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A Song Only I Can Hear

LIST PRICE $17.99

When Rob starts getting mysterious texts from an unknown number, he has to make a decision—stay under the radar, or risk being exposed in a way he’s not prepared for—in this “stirring” (Booklist) middle grade novel that’s perfect for fans of Wonder.

Rob Fitzgerald is determined to impress Destry Camberwick, the perfect new girl who he’s devastatingly in love with. But that’s a difficult task for a painfully shy wallflower who’s prone to panic attacks and would rather hang out with his granddad all day.

That is, until he starts getting mysterious text messages from an unknown number with challenges designed to encourage him to venture outside his comfort zone. Is Rob Fitzgerald on the road to getting the girl? Or will fear keep him out of the spotlight forever?

Powerful, moving, and full of heart and humor, A Song Only I Can Hear is a delightful novel about dreaming big, being brave, and marching to the beat of your own drum.

Chapter 1 1
BECAUSE I’M IN THE TOP English class at school, I attended a writing workshop at a local literary festival a few months back. It was run by a well-known writer for young adults and children. I got a signed novel and I also learned something about the techniques of writing a book (which this is). She went on quite a bit about establishing a narrative voice. I’ve been thinking long and hard about it.

Hi! My name is Rob C. Fitzgerald (don’t ask what the C stands for—I’m not telling you on the grounds that it’s hideous and embarrassing) and I’m thirteen years old.

Then I remembered what the author had said about tone. I looked at the word “Hi!” on the page. It struck me as way too conversational and informal. I hit the backspace button.

My name is Rob C. Fitzgerald (don’t ask what the C stands for—I’m not telling you on the grounds that it’s hideous and embarrassing) and I’m thirteen years old.

I put my head in my hands. Think. Be critical. Are the brackets and the words in them necessary? If I’m not going to say what the C stands for (and trust me, I’m not), then why mention it? A tip the writer gave came back to me: the delete key is your best friend.

My name is Rob Fitzgerald and I’m thirteen years old.

Yuck. Ugly. Keep it simpler still.

I’m Rob Fitzgerald and I’m thirteen years old.

Two “I’m’s in the same sentence. That’s a basic mistake.

I’m Rob and thirteen.

Perfect. If I’m actually determined to be boring.

Look, maybe it’s best if we pretend this first chapter doesn’t exist. If I don’t get any better as a writer, you have permission to come to my house, tie me to a chair, and have at my toes with a blowtorch.

Which is way better than getting your money back if you’re not entirely satisfied.
A Reading Group Guide to

A Song Only I Can Hear

By Barry Jonsberg

About the Book

Thirteen-year-old Rob Fitzgerald is trying to figure out how to attract the attention of the girl of his dreams: Destry Camberwick. First, however, he must confront the social anxiety that keeps him quietly in the background. Armed with advice from his best friend and emboldened by a series of anonymous text message challenges, he’s finally ready to seize the day and let the world get to know him.

Discussion Questions

1. At the beginning of the novel, Rob Fitzgerald experiments with his narrative style. What does he reveal about himself, both directly and indirectly, through his narrative voice? Give examples from the book to support your answers.

2. Describe Rob’s relationship with his grandfather. Why do you think Rob enjoys spending so much time with him? In your opinion, what is the best part of their relationship? Do you have a similar relationship with any older relatives or neighbors? If so, what does that friendship mean to you?

3. Rob suffers from social anxiety disorder. How does his anxiety affect the way he lives his life? What does it keep him from doing? How do you manage your own anxious feelings, especially those related to public speaking or performance?

4. Rob asks several people for advice on how to get Destry to notice him. What do you think about the advice he’s given? What would you say to Rob if he asked you for help? If someone was trying to get your attention, what could they do that might get you to notice them?

5. How does Rob deal with Daniel Smith’s harassment? How does it make you feel? What do you think is the best way to deal with bullying?

6. What lesson do you think Rob’s father’s story about falling in love teaches? How much do you know about the way your parents or grandparents met? What lesson do you think their story teaches?

7. Rob’s best friend, Andrew, cautions, “You can’t fall in love with someone just because of their looks.” Do you believe Rob is really in love with Destry? Explain your answer. In your opinion, what is the definition of love?

8. What new experiences does Rob encounter in his attempts to attract Destry? What does each experience teach him about himself? Can you think of a new experience you had that impacted you? Explain your answers.

