The Beast Discussion Guide
More than a dozen discussion questions for use with The Beast, by Walter Dean Myers. Plus a list of books to compare and contrast and another list of background reading.
- Grades: 9–12
About this book
About the Book
Sixteen-year-old Anthony "Spoon" Witherspoon leaves Harlem to attend Wallingford Academy, an exclusive prep school he and his parents hope will guarantee him entrance to a good college and all the possible futures such an education might bring him. His parents have worked hard to give him this chance, and his girlfriend Gabi encourages him as well. He goes, certain of his love for Gabi if little else, and finds that he likes Wallingford, enjoys the quiet beauty of the campus, even makes some new friends. But Gabi, a talented poet with dreams of her own, finds her hopes dwindling as her mother loses ground to cancer, her blind grandfather joins the household, and her little brother takes to the streets. She turns to drugs — the Beast — for comfort.
Spoon returns for Christmas break to find that the world he’d left less than five months before has changed — or he has. He feels out of step. Nervous. His best friend has dropped out of school. Gabi is elusive, worn out, has a secret. When Spoon finds her with a needle, he’s stunned, unable to believe that his beautiful Gabi could ever make that choice. Didn’t they both know better? Gabi can’t really explain why, though she’s sorry to hurt Spoon, and when her mother dies, she disappears into a belly of the Beast. Only Spoon has the courage to go in after her.
- Spoon loves Harlem, his parents, and Gabi, yet he’s excited about going to Wallingford Academy. What does he expect to find there? What does he find?
- Spoon says that the distances between New York and Wallingford is different for other students and himself, that the others had "taken their lives, their successes, with them, and I had left mine behind." What does he mean?
- What do Spoon’s parents find most important about his going to Wallingford? How do their points of view differ? Why do they disapprove of Spoon’s relationship with Gabi?
- Gabi tries to hide the fact she’s on drugs from Spoon. But she’s changed and clues abound. Discuss how the reader soon knows she’s in trouble.
- Spoon says, "What I had packed in my memory of Harlem, had taken with me to Wallingford, had been the colors: vibrant Gauguin hues almost bursting from the squared city canvas, barely subdued by the earth tones of people gliding gracefully through the streets." But he notices other things as well when he returns. Why do you think he sees them now? What has changed? How have they impacted Spoon’s friends, his ‘homeboys,’ while he was away?
- Discuss the world of Wallingford Academy and how it compares to the Harlem Spoon knows. Now look at the differences between Chanelle’s home in midtown New York City and his world. What does he notice? Why does he say that the doorman at Chanelle’s building has "defeated him?"
- Spoon’s closest new friend at Wallingford is Chanelle. What is it about her that draws him? How does he see her life compared to his own?
- Gabi apologizes for her phone being disconnected, saying: "Habla poverty?" in a letter to Spoon. How does the author show you that poverty in Gabi’s home and circumstances? What are the differences between her household and Spoon’s?
- It is dangerous to be poor and powerless. How does the author show you how dangerous Harlem can be and for whom? On the street? In and around the drug house?
- There are wise people everywhere. The ones you go to when you’re in trouble or need information. In Harlem, according to Spoon, they can be found in particular places. Discuss the stoop and the barbershop.
1. Myers adapts a line from Theseus and the Minotaur: "The Beast, half human, half bull, roamed the endless corridors of the labyrinth, waiting for the youth upon which it would feed." Discuss why he chose that powerful metaphor for drugs. Why is it particularly applicable to the characters and setting of this book?
2. Why does Gabi say "drugs become part of you even after you leave them behind. They’re always there. We don’t leave anything behind." Do you think she’s right — for herself? For others?
3. Both Spoon and Gabi practice the power of words. Gabi the poet, Spoon the self-reflective teen who sees and recalls images to understand what is going on around him and tries to describe them. Discuss why words are so important to both of them. What does it tell you about each of them? About their relationship? Their dreams for the future?
4. In the beginning, Gabi quotes an old saying to Spoon: "'La misma ola vagabunda que te lleva te devuelva.' 'May the same waters that take you bring you back to me.'" What are the waters? Which one travels the furthest away in those five months?
5. Family, friendship, the power of love are all themes in many of Walter Dean Myers’s novels, as is the impact of poverty and race. Discuss how each of these work out in this story.
6. Has the Beast been tamed by love?
About the Author
Born in West Virginia and raised in Harlem, award-winning Walter Dean Myers has been writing thought-provoking,persuasive novels and works of nonfiction for young adults since his Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff came out in 1975. Determined to have black youngsters find themselves in books, he’s best known for his realistic novels, many of them taking place in Harlem.
Aware of poverty’s impact, Myers tries to show how his characters must face up to life and succeed in spite of family difficulties, violence, drugs and the despair around them. The range of Myers’ work is extensive; he’s written picture book texts, poetry, history, biography, fantasy, humor and more.
He says, "I so love writing. It is not something that I am doing just for a living, this is something that I love to do." That love shows. Among his many awards, he was the first winner of the Michael L. Printz Award for Monster in 2000, has received several Coretta Scott King awards, both for fiction and for nonfiction, two Newbery Honor Medals, as well as being a Margaret A. Edwards Award winner for his body of work.
Books to Compare and Contrast
- Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. (1976) Random House.
- Brooks, Bruce. The Moves Make the Man. (1989) HarperCollins.
- Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. (1990) Vintage Books.
- Crutcher, Chris. Whale Talk. (2002) HarperCollins.
- Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion. (2002) Atheneum.
- Gantos, Jack. Hole in My Life. (2002) Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
- Garcia-Williams, Rita. Fast Talk on a Slow Track. (1998) Puffin.
- Hughes, Langston. The Best of Simple. Noonday Press, 1990.
- Quiet Storm: Voices of Young Black Poets. comp. Lydia Okutoro. (1999) Jump at the Sun.
- Wolff, Virginia Euwer. True Believer. (2001) Atheneum.
- Woodson, Jacqueline. Miracle’s Boys. (2001) Putnam.
- Hyde, Margaret O. Drug Wars. (2000) Walker.
- Harlem on My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America 1900-1968. Edited by Allon Schoener with Henry Louis, Jr. Gates. New Press, 1995.
- Feldman, Shirley. At the Threshold: the Developing Adolescent. (1990) Harvard University Press.
- Nowinski, Joseph. Substance Abuse in Adolescents and Young Adults: a Guide to Treatment. (1990) W.W. Norton.
On line: http://www.drugandalcoholrehab.net/
A Selection Other Books by Walter Dean Myers
- A Time to Love: Stories from the Old Testament. Illus. by Christopher Myers. 2003. Scholastic
- At Her Majesty’s Request: an African Princess in Victorian England. 1999. Scholastic.
- Fallen Angels. 1988. Scholastic.
- The Greatest: Muhammed Ali. 2001. Scholastic.
- Harlem. Illus. by Christopher Myers. 1997. Scholastic.
- Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary. 1993. Scholastic.
- Monster. 1999. HarperCollins.
- Now is Your Time! : the African American Struggle for Freedom. 1991 HarperCollins.
- Scorpions. 1998 HarperCollins.
- Somewhere in the Darkness. 1993 Scholastic.
Discussion guide written by Sara Miller.