Guide

    A Reading Group Guide for

    Essential Maps for the Lost

    By Deb Caletti

    Book Description

    From beloved author and National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti comes a fresh and luminous novel about the grief that can tear us apart and the people who can make us whole again.

    There are many ways to be lost.

    Sometimes people want to be lost. Madison—Mads to everyone who knows her—is trying her best to escape herself during one last summer away from a mother who needs more from her than she can give, and from a future that has been decided by everyone but her.

    Sometimes the lost do the unimaginable, like the woman, the body, Mads collides with in the middle of the water on a traumatic morning that changes everything.

    And sometimes the lost are the ones left behind, like the son of the woman in the water, Billy Youngwolf Floyd. Billy is struggling to find his way through each day in the shadow of grief. His one comfort is the map he carries in his pocket, out of his favorite book The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

    When three lives (and one special, shared book) collide, strange things happen. Things like questions and coincidences and secrets, lots of secrets. Things like falling in love. But can two lost people telling so many lies find their way through tragedy to each other…and to solid ground?

    Discussion Questions

    1. Chapter One opens with “The way Mads and Billy Youngwolf Floyd met was horrible, hideous.” Describe how they met. Discuss if you agree with this statement.

    2. Mads is a swimmer. Describe the horrific experience she has one morning while swimming. How would you react in a similar situation? When Mads learns who Billy’s mother is, why does she not tell Billy what she experienced?

    3. Billy works at an animal shelter; however, he steals dogs. Why does he do this? What do you think of his behavior? How would you describe Billy’s personality? Use evidence to support your answer.

    4. Billy lives with his grandmother on a houseboat. Describe his grandmother and their relationship. Why is Billy angry? Does his grandmother understand his anger? Is she supportive of Billy?

    5. Billy keeps a map with him but he loses it. Mads finds it and returns it. Describe the map. Why is it important to Billy? Why does Mads return the map to Billy?

    6. Describe Mads’s relationship with her mother. How does her mother need more from Mads than she’s willing to give? Compare and contrast Mads’s relationship with her mother to Billy’s relationship with his grandmother.

    7. Billy observes Mads on two occasions with a small child that she babysits. What does he think each time? Why does he have this perception?

    8. Identify a central theme in the story and provide examples of events, character behaviors, and dialogue that support the development of this theme.

    9. Does Mads want to earn her real estate license? Why or why not? Why does her mother want her to pursue this career?

    10. As time passes and Billy and Mads become closer, they continue to keep secrets from each other, and each finds it harder to be honest with the other. Billy is suspicious of Mads. What event breaks open her secret? How does Billy respond? How does Mads react?

    11. Compare and contrast Claire with Mads’s mother. In what way is Claire good for Mads? How does Claire challenge Mads to make a decision about her future?

    12. Discuss the book’s title and how it represents an important theme in the story. Discuss how both Mads and Billy have been lost. What events happen in their lives that help them find their way?

    13. Discuss the ending of the story. Is it a realistic or ideal one, given the emotional pain both Billy and Mads have endured?

    14. Both Billy and Mads experience change throughout the novel. Discuss how each character grows. Support your discussion with evidence from the text. Do Billy’s grandmother and Mads’s mother change?

    Extension Activities

    1. Research animal rights and animal services in your community. What shelters exist and what support mechanisms are in place for animals in need? What processes are in place for reporting abuse to animals? For adopting pets? What medical care is available? Develop a brochure or website that summarizes the services available in your area.

    2. Research either careers in real estate or careers in animal services. What education and training is required? What job opportunities and salaries are available? What is the job market like in each field? Share your findings in a small group.

    3. Write an essay in which you examine the concept of “loss” in Essential Maps of the Lost. You may focus on one character or you may compare and contrast any two. Support your essay with textual evidence. In your essay, be sure to address the various stages the characters experience as each works through his/her emotions.

    4. Write a short dialogue (perhaps a phone conversation) between Claire and Mads’s mother in which Claire is expressing her concern about Mads. What would Claire say? How would Mads’s mother respond?

    5. Read and discuss From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Discuss what draws Billy to this book. Why does the map intrigue Billy?

    Guide written by Pam B. Cole, Professor of English Education & Literacy, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA.

    This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

More Books From This Author

A Heart in a Body in the World
The Last Forever
The Story of Us
Love Is All You Need

About the Author

Deb Caletti
Photograph © Susan Doupé

Deb Caletti

Deb Caletti is an award-winning author and National Book Award finalist. Her many books for young adults include StayThe Nature of Jade; and Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, winner of the Washington State Book Award and the PNBA Best Book Award, and a finalist for the PEN USA Award. Her books for adults include He’s Gone and her latest release, The Secrets She Keeps. She lives with her family in Seattle.