9. Why do you think Rob isn’t excited when his coach tells him that he has a chance to participate in the interstate soccer tournament? What specific worries does he share with his grandfather?

10. Who did you suspect was sending the anonymous messages to Rob? Explain your answer using evidence from the book. How does Rob react when he finds out who sent the messages? Why do you think he reacts this way?

11. Throughout the book, Rob shares true stories about faithful dogs. What do these stories have to do with the book’s themes? Why do you think they matter to Rob? Explain your answers.

12. The last challenge is “Stop hiding. Be proud of who you are.” How does Rob fulfill this instruction? How hard is it for him?

13. After Destry kisses Rob, her comments make him “fall instantly out of love.” Why do you think that is? Why do her words make the kiss feel “tainted”?

14. Rob has several people in his life who support and accept him unconditionally throughout the story. Discuss the ways these relationships help him develop confidence and resilience. How does each person let Rob know they care about him? What does their example teach you about being a good friend?

15. Thinking back on the book, what parts of the story do you understand differently now that you know that Rob is transgender?

16. After Rob shares that he is transgender, he finds out that his gender identity was never a real secret at school. Why do you think it is still important for him to come out to his classmates?

17. In the last chapter, the author reveals that Ms. Pritchett is Rob’s counselor. She suggests that Rob’s book is an idealized version of his story. How did this make you feel? Why do you think Rob chooses not to write more about the struggles he faces as a transgender teen? How would your experience as a reader have been different if the novel had presented these struggles in more detail?

Extension Activities

1. Rob tells Ms. Pritchett that “‘Kids of our age . . . are tolerant in ways older generations aren’t.’” You may be very aware of the complexities of gender identity and sexual orientation, or this may be a relatively new topic for you to consider. Research ways that you can make your school a safe place for all students, and present a plan to educate your peers, along with the staff and faculty, about issues related to transgender and LGBTQ youth. The Trevor Project, GLAAD, and the Human Rights Campaign all have resource pages that can help you understand these topics.

2. Rob’s grandfather does not want to talk about his past, because he suffered from PTSD after fighting in the Vietnam War. Research the Vietnam War, including the role that Australia played in the conflict; in particular, consider looking into the Battle of Long Tan. What is PTSD, and how does that relate to soldiers’ experiences? Create an educational presentation, such as a poster, video, or powerpoint, that provides information you think people need to understand veterans and PTSD.

3. In chapter eighteen, Andrew gives Rob the advice he needs to find a passion by identifying something he wants to do to make the world a better place. This idea is echoed in chapter thirty-four, when Andrew’s father tells him, “‘there’s nothing more attractive than passion for a cause.’” What cause are you passionate about? Create a public service announcement that presents your cause and gives your audience ideas about ways that they can get involved.

4. Throughout the book, Rob makes several unsuccessful attempts to write a poem for Destry. His reflections on the difficulty of writing poetry reveal that he has a deep understanding of the technical elements involved. For example, he mentions poetic devices like rhyme, end-stop, enjambment, and half rhyme. He also connects strongly with the war poetry his grandfather suggests to him, in particular the poems titled “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen and “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke. Research or review a list of poetry terms and use them to analyze one of these war poems. Why do you think Wilfred Owen’s poem resonates with both Rob and his grandfather? Next, try writing your own poem inspired by A Song Only I Can Hear; you may choose to write about or from the point of view of one of the characters in the novel, or you may want to write a poem about yourself and what makes you unique. Try to write a poem about the song only you can hear.

5. One of the ways Rob finds the courage to be himself is through messages he receives from a mystery encourager. For one week, find ways to secretly encourage someone. You may choose someone in your school, family, or community. Your encouragement can be through notes or messages as well as acts of service and other random acts of kindness. At the end of the week, write a reflection about your experience. How did being an encourager impact the way you felt? Did you notice any change in the person you were encouraging?

6. Love is one of the themes in A Song Only I Can Hear; the book presents many examples of different types of love, from the love between a grandparent and grandchild to friendship and romantic love. Write an essay that examines one of the messages the author makes about love. Use specific details from the text to support your analysis.

Guide prepared by Amy Jurskis, English Department Chair at Oxbridge Academy.

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.

Barry Jonsberg is an award-winning author who lives in Darwin, Australia, with his wife, children, and two dogs. His books have been published in the USA, the UK, France, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Turkey, Brazil, Korea, Slovenia, and China.