Author Deborah Davis's Discussion Guide for Not Like You
DISCUSSION GUIDE

Not Like You
by Deborah Davis

Author Interview:

1. Which character- Kayla or Marilyn- was easier for you to write? What did you learn from them as you went along?

Marilyn was a little easier, because I didn't have to get as close to her. Kayla's character required a much more intimate understanding of who she is, what she struggles with, and how she perceives her world. I had to convey everything through her voice and her perspective, including indications that she was at times unaware of or deceiving herself about her situation or choices. Making the main character believable, especially one who is so emotionally complex, was tough!

2. If you had to pick a blank page or a ten-page revision letter which would you choose?

The blank page for me is like new love: there's that rush of excitement and discovery and the feeling that anything is possible. As I begin a story, I'm intrigued and ready to explore, and I tend not to worry about whether I'll get it right or do it justice or create something marketable. First drafts are challenging but fun.
I like revising also, but I go about it with a different energy. Revising is more like marriage than early love; more about commitment than exploration. It's exciting in a quieter, steadier, deeper way. It's less playful--although it has - hopefully - plenty of playful moments. In revision I have to unearth the main threads of the story as well as the essential nature and desires of my characters and make sure that the plot stays true to all of that. Revision—especially the last revision--is more difficult for me and not as fun as the blank page, but it’s ultimately more satisfying.

3. What are you working on now?

A novel (working title Lina) about a seventeen-year-old aspiring doctor whose parents yank her from her senior year of high school to live in a small, impoverished town in south India. Homesick and disturbed by the suffering that surrounds her, Lina wants nothing more than to return home.

Discussion Guide:

1. Why do you think the author chose to open the novel with the scene between Hal and Kayla at the train? What does it reveal about Kayla’s perception of herself and her own needs and desires? Is this typical for teen relationships to be so one-sided on the issue of sexuality?

2. Why does Marilyn move Kayla around so much? What is she avoiding? What do you think would be the most difficult aspect of this kind of life? Kayla doesn’t even bother to object much to the move. Why?

3. Kayla daydreams a lot about the pets, garden and home she would love to have. Do you think this is typical for a teenager or is it because of the way she’s growing up? What types of things do you daydream about for your future? What do daydreams do for us? Why do you think people need daydreams?

4. What secrets do mother and daughter keep from each other? Is there a clear division of what should be shared and what should remain private in your own relationship? Is Marilyn’s drinking completely to blame for their inability to connect? Kayla lies pretty regularly to her mother and Marilyn to her. Do you think this is typical of teen relationships with their parents or not? Do you think all or most teens find deception necessary? Why?

5. Does Rio Blanco end up being a good choice for a destination for Marilyn and Kayla? Why or why not? How were things different than what they originally expected? Describe their new living arrangement. Do you think the tight living quarters contributes to their conflict? Would it affect your own relationships to be in such close proximity?

6. Kayla tiptoes around her mother’s fragile competence hoping desperately not to send her back to the bottle. What other coping mechanisms do children of addicted parents develop? How do you think this influences their other relationships?

7. Who are Shirley and Sherrie? How does Kayla’s relationship change with them over the course of the novel? Do you think Kayla betrays them or not? Can you ever make amends for the type of mistake she made? How? Do you think Kayla needs to apologize to her mother, as Shirley and Sherrie insist? Is Marilyn's apology adequate? In situations such as theirs, are apologies necessary or meaningful?

8. The mother-daughter relationship is often reversed in this novel. How? Which details about their life together really underscore the imbalance in their relationship? Do you think it is fair that Marilyn asks Kayla to pay for so many of their necessities or not? Why? How would you handle living with an addicted parent?

9. Discuss Remy and Kayla’s romance. How does it compare to her previous experiences with Hal? Do you think he takes advantage of Kayla financially or emotionally? Which scenes best exemplify their relationship? Would you consider Remy a good boyfriend or not? How does he treat Kayla in Denver? Do you think Remy would’ve pursued the relationship with Kayla had he known her age from the beginning? Why? Do you think the standards for teen women to date older men are fair or arbitrary? Why?

10. Why does Kayla go to Denver? Do you consider what she did an act of running away? She was pretty fortunate in her encounters with strangers. What might have happened? What did she learn about her relationship with Remy while in Denver? About herself? How does her new roommate Delia give her a glimpse of what her future might be? In the end why does she decide to go back to her mother?

11. Discuss Kayla’s friendship with Luz. How are both of these girls on the outside of typical teen life? What do you think of Luz’s advice to Kayla, “…wear ‘em down with your demands, don’t do anything foolish, and knock out anyone who gets in your way.” (p. 187) Are these words to live by or not? What advice would you give Kayla?

12. Why do you think Kayla’s relationship with animals is so important to her? How does it give her both independence and responsibility? How do her actions compromise Rebel’s welfare? How did Remy’s reaction to Rebel’s loss wake up Kayla?

13. Do you think Redbone is good for Marilyn? Would you like to have him around if you were Kayla? How difficult is it for kids to have to watch their parents date and have romantic relationships? What can make it easier?

14. How does Kayla change over the course of the novel? Are all the changes improvements? What do you think she learns about herself and what she wants out of life by the end? Predict what you think Kayla (and Marilyn) will be doing five years and ten years after the close of the novel. Explain why you made these predictions.

15. How are the mistakes Marilyn made with her own mother repeated with Kayla? Does Kayla also repeat some of her mother’s mistakes? How bound are we to repeat the behaviors we’ve been taught? How do we break out of our family’s expectations for ourselves? Do you think Kayla could ever develop a problem with alcohol? Why?

Projects:

Keep a journal as if you are Kayla. Write at least five entries as you read the novel. Try to mimic her voice, concerns and view on the world.

Create a piece of art inspired by the novel. It can be any type of media- painting, drawing, even sculpture. Describe your piece in a brief artist’s statement.

Create a ten-song playlist that goes with the novel. Which songs did you choose? Why? Did you pick this music more on the lyrics or the music itself? Why?

Interesting related websites (content not guaranteed appropriate):

- Alcoholics Anonymous for those affected by someone’s addiction

- Runaway information and help

This guide was created by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, a reading specialist and author of Reaching for Sun from Bloomsbury. Visit her website to find hundreds of guides to young people’s literature.

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