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Reading Group Guide Other Side of the Tracks
By Charity Alyse About the Book Other Side of the Tracks
chronicles the lives of three teenagers from two towns, one White and the other Black. Since their establishment, one unspoken rule has stood between the towns—don’t cross the tracks that divide them. From the all-Black town of Hamilton, siblings Justin and Capri both have big dreams of leaving, hoping to find the same joy of escape their deceased mother enjoyed as a Broadway performer. But Justin finds himself weighed down by expectations to protect and serve the women in his life, while Capri battles feelings of not being good enough. Zach, a Philly-raised transplant to Bayside, struggles with the reality of overt racism in his new home and the expectations for him to partake because of his whiteness.
Their worlds collide when Zach and Capri hit it off in a Hamilton record shop, owned by one of Zach’s favorite musicians. Together, they dive into making their dreams a reality, going against the longstanding rules and boundaries of their respective towns. But when a Black boy from Hamilton is killed on the Bayside end of the dividing tracks, bringing the tension between the communities to an ugly head, Zach, Capri, and Justin are caught in the middle. Discussion Questions
1. In the book’s preface, the history of Hamilton and Bayside is shared, and toward the end, the present-day towns are described as having stayed “within the confines of a postbellum world.” Do you agree with this sentiment? Discuss why or why not.
2. In the book, we read a letter written to Justin and Capri’s father to their mother. Discuss the letter and how you feel it defines their relationship, their dreams, and the town of Hamilton. What, if anything, could Justin and his girlfriend, Rose, learn from Essie and Justin Sr.’s love story?
3. Throughout the story, characters from Bayside and Hamilton alike describe the other town and its inhabitants. What do you notice about the self-descriptions of the residents as compared to the descriptions of their neighboring town?
4. Though the McKulleys’ home burned decades before, the remains stand amid the other well-kept Bayside homes decades later. Discuss the symbolism of the McKulley family for Black and white passersby alike.
5. With Hamilton being such a close-knit small community, it is considered taboo for its residents to ever leave. The author reinforces this taboo with tragic endings for those who do leave the community in some way. Did you see the tragedies as happenstance? If not, what do you believe to be the connecting factor in the demise of those who leave Hamilton?
6. Who did you believe was shot the night of Tyree’s death? Why? Did your perspective on the incident change when you found out who it was? Why or why not?
7. Though Essie chose Broadway over raising her two children, Capri and Justin never seemed resentful of Essie or her choices. Why do you think this is? How would you feel if you were in their shoes?
8. “Dancing is like breathing; it’s something I have to do to survive.” (p. 14) Can you relate to Capri’s deep love of dance? Discuss any hobbies or pastimes you have that you see as an integral part of who you are.
9. Even though Justin is the star basketball player, known for his athleticism, throughout the story we intermittently get glimpses of his relationship to words and literature. Discuss the use of basketball and literature and how they are used to explore the depth of Justin’s life.
10. In describing the social hierarchy of their school, Capri likens the students to carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores—each with their place in the food cycle. In your school environment, do you believe the same applies? If not, how would you describe the social norms of your community?
11. After Essie’s death, Justin was tasked with caring for and carrying his family through the tragedy. Discuss the impact of these expectations on Justin’s life. How might the story have changed if he didn’t have the weight of those expectations on him?
12. Tyree’s and Zach’s deaths marked the beginning of Hamilton and Bayside’s explicit reckoning with their long-standing history of racism and division. Why do you think this is? Do you believe that the residents of the two towns will experience a radical shift in their treatment and understanding of one another?
13. Other Side of the Tracks
complicates Tyree’s death by giving insight into both sides of the story—those who were with and knew Tyree, and Officer Malore. Did this at all shift your perspective or understanding of the situation? Of other real-life tragedies of police brutality? Why or why not?
14. Despite Capri’s deep love of dance, she hides it from Ma. Why do you think Ma is so disapproving of Capri’s dancing? Can you empathize with Ma’s feelings?
15. Though he is not Black, outwardly Zach presents as Black, reflecting the culture and community he lived in in North Philly. Discuss your understanding of the relationship between race and culture. Do you see them as synonymous? Consider the various social scenes Zach encountered in Bayside and Hamilton.
16. Initially, Rose was optimistic that she and Justin could manage raising a child together, though ultimately she decided to move forward with joining the single mothers’ program in Connecticut. Explain you agree or disagree with Rose’s decision?
17. Despite living much of her life in Hamilton unnoticed, Capri is immediately seen and recognized by Zach when they meet in Easy’s shop. Discuss Zach and Capri’s relationship, and why you think they connected. Given Zach’s residence in Bayside, why do you think Capri was so trusting of him?
18. Reflect on the histories and trajectories of Justin’s, Capri’s, and Zach’s lives. Were you surprised by any of the outcomes?
19. Consider Easy’s music contest. Did you agree with his application criteria? Why or why not? Do you feel Zach was wrong in how he went about entering the contest?
20. Zach’s position becomes even more complicated when he realizes that his father is representing the police officer who killed Tyree. If you were in his position, how would you feel? Would you be loyal to your father and town, or to your romantic interest and the people of Hamilton?
21. When Zach arrived in Bayside, his father said to him, “‘I only have you for another year and I will use this year to show
you who you really
are.’” (p. 36) Discuss what you believe he meant by this.
22. Though secondary characters, Rose, Easy, and Thomas each provide a distinct perspective that gives insight into the thoughts and actions of Justin, Capri, and Zach respectively. Discuss the impact of these characters and how they drive forward the message of the story. Extension Activities
1. Epilogues are concluding portions of literature that often round out and bring closure to the piece. In Other Side of the Tracks,
we close with a brief glimpse into the characters’ lives after Tyree’s and Zach’s deaths. Expand the epilogue by writing a three-part extension, each chapter from an additional character’s point of view. The epilogue should be related to the main story, but feel free to use creative license to explore and determine when in time you are writing from, and other details.
2. On your own or with a partner, research the history of your community, and consider the following questions:
a. What are the racial, ethnic, or cultural groups that historically have inhabited your town?
b. How have the relationships between the groups changed over time?
c. Are there any physical divisions in the groups that inhabit your city or town like the railroad between Hamilton and Bayside?
Then create a visual representation of your findings and share them with the rest of the group.
3. Design a record cover for one of the characters in Other Side of the Tracks.
On the back side of the cover, create a playlist (4–6 songs) that encapsulates the emotions and journey of one of the book’s characters.
On a separate piece of paper or document, write a rationale that addresses the following:
a. Why did you choose the character you did?
b. How does your design of the record cover express and convey your character of choice?
c. Give a 2–3 sentence description of why each song has been included in your playlist. Include a moment or scene from the text that inspired each song selection.
4. Zach, Justin, and Capri each explored and expressed their emotions and desires through art, whether music production, literature, or dance. Express yourself through a piece you create in an artistic medium of your choice. If it’s a performance piece, such as a song, spoken-word piece, or dance, please limit your work to three minutes. Write a one-page rationale that explains your piece and why you chose the medium you did. Be prepared to share your work with others. Extend the Experience
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by Angie ThomasNote: Page numbers refer to the hardcover edition of this title. Melanie Kirkwood Marshall holds a BA in Secondary English Education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a M.Ed in Reading Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has taught in many learning contexts from High School ELA teacher to Primary Literacy Interventionist. Currently, Melanie is completing her doctoral studies in Multicultural Children’s Literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 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. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.