Surviving the Applewhites


Stephanie S. Tolan

Number of Pages: 


Minimum grade level: 


Jake doesn't have much luck with school, or should I say schools. Rumor has it that he burned down one school and then was kicked out of every other school in his home state. Jake moved to North Carolina to live with his grandfather and attend middle school. Now here it is September, just three weeks into the new school year, and Jake has managed to get himself thrown out.

There wasn't a school left that would take him -- except Wit's End. What kind of a school is named Wit's End? A one-of-a-kind school, a home school that is run by an outrageous, forgetful, chaotic, quarrelsome family. Each and every Applewhite is an artist. The place is overrun with them--the father loves theater, the mother writes, one daughter dances, Uncle Archie makes furniture you can't actually use, and the list goes on. But there is E.D. who loves math and who longs for order and predictability.

Being Jake's age, E.D. finds herself paired with him in the family's first experiment in "cooperative education." Cooperation is far from what ensues. E.D. would only be too happy to be rid of Jake and Jake would be delighted to be rid of the whole crazy Applewhite clan. The only thing E.D. and Jake have in common is the determination to survive the family's eccentricities. 

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. Would you like to attend a school like Wit's End? Why or why not?
  2. "'What gives you joy?' -- Once you know that, you will know what you want from an education and you'll be able to set your own program.'" (page 123-124) What kind of program will Jake choose? What would you choose?
  3. Why did the author choose to alternate chapters between Jake and E.D. telling the story?
  4. After the reporter shows up at the Applewhites and discovers the artistic dynasty, E.D. is angry at not being mentioned and feels she is the invisible Applewhite. (p. 68) Later, "Jake was beginning to feel he was disappearing altogether." (page 85) Why don't Jake and E.D. feel noticed? Have you ever felt invisible?
  5. Have you ever felt like you didn't belong?
  6. Would you prefer to be on stage or work behind the scenes on a play?
  7. There is a discussion about E.D.'s father, Randolph, doing color-blind casting, or as he says rainbow casting, for the play (chapter 17, page 112-117). Do you think he was right to cast the best person for the part or should he remain true to the fact that The Sound of Music is based on a true story and there weren't any black or Asian people in the Von Trapp family?
  8. Who was your favorite character and why?
  9. Cordelia has a passion for dance, Archie has a passion for creating furniture, Randolph has a passion for theater. What are E.D.'s and Jake's passions? What do you have passion for?
  10. What do you prefer -- creativity with some chaos or order and predictability?
  11. Why did Jake decide to change his hair back to its original color?
  12. Does Jake survive the Applewhites? Why or why not?

If you like this book, try

  • Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech
  • Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth
  • The Canning Season by Polly Horvath
  • Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath
  • The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg
  • Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay
  • The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley by Martine Murray
  • Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa

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