Discussion Guide for
Things Left Unsaid
By Stephanie Hemphill
- Discuss Sarah’s relationship with her parents. Are her parents to blame for the pressure she feels? Is Sarah responsible too? What else could her parents have done, if anything? What would you tell Sarah’s parents to do or say?
- Why do you think Robin chooses Sarah as her friend and confidante over Gina or Amanda? What qualities do you think Robin is seeking in a friend? How does she gain so much control over Sarah so quickly?
- Describe Sarah at the beginning of the novel. How does she change by the end? What has she learned about herself along the way? What else does she still need to know?
- Why do you think the author chose free verse to tell this story? What does it add to the story? Which poems were your favorites? Why?
- Sarah describes Robin this way (p. 40) Robin dyes her hair black. / She smokes. She is exactly/the type of friend Mom/ doesn’t approve of, not/ in the advanced-track classes, / not afraid of four-letter words.” Then why does Sarah decide to be friends with her? What is Sarah trying to say to her mother and friends?
- Does Robin exhibit any clues that she’s depressed before her suicide attempt? What do you think contributed to her act? Are Sarah’s parents and friend’s right to worry over the mental state of their daughter and friend too? What, if anything, can they do to help?
7. Sarah becomes so insecure about what she says around Robin that she eventually
“…abandon my words altogether,/ fearing what I say will be stupid/or wrong or both.” (p.92) Is this how friendship should feel? Why? How do Gina and Amanda react to Robin’s toxic assessments? How would you?
- Describe Sarah’s friendships with Amanda, Gina and Robin. How are they alike? How are they different? Who, do you think, are her true friends? Why? Who would you want to be friends with? Why?
- Sarah is able to redefine herself through her involvement in the arts at school. Why do you think this becomes a safe place for her to find her own voice and reveal her true self? How important are arts programs in the public schools? They have recently been cut drastically, do you think this is a good idea or not?
- Reread “Perfect Sidekick” (p. 82) Have you seen this type of relationships in teenagers before? Why? What does Sarah gain by playing this role? What does Robin?
Create a collage from newspapers, teen magazines and other print material using both images and words that reflects on the stress and pressures experienced by high school teens today. In a brief paragraph on the back, explain your work.
Review your three favorite poems in the novel and then write a free verse poem of your own. Try to use at least one poetic element in your piece: simile, metaphor, hyperbole, personification or alliteration. Revise it at least twice and turn in all versions.
Research the warning signs of depression and suicide in teens. How are they different to their adult counterparts? Write a pamphlet that could be used to educate teens and their parents about symptoms and resources.