by Laura McNeal, Tom McNeal

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From National Book Award-nominated authors Laura and Tom McNeal

Audrey and her two best friends have just transferred to Jemison High from their tiny private school. They're a nerdy little trio, so everyone is shocked when the handsome new guy, Wickham Hill, asks Audrey out. Audrey is so smitten that she doesn't pay much attention to The Yellow Paper, a vicious underground school newspaper...until it threatens to tell a tale that could change everything.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307433251
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 12/18/2007
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
File size: 701 KB
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

Laura McNeal is a freelance journalist and former English teacher. She is married to the author Tom McNeal and they live in Southern California. McNeal has published short stories and essays in The Quarterly, The Georgia Review, The Threepenny Review, Sunset, and the San Diego Reader. Some of her books include Dark Water, The Incident on the Bridge, and The Practice House

Tom McNeal is the critically acclaimed author of many short stories and the novel Goodnight, Nebraska, winner of the 1999 James A. Michener Memorial Prize. He holds an MA in creative writing from UC Irvine and was a Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University. McNeal is married to fellow writer Laura, with whom he has written a number of young adult novels. They live in Fallbrook, California. To learn more, visit

Reading Group Guide

1. When Wickham first arrives in Mrs. Leacock’s classroom, Audrey writes in her notebook, “Something happening. Something definitely happening” (p. 4). Discuss her first impression of Wickham. How does Audrey and Wickham’s initial conversation set the stage for their relationship? Audrey immediately notices that he smells sugary, like Christmas. Do you think this is significant? Why? Contrast Audrey’s initial feelings toward Wickham with her first impression of Clyde. How does her attitude toward the two change by the end of the novel?

2. C.C.’s mother says, “What makes people interesting is their secrets” (p. 236). Do you think this is true? Discuss which characters have secrets and how these secrets shape their personalities and influence their actions. Toward the end of the novel, Audrey says, “People’s secrets can be what makes them interesting. They can also be what makes them awful” (p. 270). Do you agree? Find some examples in the novel that support this statement. Are there any examples that contradict it? Wickham’s accident is one of the central secrets of the novel. How do you think the accident has affected Wickham? How has keeping it a secret affected him? Is it unfair of Audrey to ask him about the accident? Why do you think he reveals his secret to Lea right away?

3. There is a cassette tape stuck in Audrey’s car, and the lyrics to the Gilbert & Sullivan song Audrey, C.C., and Lea performed at Tate School recur throughout the novel: “Three little maids from school are we, / Pert as a schoolgirl well can be, / Fill’d to the brim with girlish glee– / Ev’rything is a source of fun. / Nobody’s safe, for we care for none!” Look at moments in the book when the song plays. What is the significance of the jammed tape? How have Audrey’s feelings changed about the song since the girls performed it together? How do the lyrics relate to their current situation and to the themes of the novel? What about the lyrics playing in Lea’s car on page 229 (“Non, je ne regrette rien / ‘I regret nothing’”)?

4. Soon after Audrey meets Wickham, he asks her to help him cheat on a Physics quiz. Why do you think Audrey does it? Is allowing Wickham to copy her quiz different from fixing his Physics paper? When Audrey tries to explain her reservations about cheating, Wickham claims that life isn’t fair–the “rules” aren’t always fair–and therefore, cheating isn’t always wrong. Do you think his argument is valid? Is Wickham’s cheating harmless? Why or why not?

5. Privacy is an important theme in the novel. When Clyde’s father discovers that Clyde used his computer program to look up Wickham, Theo, and Audrey, he says, “These are the personal lives of real people. People like you and me and your mother. Who shouldn’t have to think about strangers peeping through the keyhole” (p. 114). Was it wrong of Clyde to use the program? Was it wrong of him to let Audrey know what he found out about Wickham? The Yellow Paper is perhaps the most obvious example of invasion of privacy and exposure in the novel. How does it affect the students and teachers of Jemison High? Do you think Theo, Zondra, and Sands deserved to be outed? What about Mrs. Leacock? Compare Clyde’s looking up his three classmates to Brian’s creation of The Yellow Paper. How are their actions and consequences alike? How are they different?

6. When Clyde first sees Audrey’s house, he is dismayed to discover that her family is much wealthier than his. Compare Clyde and Wickham’s financial situations and attitudes toward money. Do you think it would matter to Audrey that Clyde isn’t as wealthy as she is? How does having (and losing, in Audrey’s case) money affect the three girls?

7. As Wickham and Audrey sit in her car, kissing and watching the snow, she thinks, “This is like being inside the most wonderful snow globe” (p. 139). Toward the end of the novel, Wickham stares out the window of his room, “wishing it would snow and cover the yellow lawn and the dirty street and the bare hedge with white and white and more white” (p. 297). Snow is an important symbol in the novel. Find some other passages in which snow appears, and discuss its significance. How does it reflect the way the characters feel? What does it represent for Audrey? For Wickham? For Clyde, whose mind is on the upcoming lilacs? Consider the last line of the novel, “In Jemison, it was snowing again.” Why do you think the authors chose to end this way?

8. On page 136, Audrey calls Wickham her “own personal Cary Grant.” When they watch Suspicion, the movie in which Cary Grant’s character is suspected of murdering his friend, Audrey comments, “It’s kind of creepy not knowing whether to trust Cary Grant or not” (p. 137). Discuss the importance of this scene. How does it relate to Audrey and Wickham? To the themes of trust and betrayal in the novel? Do you think Audrey has suspicions about Wickham over the course of their relationship? Did you?

9. Audrey, Wickham, and Clyde all have to deal with their parents’ problems to some extent, in addition to their own. Discuss the relationships the three have with their parents. How are Audrey, Wickham, and Clyde affected by their parents’ actions and circumstances?

10. The authors often give us two or more sides of the same story. For example, in chapter 41, Audrey reads the article about Wickham’s accident, and then in chapter 55, called “Wickham’s Version,” Audrey gets his side of the story, in his own words. In the next chapter, Wickham thinks to himself that “he should have told her everything,” and then we as readers finally get the real story. How do the three versions of the accident differ? Do you think if Wickham had told Audrey everything, things would have ended differently for the two of them? Find and discuss some other examples of multiple perspectives in the novel. Why do you think Mrs. Leacock feels the need to tell Audrey her side of the story about her husband?

11. Lea is a quiet, sweet, “innocent” character throughout the novel. Is her behavior at the end surprising? Audrey feels as if Lea has betrayed her–do you think Lea sees it this way? Does she feel guilty for her actions? Lea says to Wickham, “You and I see each other’s secrets, and people who see each other’s secrets should face the fact that they’re always going to be together” (p. 295). What does she mean by this? Do you think their relationship will last?

12. Why is “Crushed” an appropriate title for this novel? Find and discuss some examples of characters being “crushed.” On page 307, Mrs. Leacock says, “We’re all crushed at some time or other. It’s true that some of us never recover our size and shape, but most of us do.” Do you think Audrey will bounce back from the pain Wickham and Lea caused her? Will Mrs. Leacock recover? Will Clyde?

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