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Discussion Module

The Sledding Hill
by
Chris Crutcher

Publishing Information: Greenwillow Books: New York, 2005
ISBN: 0060502436 / 0060502452 (PB)
Pages
: 240 p.
Ages: 12 & Up

Summary:
The summer before Eddie Proffitt's freshman year of high school, his father and his best friend, Billy, die in violent accidents within the same month. Eddie is the first to stumble on the grisly bodies--a "hurricane of calamity" that shocks him speechless. Billy, who always kept tabs on smart but flighty Eddie in life, continues to do so from the grave, documenting Eddie's struggles and serving as a mystical guide, appearing to him in dreams of their favorite sledding spot, and exerting metaphysical "bumps" that jostle Eddie toward healing actions. Most pivotal is Eddie's decision to speak out against a powerful fundamentalist church's challenge of a gritty YA book assigned at school, a nonexistent novel called Warren Peece that deals with homosexuality and abortion and whose struggling characters make Eddie "feel less lonely." The fabricated book's author? Chris Crutcher himself.

Book Talk:
#1 You don't know you're dead when you first die, you just know something is really different. On the other hand, there is no pain. Suddenly, there you are looking back at yourself and ... My name is Billy Bartholomew and I was arguably the smartest kid in class. My best friend is Eddie Proffit, who according to the IQ test was the dumbest kid in class. A 65 Eddie got. And then my dad found out that Eddie started seeing what a neat pattern filling in the ovals made and started making neater and neater patterns without reading the questions. His answer sheet looked "way cool," according to Eddie. So, my dad went to the principal who wasn't about to take advice from the school janitor, so dad found a test (he's the janitor, so he has keys to every room and file draw, right?!) and had Eddie retake the test answering five at a time and Eddie score went up to about 165. The principal wouldn't listen, so dad took the test over to Eddie's dad at the Chevron station and Eddie never did attend any of the special ed classes that the principal had him scheduled for. Anyway, then one-day Eddie's dad is fixing tires and got distracted because he had chicken salad for lunch instead of tuna and he forgot to let the air out of a truck tire before breaking it down. Big mistake. It's Eddie who finds his dad lying next to an exploded truck tire looking like something from Picasso, deader than a doornail. Three weeks later, as Eddie is starting to learn to deal with his dad's death, I kick a stack of Sheetrock that is leaning precariously against the stage and start to leave. The sheetrock falls forward and the upper edge catches me at the base of the skull snapping my spine. Yep, it's Eddie that finds me, and I have no way of communicating with him ... Eddie is now one seriously messed up dude. It'll be awhile before he talks again.... (written by Sam Marsh, August 2005)

#2 Billy Bartholomew has an audacious soul, and he knows it. Why? Because it's all he has left. He's dead.

Eddie Proffit has an equally audacious soul, but he doesn't know it. He's still alive.   These days, Billy and Eddie meet on the sledding hill, where they used to spend countless hours - until Billy kicked a stack of Sheetrock over on himself, breaking his neck and effectively hitting tilt on his Earthgame. The two were inseparable friends. They still are. And Billy is not about to let a little thing like death stop him from hanging in there with Eddie in his epic struggle to get his life back on track.

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

The Afterlife and the Spiritual Realm
Censorship
Coping with Death
Elective Mutism
Emotions and Feelings
Erratic Behavior Patterns
Freedom of Speech
Homosexuality
Individuality of Thought
Psychic Trauma
Racism
Religion

