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The Night Gwen Stacy Died by Sarah Bruni -- Discussion Questions

The Night Gwen Stacy Died by Sarah Bruni -- Discussion Questions

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A debut novel and quirky love story about the adventures and mutual rescue of an Iowan girl and a mysterious stranger who begins to cast her in the image of Spider-Man's first love.
A debut novel and quirky love story about the adventures and mutual rescue of an Iowan girl and a mysterious stranger who begins to cast her in the image of Spider-Man's first love.

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Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Jul 02, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Reading Group Guide
The Night Gwen Stacy Died 
By Sarah Bruni
Sheila Gower is seventeen, more comfortable confiding in a taxidermic coyote at the NaturalHistory Museum than in her one high school friend or her loving but diametrically opposedfamily. She practices her French while she works at a small-town Iowa gas station, saving her money for a move to Paris, hanging on loosely to the edges of a life from which she feelsincreasingly disconnected.Enter Seth Novak, a mysterious taxi driver who calls himself Peter Parker. His goodlooks and oddball manner intrigue Sheila enough that she jumps at the chance when he asks if she wants to get the hell out. They stage their escape as an abduction
gun, robbery,kidnapping
 but soon their adventure turns into a surreal love story. Playing fast and loose withthe boundaries of reality, Peter invites Sheila into his tragic, heroic fantasies and begins calling
her “Gwen Stacy” after Spider 
an’s first love; she goes a
long with it, eager to take on a newidentity to match her new life.However,
even their romantic bubble can’t protect the duo from the
ever-wideningmanhunt for Sheila and her presumed kidnapper, nor can it shelter them from the strange doomPeter has been dreaming of for weeks. When Sheila unexpectedly collides with
Peter’s past
on adark night, their bubble bursts, their uncertain future rushing in like the quickly unfolding framesof a comic book, threatening destruction and salvation for both.
Discussion Questions
The novel opens with observations about the frequency with which people are sightingwild animals, particularly coyotes and cougars, in neighborhoods and towns where theyshould not be. This theme
of things being out of place or the shaping of an alternatereality
repeats throughout the novel. What does it mean? How does the concept of 
wild animals appearing in Iowa and Chicago relate to the role of Sheila’s stuffed coyote,frozen in its “natural” habitat?
ow does it relate to Patch, Jake’s “dog”
Discuss what Paris and her planned move to France mean to Sheila. Why do you think her parents and sister are so threatened by her attempts at learning French? What makesher French teacher, Ms. Lawrence, seem so different from other people in her life?3.
What does Sheila like and dislike about working at the Sinclair gas station? Whatconcerns her father about the job?4.
Describe Sheila
s relationship with her parents and her sister. Do you think she would sayshe loves her family? Do they seem to care about her? Imagine the events of the novelfrom their perspective: What do you think they would say about Sheila, her dreams, her actions?
Sheila rides a bike nearly everywhere she goes while living in Iowa. Why? Discuss howthe bike does or does not fit in with
Sheila’s hometown and lifestyle
. What other symbols
appear in the novel to underscore Sheila’s inability (or 
unwillingness) to fit in?6.
Throughout the novel are illustrations of how we form preconceived notions and pass judgment while knowing very little about a person or situation. For example, Sheiladescribes how the women customers at the gas station treat her differently when they believe she is a student on her way to study in Paris. Identify other examples of characters who make such judgments and discuss what the author may be saying throughthese.7.
On page 41, when Sheila tells Peter Parker that she thinks his ID is a fake, he counters by
saying, “You’re a fake.”
What do you think he means? Do you agree or disagree?Explain your opinion using examples from the novel.8.
Soon thereafter, Sheila has a maudlin moment in which
, she says, “she was sorry for everything.”
For what, exactly, is she sorry? What triggers this regret and sorrow? At theend of the book, do you think Sheila is more or less sorry than she is at this moment on page 42?9.
Ms. Lawrence tells Sheila
“sometimes our expectations of a t
hing create a kind of unreality
” (p. 50
). What does she mean by this? Discuss how this idea relates to the
following scene, in which Peter first calls Sheila “Gwen” and they stage her 
abduction. How else does this concept apply to the events of the novel?10.
Sheila and Peter both have a tendency to compartmentalize parts of their lives. How doesthis express itself in the novel? What makes up the different parts and what makes themso disparate?11.
After she
s dreamed about moving to Paris for so long, what thrills Sheila aboutChicago? Describe how she begins to take control of her life there, ironically under theleast stable of circumstances. When does Sheila realize she is never going to Paris? Howdoes she feel about this realization?12.
On page 101, Sheila tells herself, “It was all a matter of dec
iding how to interpret
information.” How does she decide to interpret Peter’s confession about his reasons for 
taking her with him to Chicago? Identify some other moments that present themselves for our protagonists to interpret. What do you think of their interpretations?13.
Something shifts for Sheila and Peter the night they go walking by the foundry. What andwhy? What line does Peter fear they have crossed? What finally prompts Peter to take
himself to task for their game and for calling Sheila “G
Peter first decides to invite Sheila to run away with him because he saw them driving off together in a dream. What other dreams does Peter have that come true? Were youconvinced that his dreams were in fact portents? Why or why not? Given his family

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