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Discussion Module

The Night My Sister Went Missing
by
Carol Plum-Ucci

Publishing Information: Harcourt: Orlando, Fla., 2006
ISBN: 0152047581 / 0739336835 (Audio)
Pages
: 208 p.
Ages: 13 & Up

Summary:
It starts out like any other Mystic dune party: teens hanging out on the abandoned pier ... a little beer, a little smoke....

But this night is different. Someone has brought a gun. It's so dainty it looks like a toy. So the friends pass it around without a second thought-until the unthinkable happens. There's a tiny pop, Casey Carmody drops into the roaring surf, and is gone....

The police are immediately involved and as the hours pass with no sign of Casey, her brother, Kurt, collects more questions than answers. Did one of their friends pull the trigger on purpose? Or is this just a prank gone terribly wrong? (From book jacket cover)

Book Talk:
It was just another party night. A group of teens who called themselves the Mystic Marvels were hanging out at the old pier. Someone brought a gun this time and it got passed from hand to hand. A shot rang out, and Kurt's sister Casey, who was standing by the edge was gone. Kurt was frantic. He couldn't see her in the water, he doesn't know who fired the gun, and he doesn't remember even hearing a splash.

The police are called immediately and Kurt and his friends go down to the police station to answer questions. Kurt is sitting in a back corridor of the station staring at this tinted glass window to an inner room. His best friend Drew, the police chief's son, is beside him. Just then, the glass turnd bright and Captain Lutz and their friend Cecilly come into the room. The boys can hear them talking but the detective could not see or hear them. And then the questioning began.   Drew and Kurt decided to listen themselves and as each "witness" came in to talk, there was a new complication, a new twist, and they couldn't tell who among them was a friend or an enemy. They soon realized that their life and relationships in their small town and, especiall,y their circle of so-called friends was not as they had always believed.  
Subject Headings & Major Themes:

City and Town Life
Criminal Investigations
Guns
Incest
Jealousy
Missing Persons
Peer Pressure
Prejudice
Secrets

Awards & Reviews:
YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, 2007

Booklist, October 15, 2006, p41
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2006
School Library Journal, November 2006, p148

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. A shot rang out. Casey fell backwards off the pier. There was no blood, no body, and no splash. What do you think happened?
  2. What did the author use to move the story along for both the reader and the narrator? (How did you and Kurt find out what happened?)
  3. In Chapter 3, what were some of the clues that cast suspicion on Stacy?
  4. What element of a mystery story is represented in Chapter 4? Why?
  5. What information points to the fact that Casey may be alive?
  6. Stacy's behavior was moody and erratic? What did Cecilly do that may have pushed Stacy over the edge? 
  7. By the middle of the book (Chapter 8), who do you thin are the possible suspects so far? Why?
  8. Do you think the shot was meant for Casey or someone else? Explain.
  9. List some of the facts that Captain Lutz knew.   What were the questions that were not answered given these know facts?
  10. What new information was given to the captain that altered his investigation?
  11. In Chapter 12, Kurt remarks that things are not always the way they look. Of the suspects you listed before, has your opinion changed? Why? Who do you think are the likely suspects now?
  12. What were the clues given throughout the book that pointed to what really happened to Casey?
  13. A good mystery must have some plot twists and suspense to sustain the story.   Did the author incorporate this into the story? How?

Curriculum Tie-Ins:
Language Arts - Genres of fiction: mysteries.  
Film - any episode from PBS Mystery
Career exploration - Crime scene investigation

Related Websites:
How crime scene investigations really work - http://science.howstuffworks.com/csi.htm

On-line murder mystery game - http://www.suspicion-of-murder.de/crime/e/book11.htm

On-line mysteries, mystery games, mystery books and resources - http://www.mysterynet.com/

