Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Begin a discussion regarding the major themes in the story, such as abandonment,
violence, brutality, war, loss of innocence, resilience, the nature of art, fate, and truth.
Challenge students to describe and discuss passages from the book that present these
themes. Discuss how particular characters are associated with the themes.
The first line of Raven Summer reads: "It starts and ends with the knife." The knife is just
one symbol that appears in this story. Discuss other examples of symbolism (the raven,
Nattrass, fighter jets, skin, the snakes in the pit, Allison) and what they represent. Discuss
how the author uses these and other symbols to convey the story's major themes.
Discuss how Liam grapples with feelings of leaving his childhood behind. How do his
conflicting emotions contribute to his actions? Read aloud Liam's self-reflection at the
bottom of page 36 and continuing through the middle of page 37. Discuss this passage
as a description of adolescent angst and confusion. Did the author successfully describe
the often bewildering emotions experienced during adolescence?
Discuss, compare, and contrast the following lines: "Truth and fiction merge into
each other. We try to keep them apart, but how can we?" (p. 30); "The story's told, then
fades away, like all the stories in the news" (p. 33); and "It take time to tell the truth,
Mr. Lynch." (p. 53)
Reread chapter 10. How is Nattrass a barometer of Liam's own unexpressed feelings
about violence and cruelty? Why does Liam "crack" and attack Nattrass, and how does
this episode force Liam to confront his own bloodlust? After they fight, Nattrass whispers
into Liam's ear, "You're just like me at heart, Liam. Just like you always were, if truth be
told." (p. 47) How are Nattrass and Liam alike? How are they different?
Liam's mother photographs scarred and bruised skin, dead animals, and other dying
and decaying objects, and then blows up the images until they are abstractions that
resemble landscapes. Why do you think she is so drawn to these objects? How does this
reconcile with her belief that, "We have to nurture the parts of us that aren't savage...
We have to help the angel in us overcome the beast." (p. 74)
Over the course of the story the question of what is and isn't art is asked, both by Liam's
mother, and by Nattrass, whose video simulations of horrific scenes become a big hit in
the Newcastle gallery. Is something a work of art only if the creator intends for it to be
art, or can anything, depending on how it is presented, be considered art? What is the
difference between the intentions of Liam's mother's photographs and Nattrass's videos?
Does art have to be beautiful to qualify as art?
When Max confronts Liam about Liam's involvement with Oliver, Liam says, "So he's
nothing to do with us. So we wash our hands of him?" (p. 135) Why is it so easy for most
people to turn a blind eye to the plight of others? Why do you think Liam is so compelled
to help Oliver and Crystal?
When Oliver reveals that his real name is Henry Meadows and begins to recount his
personal story of being a child soldier in Liberia, he says, "And it is disgusting, no? It is
beyond belief. But it is not beyond belief. It happens every hour, every day." (p. 176)
Discuss the concept of institutionalized brutality. Use Oliver's story to draw parallels to
other parts of the world where children a forced and/or taught to kill for political purposes.
On Imprinting in Animals
On Liberian Child Soldiers
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers.
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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