Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Danny Shapiro is a sixteen-year-old living in 1960s Pennsylvania with a seriously ill mother and an embittered father. Alienated at home, he's just as isolated at school. His onetime pal Jeff has moved on to other friends and other interests; his onetime crush, Rosa, has vanished from his life. His main satisfaction is investigating UFO activity, which he's been tracking in a secret journal.
Danny has had his own run-in with a flying saucer at age thirteenor so his journal claims. As he details this event, he slips into a fantasy world in which an apparently chance meeting in the Philadelphia Library connects him to a band of fellow teen investigators who go by the name of SSS, "The Super-Science Society." Soon his new friendsthe witty, faintly sinister Julian and the seductive Rochellelead him to Miami in search of a long-lost book, a mysterious text once found beside the corpse of a murdered UFO researcher.
He's abandoned in the Miami Airport, captured by the shape-shifting "Three Men in Black." These men may or may not know what happened in Roswell, New Mexico; they may or may not know what the SSS knows. Either way, they're after Danny and the book too. A nighttime chase leads Danny to a flying saucer. Before he knows it, he's transported to a moonlit netherworldalone and wounded, tormented by thirst, while insect-like "lake creatures" await the moment they'll work their will upon his helpless body.
Trapped in this desolation, Danny fathers a half-alien child who will save the planet from destruction, if only her mysterious illness can be healed. As he struggles to keep his daughter alive, his dark journey takes him through Jordan and Israel to the deserts of New Mexico. Along the way he discovers the frayed threads of time, the secrets of death, and the space where faith, myth, and love intersect.
Plot twists and vibrant fantasy make David Halperin's first novel a compelling exploration of adolescent selfhood and the stories we tell ourselves when real life is too painful to face. Told through the earnest voice of its protagonist and set against the backdrop of the turbulent sixties, Journal of a UFO Investigator weaves together large ideas and simple emotional truths that will resonate with all who read it.
Danny encounters his first UFO at age thirteen. What is the significance of him seeing it at that particular age?
What is Danny's attitude toward his mother? Does it change throughout the book?
What role does Danny's religion play in his identity? In what ways does it help or limit him?
Danny's journal pivots back and forth between his otherworldly fantasy and his day-to-day reality. Which world feels more real to you?
In the UFO, Danny explores the notion of time. What does he learn and how is it useful to him?
This book is very rooted in a particular historical era, referencing Israeli independence, the Kennedy assassination, the Six-Day War, etc. What parallels do you see between that time and our own? Could this story take place in the present?
Many of the characters in this book prove to be untrustworthy. Are there any that you would trust?
When he decides to go to Israel, Danny seems to willfully ignore the question of his mother's health. Was this decision the right one for him? Why or why not?
What is the connection between Danny's search for UFOs and the Cuban Missile Crisis? Why did that event trigger his interest in becoming an investigator?
As Danny unravels the truths and falsehoods of his journal, it becomes clear that most of this story takes place in his imagination. How did you feel about this revelation? Did it change the way you thought about the book?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Viking.
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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