Awards & Reviews:
Booklist, May 15, 2005, p. 1653

Eddie's "high-speed randomness" and habit of blurting outlandish questions at school and church are unappreciated. Within three months, Eddie discovers the bodies of the two most reassuring people in his life: his dad and his best friend Billie. Traumatized, lonely and scared, Eddie elects the safety of mutism. In death, Billie continues to watch over Eddie. Unnerved by this haunting, Eddie turns to the refuge of conservative religion. When his fundamentalist minister tries to enlist Eddie in a crusade to ban a novel from the school, Eddie emails the author requesting a letter to be read at the school board hearing. Enter Crutcher as the author of the banned book ... a character in his own story. This sly conceit works for Crutcher who disarmingly pokes fun at himself. Weaving together Eddie's personal survival and his losing battle against censorship, this succeeds by limning its polemics with artful humor. This oft-censored author entertains, inspires, invites intellectual inquiry and concedes well-meaning motives to both sides ... a lot to pack into a novel, but when did Crutcher ever pack light? (Fiction. 12-16)
--Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2005 (Starred Review)

Another dead narrator! Billy Bartholomew dies when he is crushed in an accident. After death, he lingers in familiar places because of his concern for his best friend Eddie, who also is grieving for his own father. Billy makes himself known to Eddie and tries to get him through an impossibly difficult time in his life. Eddie's mother, also devastated by the death of her husband, has retreated to the fundamentalist church led by the Reverend Tartar. Eddie has the support of Billy's father, who is the janitor in their high school. Everything comes to a head when the religious right tackles the choice of a novel an English teacher requires. Billy's father gets fired for being on the side of the teacher. At this point, the story becomes rather didactic about why teenagers should be free to read about lonely, distressed teenage characters. Chris Crutcher himself appears as a character in his own story. The way Eddie manipulates the situation, pretending to be ready for baptism in Rev. Tartar's church just as he is plotting to defy the church and defend the novel, is great fun, really, especially since he has the help of his dead friend Billy. Since most of us are caught up in the horrible cultural and political divisions in our country just now, as apparently Crutcher is as well, this is a satisfying catharsis. Librarians and English teachers will appreciate the defense of a student's right to read. However, there may be just one too many long speeches for YA readers to wade through - they can skim, however. And those in communities divided like Eddie's is will really understand the importance of the debate. By Claire Rosser. KLIATT Codes: JS - Recommended for junior and senior high school students.2005, HarperCollins, Greenwillow, 230p., Ages 12 to 18.
--KLIATT

Crutcher takes the fad in authorial intrusion one better, inserting himself as a character in this metafictional novel with a heavy-handed message, a schizophrenic presentation and a highly entertaining plot. Eddie Proffit is the very definition of a sympathetic character, losing his Dad and best friend to violent accidents in the opening pages. His story is narrated in Lovely Bones -esque fashion by the dead friend, Billy, who, if not in Heaven, is in a very good place - free of pain and full of neat tricks to employ during his ghostly mission to help Eddie overcome sadness so deep he has stopped speaking. The exploration of death and of being silenced by grief takes a hairpin turn when book banning - a very different type of silencing - becomes the focus of the novel's second half. Eddie's elective mutism has his mother's minister, the villainous Sanford Tarter, convinced he needs to be baptized. Tarter also teaches English at the high school, but Eddie is enrolled in a class called Really Modern Literature, run by a librarian who prefers "books by authors who are still alive." She requires everyone read Warren Peece by the "relatively obscure" author Chris Crutcher. Naturally, this "good book with bad words" exercises Tarter, who incites a crusade to rid the library of all Crutcher's "irrelevant and only marginally well written" books. Plausibility is pushed aside for entertainment and moralizing - Billy's father loses his job as school janitor for reading the book aloud to students in the boiler room, a student comes out as gay at the public hearing, another admits openly that she cuts herself - but Eddie's cause, and his decision to speak out, is so honorable, these lapses are easily overlooked. The title - an allusion to a favorite spot the two friends enjoyed when both were alive - doesn't work but, despite its flaws, the story does. Ages 12-up.
--Publishers Weekly, June 6, 2005, p. 65

