Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
When Cara is called in to her nine-year-old son Adam's school one afternoon,
she tries not to expect the worst. Because Adam is autistic, Caraa single
motherhas spent many hours with his teachers, principals, and guidance
counselors discussing her son's development, and it isn't unusual for Adam to
throw a tantrum at school that would necessitate her presence.
But today is different. Adam is missing, and he hasn't been found in any of
his usual hiding places. He broke a rule (which he never does) and disappeared
during recess, presumably having left school grounds. When the police find him
later that afternoon, Cara is stunned to find out that Adamwho has no friends
at school to speak ofwas in the woods behind the school with a fellow student.
Her name was Amelia Best, and she was found dead, stabbed in the chest.
The community is thrown into crisis, with parents fearing for their
children's safety and teachers at the local schools doing their best to help
their young students cope with this tragedy. Cara is convinced that Adam can
help the police solve this murder, but he has retreated back inside himself
after the incident, despite recent signs of improvement. Though Detective Matt
Lincoln is skeptical about Adam's ability to aid the investigationchild
witnesses are difficult enough, but what can he do with one who won't even
speak?Cara refuses to give up on her son, who has become her entire life since
the death of her parents in a car accident. She tries in vain to get him to
participate in his usual communication games and finds it difficult just to get
him to look at her. Willing to take a risk in order to bring Adam around, she
agrees with a local schoolteacher that an older boy's companionship might help
and invites Morgan over to visit.
Morgan, an eighth grader at the local middle school, has some troubles of his
own: while he isn't autistic or developmentally disabled, he attends classes
with a special group at his own school, which he refers to as "the group for
kids who have no friends." He faces constant tormenting from bullies at recess,
and though he likes the teacher of his special group, Morgan doesn't share a
bond with any of his classmates. It is clear from the start that he is harboring
a terrible secret of his own. When Morgan meets Adam, Cara is shocked when Adam
speaks his first voluntary phrases since the murder. As the two boys begin
spending more time together, Adam offers his own clues to Cara that are
difficult to decipher but might be important to locating the killer. But
Morgan's secret, as well as some old friends from Cara's past, threatens to
obscure the path to the truth behind Amelia's death.
As Cara and Detective Lincoln draw closer to the resolution of this awful
crime, Cara is forced to come to terms with the consequences of decisions she
has madeincluding the choice she made as a young woman not to include Adam's
father in his lifeand realizes she is not alone in her pain and isolation. In
order to get to the murderer and bring Adam back to her, Cara must find it in
her heart to forgive and be forgiven. Cammie McGovern's Eye Contact is a
heartrending portrait of a mother's relationship with her son and a
psychological thriller that keeps the reader guessing up to its final pages.
Cara is not the only parent in the book who struggles with raising a child
with special needs. Morgan's mother, Kevin's mother, and Amelia's mother are all
in similar situations. What are the differences between the ways that they treat
their children? Do you think that some of the mothers fail where others have
succeeded? What do you agree and disagree with in each of their situations?
When Adam begins talking to the police and offering them clues, they have a
difficult time understanding what he is getting at. For instance, one word he
blurts out without prompting is "hair," which confuses Detective Lincoln
because, as he says, "the guy we've got downstairs is bald" (p. 157). However,
this particular word becomes very significant later on in the investigation. How
different would the search for Amelia's murderer have been if Adam had been an
average nine-year-old? What kind of obstacles would have been avoided? What new
difficulties would the police have faced?
On page 25, when she is being interviewed by the police, Amelia's teacher
June is forced to admit that though she had planned on pairing Amelia with a
partner from another classroom to help her development, she hadn't had the
chance to do so. In the aftermath of a tragedy, people surrounding the victims
often have feelings of regret, wishing they had done something differently that
might have prevented what happened. Have you ever been through a situation like
this one? How did you cope with your feelings of guilt and regret? How does June
cope with hers? Are there other characters who feel similarly about Amelia's
Cara and Suzette's friendship is a continuing subplot throughout Eye Contact,
and there are moments when it seems like they are the best of friends and other
times when they are very distant from each other. Many of their
misunderstandings revolve around Kevin and the feelings each of them has for
him. What reasons do you think that each of them has for caring about Kevin? Do
you think their friendship might have lasted if they had confronted Kevin when
they were younger?
Why do you think Suzette became agoraphobic? When Cara and Suzette were
children, Suzette seemed to be the one who was more confident of herself and
what she wanted out of life. What could have happened to her that caused her to
become a recluse?
What does the title "Eye Contact" mean to you? It is mentioned a couple of
times in the book in reference to Adamone of the most important things one can
do to get an autistic child's attention is to gain eye contactbut it also
serves as a larger metaphor for many of the characters and their relationships
in the novel. How do you think the term applies to Teddy and June, for instance?
Or Kevin and his mother?
When Morgan's mother takes him to the police after he's admitted to starting
the fire, she says to him at one point, "You're fine, Morgan, my God. A lot of
people don't have friends. I never had any friends" (p. 159). Many of the other
characters in Eye Contact are similarly isolated from their peers. What does
this say about the way that both children and adults in their neighborhood
communicate with one another? What do you think about Morgan's mother's
commentis it "fine" not to have any friends?
When Morgan embarks on his own search for Amelia's killer, he forms an
unexpected alliance with Fiona, another misfit student at the middle school. She
tells Morgan, "the day after the murder Chris sat in front of me and started
saying all this stuff about how he hopes people realize how bad it can get, that
people can die from bullying" (p. 209). To what extent do you think Chris was
right about this? Discuss some of the terrible things children do to one another
in Eye Contact and whether you've observed this kind of behavior in young
children you know. What are some of the ways this kind of cruelty can be
One of the results of Adam's autism is his appreciation for classical music
and his love of opera. He has perfect pitch and impeccable hearing ability. Why
do you think that a child who has such a difficult time with language and
communication loves music so much? What are his musical talents compensating
for? How might they be able to enrich his future life?
Amelia's mother fought to have her daughter placed in a special education
classroom while Cara has been fighting since Adam was young to have him
integrated into a normal classroom, with the help of an aide. How do you think
their respective learning environments affected Adam and Amelia? In what ways
might it have had an impact on the burgeoning friendship between the two
children before Amelia died?
When Cara is thinking back over her relationship with Kevin, she admits to
herself that "he's kept certain secrets for reasons she can't understand . . .
[but] so has she. If an impartial outsider looked at their lives, weighed the
sins of omission, it's likely that Cara would be found at far graver fault" (p.
210). What does the author mean by this? Do you agree with this statement? What
are the sins of omission that Cara has committed, against Kevin, against her
parents, against Suzette, against herself?
Although Adam is not a first-person narrator in Eye Contact, there are
numerous sections that are written from his point of view. What did you learn
about autistic children and how they see the world after reading this book? What
preconceptions you have about childhood and communication are challenged by
Morgan is convinced that if he finds out who killed Amelia, he will be
forgiven for the crime he committed. Many of the characters in Eye Contact are
in search of a similar kind of redemption. Do you think any of them are capable
of achieving it? In light of this theme of redemption, how do you feel about
where the different characters end up at the book's conclusion?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Penguin.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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