Websites to use to teach mysteries - http://www.mysterynet.com/learn/sites/

Read-a-Likes:
Acceleration by Graham McNamee, 2003 (A 2006 RITBA Nominee)
Black Mirror by Nancy Werlin, 2001
The Bone and Rag Shop by Robert Cormier, 2001
Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams, 2005 (A 2008 RITBA Nominee)
Facing the Dark by Michael Harrison, 2000
I Dream of Murder by Cathering Dexter, 1997
Kissing the Rain by Kevin Brooks, 2004
Lucas by Kevin Brooks, 2003
Phoning a Dead Man by Gillian Cross, 2002
Painters of Lexieville by Sharon Darrow, 2003
The Road of the Dead by Kevin Brooks, 2006
The Secret Within by Theresa Golding, 2001 (A 2005 RITBA Nominee)
Shattering Glass by Gail Giles, 2002
The Square Root of Murder by Paul Zindel, 2002
What Happened to Cass McBride? by Gail Giles, 2006

Other Books by the Author:
The Body of Christopher Creed, 2000 (A 2001 RITBA Nominee)
What Happened to Lani Garver, 2002 (A 2004 RITBA Nominee)
The She, 2003

About the Author:
Carol Plum-Ucci's novels are genuine page-turners, with compelling plots that are filled with unexpected twists and turns. They also address problems and issues faced by contemporary young adults. Issues addressed in her books include bullying, runaways, suicide, labeling and predetermined perceptions of reality, post-traumatic stress syndrome, eating disorders, surviving cancer, homophobia, alcoholism, parental infidelity, and the common desire to be popular. Plum-Ucci clearly has her finger on the pulse of modern teenage culture. Her teenage characters speak the language of today and communicate by cell phones and e-mail.

Plum-Ucci was raised on an island near Atlantic City, New Jersey, where she was born on August 16, 1957. The fact that she is a descendant of ten generations of sea captains may account for the strong sense of place in her novels. Her books are set on the South Jersey Shore, and close-knit small town life is an element in her writing.

Plum-Ucci trained in journalism and business writing, for which she has won a number of awards. Her message to young writers is to be persistent. It was persistence that led to the publication of her first novel, The Body of Christopher Creed, ten years after she began writing fiction. This book is a realistic and complex mystery. One day, Chris Creed, an unpopular boy who is the target of bullies, simply disappears. He leaves only an e-mail message behind, saying that he wishes he were someone else, that he wishes only to be gone. Is he a runaway? A suicide? Has he been murdered?

One of Chris's classmates, Torey Adams, is not satisfied with the theories about Chris's disappearance and decides to do something about it, even though he seems to have everything: friends, athletic ability, and a beautiful girlfriend. Torey's doubts lead him to befriend a troubled girl and a boy with a juvenile record, and he learns that all is not as idyllic as it seems in his affluent hometown. The final scenes are chilling, as Torey reaches a turning point in his life.

Plum-Ucci's second published novel, What Happened to Lani Garver, is an intense novel about a disturbing character, a newcomer to tight-knit Hackett Island. Lani is oddly androgynous; at first it is unclear to others whether he is a boy or a girl. He is a sensitive individual who helps high school sophomore Claire face her fears about a recurrence of her childhood leukemia and her eating disorder. The story takes a violent twist when outsider Lani is persecuted as a homosexual, and Claire's loyalty to her popular crowd is tested. This story explores the arts as outlets for expression, a subtle mysticism, and compassion, suspense, and mystery. What causes Lani's appearance at the very moment when Claire needs help? What has happened to Lani Garver?

Carol Plum-Ucci's novels are tightly plotted and paced. Elements of mystery and suspense predominate as each main character befriends an outsider or underdog, gains insights into human nature, and grows through the events of the novel. Her books explore issues of concern to contemporary young adults, and once opened, they are difficult to put down. The Body of Christopher Creed has won several awards, including Michael L. Printz Honor Book and ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and was a finalist for the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Young Adult Mystery. (by Susan Butterworth, Salem Press for EBSCO Publishing, July 2003)

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