Starred Review. Grade 7 Up-This clever, spirited post-modern meta-narrative is a quick read that is bound to be controversial. It has no profanity, sexual acts, drug or alcohol use, or bloody violence but takes dead aim at censors who can't get past counting swear words or the notion of a gay character who is still alive at the end of a book. Eddie Proffit, 14, is a prototypical Crutcher protagonist, a misunderstood teen who in quick succession has lost his father and best friend, Billy, in accidents. And he must deal with Mr. Tartar, who is both a feared English teacher at school and the minister to a flock of Protestant fundamentalists at the Red Brick Church. However, the author's approach to these familiar themes is fresh and fun, beginning when Billy, recently deceased, opts to keep his newly omniscient eye on Eddie, taking advantage of opportune "windows" to communicate, initially scaring Eddie into voluntary mutism but eventually working with him to bring about ... the climax of the book. This centers around the use of Crutcher's faux novel, Warren Peece, in class and the community-wide uproar over it. The author's obvious delight in writing himself into the story (complete with e-mail address) does not diminish its effectiveness, though he occasionally gets his religious icons confused. Crutcherisms such as "When something seems mysterious and magical, it's because we don't have enough information" meld neatly with upbeat metaphysical speculation to give teen readers an involving story and plenty to think about. -Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA
--School Library Journal, June, 2005, p. 154 (Starred Review)

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Crutcher uses a fictional Chris Crutcher and neatly walks the line between fiction and reality to leave us wondering, tongue in cheek, who, in fact, wrote The Sledding Hill. Literary scholars call this technique 'metafiction.' How do you think this technique enriches the story? Or does it?
  2. Why do you think Crutcher has Eddie experience so much loss in the beginning of the book?
  3. What is the difference between "censor" and "ban?"   Does it matter in the case of The Sledding Hill?
  4. What does The Sledding Hill lack that most banned books contain?
  5. Do you think Warren Peace was a good choice for the fictional banned book? Why or why not? Why didn't Crutcher use a real example of one of his banned books?
  6. Who should have the power to decide what is good or bad in literature?
  7. Some of the complaints about The Sledding Hill include Crutcher's misuse of religious icons and his stereotypical detestable fundamentalist preacher. How would you respond to these criticisms?  
  8. "Some words and ideas should not be introduced to students who have not reached a certain level of maturity." How does this apply to the censorship issues in The Sledding Hill? (Or does it?)
  9. Gabriel Garcia Marquez said, "To an extent, all great literature is subversive" Is The Sledding Hill great literature? Is it subversive? Explain your response.
  10. If a book that you felt was important for students to read was removed from your local library's shelf, how would you go about getting the book reinstated?

Related Websites:
Chris Crutcher's Website - http://www.chriscrutcher.com/

Banned Books Online - http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/banned-books.html

Banned Books Week - http://www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek

The Freedom to Read Foundation - http://www.ftrf.org/

Read-a-Likes:
The Day They Came to Arrest the Book by Nat Hentoff, 1982
Memoirs of a Bookbat by Kathryn Lasky, 1994
Nothing But the Truth: A Documentary Novel by Avi, 1991
Teenagers from Mars by Rick Spears, 2005
The Year They Burned the Books by Nancy Gardner, 1999

Other Books by the Author:
Running Loose, 1983
Stotan!, 1986
The Crazy Horse Electric Game, 1987
Chinese Handcuffs, 1989
Athletic Shorts: Six Short Stories, 1991
The Deep End, 1992
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, 1993
Ironman, 1995
Whale Talk, 2001 (2002 RITBA Nominee)
King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography, 2003

About the Author:
Chris Crutcher grew up in Cascade, Idaho, and now lives in Spokane, Washington. He is the critically acclaimed author of nine novels and a collection of short stories for teenagers, all chosen as ALA Best Books. In 2000, he was awarded the American Library Association's Margaret A. Edwards Award, honoring his lifetime contribution in writing for teens. Drawing on his experience as an athlete, teacher, family therapist, and child protection specialist, he unflinchingly writes about real and often-ignored issues that face teenagers today. (Read a more comprehensive author biography at TeenReads: http://www.teenreads.com/authors/au-crutcher-chris.asp#more_crutcher . You can also find several interviews with the author transcribed there.)

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