The Death of Jayson Porter
by Jaime Adoff
About the book: Sixteen-year-old Jayosn Porter wants to believe things will get better. But the harsh realities of his life never seem to change. Living in the inland-Florida projects with his abusive mother, he tries unsuccessfully to fit in at his predominately white school, and struggles to maintain even a thread of a relationship with his drug-addicted father. AS the pressure mounts, there’s only one thing that Jayson feels he has control over—the choice of whether to live or die. In this powerful, gripping novel, Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Jaime Adoff explores the gritty reality of a teenager’s life, finding hope even in the bleakest of hours.
About the guide:
This guide includes discussion questions and projects intended to extend the use of the novel into classrooms, book clubs, and literature circles. It should promote discussion on the themes of the novel including depression, poverty, despair, race, friendship, family life, teen sexuality, betrayal, violence and abuse.
About the author:
Jaime Adoff is the author of the critically acclaimed The Song Shoots Out of My Mouth: A Celebration of Music, a Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book; Names Will Never Hurt Me, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults nominee; and Jimi and Me, a winner of the 2006 Coretta Scott King/ John Steptoe Award for New Talent. He is the son of the late Newbery Award-winning author Virginia Hamilton and renowned poet Arnold Adoff.
Read the opening poem in “After” and discuss what you think of the opening. Will this scene become real later in the story? How will the main character get to this point in his life? What will be the consequences of that decision?
1. Why do you think the author decided to divide the novel into parts, “After” and “Before.” The author also uses a prose/poetry style to tell this story. Why do you think he picked this format? What does it add to the narrative?
2. What do you learn about the main character in chapter one? Describe him and the realities of his life. Compare them to your own. How would you cope under his extraordinary circumstances?
3. Bandon is a community divided “…There’s the white section—the haves. And the black section—the never had shit.” (p.17) Is your community divided this much too? Can things ever be more equal? How? How can kids be given the same opportunities for education and success?
4. What is Jayson’s “outside game?” Do you have one too? Do you think everyone shows the outside world a face which is not the real them? Who gets to see the real side of Jay? Who sees yours?
5. Describe Jay’s relationship with his mother, Lizzie. Do you consider how she treats him abuse? Where’s the line between discipline and abuse? Does he have some alternative choices to taking it? Why doesn’t he react?
6. Explain why Jay’s relationship with his dad is so tenuous. How has addiction controlled his life? Why do you think Jay bothers to see his father at all? Would you? Would you blame the addict or the addiction? Why?
7. Why doesn’t Jay confide in Trax about his life at home? Does Trax share the whole truth with Jay? How does this add to the tragedy? What happens to Trax? Do you think Jay could’ve prevented the accident if he knew? Could Trax have prevented Jay’s decision either?
8. Compare and contrast Milburn (where Jay goes to school) to Bandon. Do you think it gives Jay hope or does it contribute to his despair to see how other people live? Why? Why does Jayson prefer being at school than home?
9. Who is April? What does she mean to Jay? Is their relationship really love or not? What makes you think so or not? Why isn’t she enough to prevent Jay’s decision to end it? Why didn’t he turn to her about his feelings of hopelessness?
10. What does Jay finally learn about his own true parenthood? Do you think this contributes to his decision on the rail? Why? Is there ever a good reason to keep the truth from someone? Why or why not?
11. Discuss the consequences of Jayson’s decision to jump. What are the physical, psychological, and emotional aspects of his decision? Does he regret it? Why? What other choices did he have? Why do you think he felt unable to do any of them?
12. In the end, where is Jayson’s future? Do you think he will have long-term consequences for his decision? What type of parenting will he get now? Will it be enough?
Write a letter from any character to another at any point in the timeline of the story (before it opens, during the story, or after the close). Be sure to stay “in” character as you write and explore the volatile relationships that make up this gritty story.
Create a poster or pamphlet about suicide prevention. Be sure to list the signs and warnings associated with it and also local numbers which access help for anyone who might need it. After the project has been graded, distribute them to local restaurants, teen hotspots, and service agencies.
Find statistics that compare America’s “have’s” to the “have-nots.” Create a bar or pie graph comparing their access to education, health care, nutrition, and housing.