by Sarah Aronson
About the book:
Head Case is the story of Frank, a seventeen-year-old boy who sustains a complete cervical spine injury when he causes a fatal car crash driving. The story begins as Frank is leaving the hospital for home. Although he was always a good kid—a regular guy—he is labeled a criminal, a killer. In chat rooms, most people think he got off easy. One anonymous writer disagrees. But Frank judges himself and his life more harshly than anyone else. Can he find one reason to face another morning?
About the author:
Sarah Aronson says, “When I was in physical therapy school, we were asked to spend some time in a wheelchair. We had to maneuver up ramps, into bathrooms, and through crowded halls. It was almost impossible. Luckily, when we were tired, we could simply stand up. We could walk away. We were just fooling around. “I have always admired the sheer will of people following a traumatic injury. As a physical therapist, I worked with many people to overcome obstacles and return to society. But I rarely saw them after discharge. I often wondered what life was like outside the rehab unit.
“That said, in writing Head Case, I never set out to show people what it is like to sustain a spinal cord injury. I wanted to explore a character who felt trapped and labeled, a character who needed to rise above society’s judgments, forgive himself and move beyond his mistakes.” Sarah Aronson lives in Hanover, New Hampshire, with her family. This is her first book.
1. What type of research for the book did you do?
A lot. Even though I had worked as a physical therapist for ten years, I
needed to make sure that I was up-to-date. To help me get to the emotional
core, I spoke with many people with spinal cord injuries, including
Christopher Reeve. He was honest and generous in our discussion. His wife,
Dana, was also honest about the mental and physical work that goes into
caring for someone with this kind of injury.
2. Whose work has most influenced your own writing?
I love writers who explore the dark side. I reread Robert Cormier's novels
regularly. Novels by Chris Lynch, Jacqueline Woodson, Nancy Werlin, and
Kate Atkinson inspire me. I also enjoy reading the classics. Just before I
began writing Head Case, I reread Nathaniel Hawthorne's THE SCARLET LETTER.
I asked myself who was today's Hester Prynne? In today's young adult world,
what is the most unforgivable middle class crime? I decided that vehicular
manslaughter--especially driving under the influence of alcohol--was that
crime. The "A" was his wheelchair.
Last, I could not have written this book without help from my advisors at
Vermont College. In particular, Kathi Appelt and Jane Resh Thomas read
multiple versions of this book and helped me find my voice so I could tell
3. What can your NEW fans look forward to next?
I am working on a couple of different projects. The one that is on my
desktop now is a YA novel called CAN'T LET GO, about the aftermath of a
young woman's attempted suicide.
Have you ever made a huge mistake? One that could change your life or someone else’s forever? Does everyone, at some time, make a critical error or lapse of judgment?
- Describe Frank’s physical and emotional state of being and the novel opens. How did he get to this juncture in his life? As he describes his day-to-day living what would you personally find most challenging?
- How does Frank’s independence not truly rely on his wheelchair but on his mother? Why does this worry him? Would you be able to cope with having your mother become a full-time attendant to you?
- Discuss the following quote: “A head should never complain when his privacy is violated. A head should be happy that anybody- any walking human beings- want to visit him, even if they do stare at him like he is the main exhibit in the House of Horrors.” (p. 12)
- Describe Frank’s relationship with his mother and father. How is the marriage before and after the accident? Is it possible for Frank to gain independence from his parents? Do you feel sorry for his mother as well or not? Why?
- In the chat room some people believe that Frank has been punished enough while others believe he should be put into prison. Where do you stand? Would you feel the same way if the accident resulted in the death of your own best friend or family member? Explain your position.
- Would you describe Harry as a good friend to Frank or not? Why? Do you think Frank was wrong to lash out at his friend or was Harry wrong for not realizing that he is just trying to cope? Why do you think he’s always alienating himself from his only friend?
- Reread the section which describes Frank’s first dinner at home (p. 62-64). What details does Aronson use to bring this scene to life? Why do you think she chose these particulars to bring Frank’s new situation and home life into focus? What haunted you most?
- Frank used to be a polite, respectful, well-behaved young man. Now he could be described as bitter and unreasonable in his relationships but do you blame him? Would you want to spend time with him? Is he capable of seeing outside himself at all? When?
- Why do you think some people face tragedy with such courage and hope (like Christopher Reeve) while others succumb to despair? Is it personality or circumstance? How do you think you would react?
- Why do you think Aronson decided to use flashbacks to tell parts of the story? What do we learn about Frank through his memories? Before the accident and afterwards is he (besides his physical limitations) much different from you? Does he have similar desires and dreams?
- Do you think it is fair to ask Frank to use himself as an example to others on what not to do? Does he have an obligation to the community or not? What did you think of his speech?
- What is a life Mulligan? Could you have used one yet in your life? Do you think everyone eventually makes a regrettable, Mulligan-worthy mistake? Frank wonders, too, whether he is being punished by God. Do you think people get what they deserve or is justice blind? In the end, will he be able to forgive himself?
Write three letters from one character to another as you read the novel. Try to get inside each character’s head as you create the letters.
Research the various types of common spinal chord injuries. Find out what type of functioning comes with the different injuries and the type of care these patients receive.
Research the science of alcohol and drunkenness. How many drinks can a person of your height, weight and age consume and still be considered sober? How long does it take to sober up? What are the myths and facts about sobering up? How long do the effects of alcohol last in the body?