Chris Crutcher

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Dating, driving wherever you want, choosing a college, playing varsity sports, senior prom, walking across the stage to accept a diploma, and fantastic grad night parties. As freshmen, most kids dream about what their senior year of high school will be like and it’s all good: big plans and even bigger dreams for the future. At eighteen, Ben Wolf has some big plans for his final year of high school but that all changes when the hospital in Denver confirms what his doctor already told him: Ben has a rare form of something, some kind of disease. There’s not much hope for treatment. He’ll be lucky to have a year. Ben could decide to fight it, try the treatment the doctor suggests. Or he could get angry, sad, or party non-stop. Instead, he decides to put his last bits of good health and energy into building some great memories with his younger brother, who is like a twin, helping his dad keep family life as normal as is possible for as long as possible, and daring to reach out to people, shake up the community, and take a chance on a relationship with the prettiest girl in the school. If you had less than a year to live, what would you do? 

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. Despite his doctor’s advice, Ben refuses treatment for his condition. Has there ever been a time in your life that you’ve gone against everybody’s advice and made your own choice about something?
  2. Ben thinks it is best not to tell anybody else about his terminal diagnosis. What were his reasons? Do you think it was a good choice?
  3. Keeping his condition a secret isn’t easy for Ben, especially as the weeks go by. What’s the hardest part of keeping a secret for a long time
  4. Coach Banks is a good friend to the Wolf family. One of the ways he shows this is by surprising Ben’s family with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Has there ever been a time in your life that somebody has known just the right thing you need and done it for you? Have you ever done this for someone else?
  5. In his dreams Ben has long conversations with a guy named Hey- Soos. What does Ben learn from these dreams and Hey-Soos? How do these conversations become more important as the weeks go by?
  6. Ben has an interesting relationship with Mr. Lambeer, his U.S. government/current events teacher. What’s going on between these two? How would you deal with a teacher like Mr. Lambeer?
  7. Ben starts a campaign to honor Malcolm X by naming a street in town after him. Why was this important to Ben? Has this same type of street renaming occurred in your community? What happened? Who would you want to honor by renaming a street or a bridge?
  8. Ben and Dallas Suzuki grow closer over the months, creating complications Ben never expected. When you’re in a romantic relationship, is it fair to keep big secrets from each other?
  9. Rudy McCoy becomes a project for Ben. Why is Rudy so important to Ben? Have you ever tried to change somebody else’s life?
  10. In what ways did his year turn out differently than Ben planned? What plans would you make if you knew you had less than a year to live?
  11. Lyrics for the Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy song Too Old To Die Young appear near the beginning and ending of this book. The song had meaning for Ben, and later on for both Cody and Dallas. What’s the most meaningful tune on your iPod?

If you liked this book, try

  • Before I Die by Jenny Downham
  • Forever Changes by Brendan Halpin
  • Waves by Sharon Dogar
  • The Sledding Hill/em> by Chris Crutcher
  • Afterlife by Gary Soto
  • Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
  • Knights of the Hill Country by Tim Tharp
  • Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance 1973 by John Barnes
  • 1,000 Places to See in the U.S.A. & Canada Before You Die by Patricia Schultz
  • 1001 Natural Wonders You Must See Before You Die by Michael Bright and Koichiro Matsuura

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