Alone at Ninety Foot


Katherine Holubitsky

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Minimum grade level: 


Pam Collins is having one of the most embarrassing experiences of her life:

Read the following passage from pages 18-20 in the paperback edition:

"This is so unreal I can't believe it. Guess who's teaching us social dance? Mr. Bartell! [Pam's English teacher] Ms. Turner, our regular gym teacher, says he puts her to shame. That next to him, she looks like Mr. Bean on the dance floor. So, lucky us, he's offered to take the dance unit. Well, I know I, for one, am ecstatic. The man is multitalented. He can quote Robert Frost one minute and do the tango the next. I don't believe this. This is obscene. She's actually introducing him and he's waltzing across the floor, kicking his legs. Who does he think he is?.He's smiling like a hyena..How can anyone be so happy about making such a fool out of himself? He tells us we're going to learn the fox trot first...

"'Pair up with the boy or girl, as the case may be, who has the same last initial as your own. Or,' he adds, 'the closest to it.'... Mr. Bartell claps his hands, because none of us have moved one inch. 'Come on, come one, people. I'm guessing you all passed kindergarten or you wouldn't be here. It's not too hard to figure out. Let's see, B, B, B, --no B's. C, C--Miss Collins--" I am going to die. I am actually going to die right here on the spot. No kidding. Mr. Bartell is walking toward me. Mr. Bartell is bowing to me. Mr. Bartell is taking hold of my hand!

'May I request this dance?'

This is truly the single most humiliating even of my entire life. .I wish I'd been kidnapped by a UFO and forced to submit to inhumane experiments. Anything other than having to dance with Mr. Bartell."

Dancing with Mr. Bartell, with his scraggly beard and bug eyes may be embarrassing, but it's not the worst thing Pam has experienced. Ever since her mom died a year ago, Pam has felt like she's on emotional overload. She never knows when she'll start crying. Besides missing her mom, she has to deal with friends who seem to treat her differently, and a dad who's started dating again. In spite of her sadness, though, Pam hasn't lost her sense of humor, and she tells many more funny stories like her dance with Mr. Bartell.

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. Pam says, "I like to be alone. But I hate being lonely. And I mostly seem to be lonely about people." How do you think Pam would describe the difference between being alone and being lonely?
  2. Pam has a hobby of filling baby food jars with "living pieces" of the places she's visited. Why do you think she doesn't she have any water from Ninety Foot until Matt gives her some?
  3. After her mother's death, Pam's friends don't know how to act around her or what to say. What would you say to someone like Pam?
  4. Why is Pam able to spend so much time in the canyon, while her father is not?
  5. At first Pam doesn't like Jennifer Reid. What events make her change her mind about Jennifer?
  6. Jennifer uses lots of dated expressions, like "swell" and "doofus." Do you know anyone who does this? What words do they use?
  7. Why doesn't Pam tell anyone about the man who attacked her?
  8. Why does Pam tell her Nana Jean that she might want to be a banker like Jennifer? Does she really want to be a banker?
  9. When Danielle accuses the wrong person of making the stink bomb, did Pam know who really did it. Why doesn't she tell the teacher? What would you have done in the same situation?
  10. Pam says, "A year and a half ago, I was, like, this little girl, still growing up. That ended, boom. And now, I'm this semi-adult who has to make these major decisions about what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. The thing is, I don't want this happening. Not yet. Not now. Not without my mom knowing. But I can't make it stop. My whole world is changing, getting way out of my control. When I want it to stand still." Why do you think Pam feels this way? Can you identify with her feelings?
  11. How do you feel about the way Pam reacts when Danielle tells Matt about Pam's mother at the graduation party? What would you have said to Danielle?
  12. This book is set in Canada and written by a Canadian author. Were there any terms or slang words you were unfamiliar with? What were they?
  13. Which experiences do you think most helped Pam and her father deal with her mother's death?
  14. In spite of the tragedy in Pam's life, there is a lot of humor in this book. Find one of the parts you thought was funny and share it with the group.

If you liked this book, try

  • Getting Near to Baby by Audrey Couloumbis
  • Many Stones by Carolyn Coman
  • Saying It Out Loud by Joan Abelove
  • Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech


Chips, cheese puffs, and other junk food like Pam and friends eat at parties.

Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.