Ruby’s mom is in prison, and to tell anyone the truth is to risk true friendship in this novel that accurately and sensitively addresses a subject too often overlooked—from the author of The Summer Before Boys.
Eleven-year-old Ruby Danes is about to start middle school, and only her aunt knows her deepest, darkest, secret: her mother is in prison.
Then Margalit Tipps moves into Ruby’s condo complex, and the two immediately hit it off. Ruby thinks she’s found her first true-blue friend—but can she tell Margalit the truth about her mom? Maybe not. Because it turns out that Margalit’s family history seems closely connected to the very event that put her mother in prison, and if Ruby comes clean, she could lose everything she cares about most.
1. What did you learn in the first paragraph of the acknowledgments that helped you think about how real world experiences shape the fictional world that Ruby inhabits?
2. The cover art for this book reflects the title and Ruby’s life circumstances. Think about the cover art. Why are there silhouettes of two children holding hands and walking a dog? What did the little dog symbol make you think about when you came to each new chapter in the book?
3. Nora Raleigh Baskin has done a lot of careful and caring research for this book. She presents many details about being a visitor to the prison. What kinds of controls are exerted in the prison for visitors? What are the procedures for gaining admittance to the prison? How do you think you would feel if you were visiting a prison? What would it be like to have so many logistics—so many steps that have to be taken before you could see your family member or friend?
4. There is no privacy in prison. What impact does the lack of privacy have on the prisoners? How would you feel if you lost all ability to have private moments? How does the treatment of visitors and prisoners dehumanize them?
5. If you were a relative of a child in need of a home, could you—or would you—be willing and able to take that child in? Could you offer love and act as an additional parent? Does Ruby love and respect Matoo?
6. Friendship is very important in the story. How does Ruby relate to others her own age? What is it about Margalit’s personality that captures Ruby’s attention? What intrigues Ruby the most about Margalit’s behavior? About Kristin? Tevin? Rebecca? Trevor?
7. Why does Ruby pretend to be bored when she isn’t? Do you ever try to act like another person or behave in a way that will please someone else? What impact does trying to please another person have on Ruby’s mother’s life?
8. When Ruby says that the name Tipps sounds familiar, do you have a sense that her inside world and her outside world are about to collide? Does it seem too far-fetched that Margalit’s brother would have the same first and last name as the boy who was murdered in the pharmacy?
9. We don’t learn Ruby’s mother’s name until about a quarter way through the book when Matoo calls her Janis. Did you feel surprised to learn her name? Do you think the author did that for an emotional effect? Why does Nick get a lesser sentence than Janis? Does that seem unbelievably unfair? Realistic? Why do some people involved in a crime go to prison and others don’t?
10. Are there any ways that life in middle school is like a prison? How does the incident in school with Ruby and the pencil confirm that life is not fair? How is detention like a prison?
11. What messages or advice does Ruby get from her mother about how to live her life?
12. Was it irresponsible of Ruby’s mother to leave her alone? Where is Ruby’s father? We learn of Ruby’s mother’s situation growing up. How does that help to explain how she behaves as an adult?
13. Why does Ruby write (in the story she is creating with Margalit) that her mother died? How does Margalit react? Do you as a reader think less of Ruby because she denies her mother? Why do Margalit and Ruby title their story “To be continued”?
14. How does Margalit react when Ruby tells her that her mom is in prison? How does Kristin react?
15. The last word of the novel is normal? Why is normal so important to Ruby?
16. What is the “so what” of Ruby on the Outside? (Refer to “That’s an interesting series of events, but so what? Chapter 12, p. 76)
17. How did you feel when you read this sentence: “When my mother is released from prison I will be thirty-one years old”?
This guide has been provided by the author for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. Guide written by Robin Millay M.Ed.
Nora Raleigh Baskin is the ALA Schneider Family Book Award–winning author of Anything But Typical. She was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Flying Start for her novel What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows, and has since written a number of novels for middle graders and teens, including The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah, The Summer Before Boys, and Ruby on the Outside. Nora lives with her family in Connecticut. Visit her at NoraBaskin.com.