Stella Stands Alone
by A. LaFaye
About the book:
When her father is murdered and her mother succumbs to yellow fever, fourteen-year-old Stella Reid finds herself orphaned—and her beloved home in jeopardy. Because of her age and her gender, Stella has no claim to her family’s plantation. She might have a chance if only her father, and his progressive ideas about slavery, hadn’t alienated the Reids from their neighbors but now the bank has repossessed Oak Grove. Even though Stella and the folks who work the plantation have few rights in the antebellum South, Stella fights against incredible odds in order to preserve the only home she’s ever known.
A.LaFaye (the A is for Alexandria) holds a BA in history from the University of Minnesota, an MA in English from Minnesota State University, Mankato, an MA in children’s literature from Hollins University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Memphis. Her most recent book, Worth, was awarded the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. She lives in Cabot, Arkansas. Visit her at www.alafaye.com.
Read the letter from the author at the beginning of the book. Then, discuss the idea of alternative history. What American or worldwide events from history would you most like to change? What would the domino effect of that decision be? Why do you think the author chose to write this story with an alternative historical approach? Predict what you think will be most important about using this literary device.
- After reading the first chapter, fill out the following graphic organizer:
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- Explain why Stella’s upbringing is extraordinarily different from most daughters from that time period and location. Why is she so peculiar with some people even calling her “touched?” How does it add to her conflicts with those around her?
- Do you think Hattie’s problem is even worse than Stella’s? Why or why not? What about Miss Rosie? What memories haunt her? Whose shoes would you least like to be inside? Why?
- What promise had Stella’s father made to the folks who worked at Oak Grove? Why couldn’t he keep that promise? Is it better to break a promise or never to have made one in the first place?
- What plan do the people of Oak Grove make to stay on the land? How is cooperation imperative for this to work? What could go wrong with the plan? How does Stella plan to keep her home? What would you do to keep yours?
- How is the money Stella finds “blood money?” Do you think there is ever a circumstance where blood money should be used? What would you do if you found yourself in possession of something that had been gotten through the suffering of others? What would you do?
- What happened to Mr. Reid and Mr. Beeman? Were they targeted? Why? Do people still act out in violence against those with whom they disagree?
- Mr. Vinson suspects that Stella might try to outbid the folks on the fallow land. Why does he have no trust in Stella? How is trust developed? How is it fixed when damaged? Have you ever had to rebuild trust?
- Richardson is a formidable antagonist and adversary to Stella. What has he done to hold Stella and the folks of Oak Grove down? How did things sour between the Reids and the Richardsons? What events can be traced back to Richardson? Why was Stella’s family targeted?
- Stella is stumped on the combination to daddy’s safe. Is she ever able to find out what’s inside? Does it solve her problems? What numbers would be important to you or your family?
- How does cousin Mertle come to aid Stella? Why does she choose to get involved? Who would you turn to if your needed help? Can you imagine Stella living inside Miss Mertle’s world or not? Why?
- Stella listens to the voice of God to lead her actions as she prays for advice. How does she show her faith? What solace does it bring her?
- Why is Stella’s plan to use a Yankee such a bold move against the community? Why are Yankees so hated in the south? How does Mr. Dooley aide Stella? What does he expect in return? Do the people of Oak Grove fair well in the auction or not?
- “I’ve always been one to follow my own path—cutting through the woods while most people take the road, using an open window rather than a door, sitting on a roof ‘stead of a porch. …I followed my mind.” (p. 13) Do you, like Stella, care little for what others think you should do or do you feel bound by expectations? Do you think Stella’s ways hinder or help reach her goals?
- How do the day-to-day operations at Oak Grove work? How is it not what Mr. Dooley expected? Contrast it to the way most plantations in the Delta were run during this period. In the end what happens to Oak Grove?
- Why do you think the author decided to write this novel with an alternative history approach? How does it lend itself to new perspectives on the time period? What setting would you choose for an alternative history story that you might write? Why?
- What weapon does Richardson use against Oak Grove and the folks on it? What techniques do they have to fight against fire in this time? Besides fire, what other forms of intimidation do they use? Would you be scared enough to fall in line given similar circumstances? What are the long-term effects for both land and people?
- Miss Rosie lost all three of her sons- not to death, but slavery. How does this haunt her? In the end is she able to reconnect with any of them? How difficult would it be for former slaves to find each other? Without literacy how could people reconnect?
- How are matters of ownership of Oak Grove finally figured out? What happens to Mr. Dooley? Why has Mr. Dooley felt like a failure despite his wealth and opportunities? How is Hattie’s contract finally resolved? How were African American people often controlled despite the end of slavery?
- LaFaye’s language is both rich and lyrical, “Day hadn’t even shaken the night out of his coat”(p. 20) as well as colloquial, “ That man had him more secrets than a family of five daughters.” (p. 191) Find your favorite examples of both and discuss what the language contributes to story.
Research the sharecropping system of the post Civil War era in America. How did the economic system work? Create a poster about what you learned.
The folks on Oak Grove would only be paid $2.50 a week by the time the upkeep of the cabins and the fees for a teacher were deducted from their pay. Research the cost of typical goods and services of that time period and create a budget based on this wage. How could people survive?
Oak Grove (1700 acres and all buildings p. 125-126) sold for a whopping 56,000 just after the Civil War. How much would a property like this cost today? Create a chart that shows the inflation of real estate in the United States in the last 100 years.
As you read Stella Stands Alone write a prediction at the end of each chapter about what you think will happen next. Be sure to use clues from the story and what you know about novel structure to make your predictions logical. Remember though that being right is less important than being an active reader (after all, readers love to be surprised too!)
Write a short story which is based on an alternative historical event. Play master to the past! Then, as a class, discuss which story would have the most repercussions to modern society.
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