Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward

by Catherine Ryan Hyde


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An immediate bestseller when first published, Pay It Forward captured hearts all over the world, became a wildly popular film, and spawned a generation of increased altruism. This anniversary edition includes a new introduction by the author. It takes an inspiring and moving tale of a young boy who believed in the power of kindness and brings it to a new generation of readers.

Twelve-year-old Trevor McKinney accepts his social studies teacher’s challenge: come up with a plan to change the world. His idea is simple: Do a good deed for three people and ask them to “pay it forward” to three others in need. He envisions a vast movement of kindness and goodwill spreading beyond his small California town and across the world. The project, however, appears to falter. Jerry, a bum who receives some allowance money from Trevor, returns to a life of dissolution. Trevor wants his pretty, hardworking mother—a woman who raised him lovingly despite struggles with alcoholism—to marry his teacher, Reuben St. Clair. Reuben is a scarred, bitter, untrusting man with a disfiguring injury from Vietnam. He seems to come alive only when in front of his class. For a time that matchmaking brings nothing but problems. Ultimately, though, unusual things start to happen. Crime rates dip across the nation, and nobody seems to know why. Then a journalist tracks down the source: an epidemic of random acts of kindness.

Anyone who has ever despaired of one person’s ability to effect change will rejoice in Trevor’s courage and determination to see the good in everyone.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780594679547
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 12/23/2014
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of twenty-five books, which include Where We Belong, When You Were Older, Walk Me Home, When I Found You, Don’t Let Me Go, The Language of Hoofbeats, and Take Me With You, among others. More than fifty of her short stories have been published in various literary magazines. Following the success of Pay It Forward, Catherine founded the Pay It Forward Foundation and served as president until 2009. She lives in California with her dog, Ella, and their cat, Jordan. To learn more about the foundation and other forthcoming books, visit

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Pay It Forward includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Trevor McKinney was not an exceptional student. In fact, as the child of a single mom who worked two jobs and battled alcoholism, he had more strikes against him than most of his classmates when it came to succeeding in school or in life. He was never going to change the world, or achieve anything close to that. But things aren’t always what they seem. An ordinary social studies extra-credit assignment provided the inspiration for Trevor to unleash the seeds of hope and compassion that had taken root in his heart, and nothing was ever the same again. Pay It Forward is the compelling story of one boy’s journey to hang on to hope for change in the world, against all odds.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. What was your favorite part of Pay It Forward? Describe.

2. If you were a student in Reuben St. Clair’s class, how would you have responded to him in light of his physical appearance? How did you feel about Trevor’s response to him? What do you think Trevor saw? Why do you think children often can see what’s really true about a person? What do you think happens throughout our lives that often changes our ability to see?

3. What human desire does Trevor’s project connect with in each person who hears about it throughout the story, regardless of their place in society? Do you think all human beings share this desire? Why or why not?

4. How are Reuben St. Clair and Arlene McKinney similar in their approach to life? How are they different? What do you think they are drawn to in each other?

5. At the beginning of the story, Trevor writes about a story he heard on the news about a “little kid over in England who has this, like . . . condition. Nothing hurts him. . . . Sometimes I think my mom has that condition, too. Only on the inside. . . . Except, I know she hurts. But she still has her hand on that hot stove.” Describe what you think Trevor is saying in this diary entry. Give examples from Arlene’s life that support Trevor’s hypothesis. How do other characters in the book also illustrate this “condition” of building walls to protect themselves from pain? How effective are their walls?

6. What did you feel when Jerry relapsed? Do you think someone like Jerry can truly change? Why or why not?

7. How does Sidney G.’s story illustrate a major theme of the book?

8. Why do you think Arlene took Ricky back when he reappeared after his unexplained absence? What beliefs about herself and about others kept her in a cycle of addiction and unhealthy relationships with men? Do you think her character experienced growth and transformation throughout the story? Explain.

9. How was Trevor’s motivation for the project different from the other students who participated? What do you think contributed to his unique motivation?

10. Was Reuben St. Clair a great teacher? Was Trevor McKinney an exceptional student? Explain.

11. One of the major themes of the book is the contrast between external image or appearance and internal character and motivation. Pick one character in the book and describe the contrast between their external image and their true character. What does this exercise reveal about the process of forming relationships?

12. Who was your favorite character in the book? Explain what you were drawn to about them and how they contributed to the overall theme of the book.

13. Who was your least favorite character in the book? Why?

14. Do you think it’s possible for one person to change the world? Explain.

15. How do you feel about the way the story ended?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Think of an idea for world change, and put it into action. Discuss your ideas and actions at your next book club meeting.

2. Experiment with Trevor’s project. Pick three people and pay it forward and invite them to do the same. Discuss your experience at your next book club meeting.

3. Rent the movie Pay It Forward and compare/contrast with the book. Discuss at your next book club.

4. Challenge your assumptions. When you meet people, suspend your first impressions based on image/appearance and look for what is true about the person. Journal about what you see and discuss your observations at your next book club.

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Pay It Forward 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 161 reviews.
emma-bear_ More than 1 year ago
Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde, was one of the best books that I have ever read! The funniest thing about it was that I probably would have never read if I didn't have to for my literature class. I would read this book again and again. When Trevor McKinney comes up with an idea to change the world, no one believes in him. That all changes when his idea starts to work. I was on the edge of my seat after every chapter. I even got teary-eyed at the end. I have cried during only a few books (this, where the red fern grows, charlotte's web, etc.). I know that when a book makes me laugh out loud or cry, the author has done a great job at touching your heart. This book is good for anyone of any age. It was absolutely fantastic!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read everything about the foundation Pay it Forward and started an anti-bully program at my school. I got this as a gift and I couldn't put it down. It was awesome to hear the story behind the amazing idea of paying it forward. Its worth the read.
Mokona More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have ever read. The story was so touching that by the end of the book I in tears. I just wish the movie did it justice.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book that I read and I really enjoyed it. I have seen the movie before and it was superb, so I decided to read the book. Even though my teachers have always told me that a book is different than a movie, I thought it might still have an extraordinary point like the movie does. The book has a similar plot to the movie but I like how the author, Catherine Ryan Hyde, wrote with more detail, making it easier to have a clear picture in the back of your mind. I also like how this is something that we could actually put into action. This world, that we are living in, has become so conceited and careless that it would be helpful and overwhelming if we started to ¿Pay It Forward¿. It is a great idea and it made me think of how I could do something to change the world or at least lend a hand to others. Actually it made me want to start Trevor¿s idea because it was such an excellent idea. That goes to show people that youth can be caring and have effective ideas if grown-ups will just listen. At the very beginning of the book it took some time before it captured my attention because it took awhile to get to the point, but when it did I could not stop reading. It is almost written like a movie in the sense of how the chapters tell about a certain person and what was going on in that person¿s life, just like scenes in a movie. Overall this is a great book and I would say if you`re a person who is sensitive, and cares about others, than you will like this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading the book Pay it Forward, I can honestly say that it¿s one of the best books I¿ve read in a long time. The structure is very original and unique which is hard to find in books these days. You get to see the prospective from each individual character and the narrator, which gives you every side of the story and not just one from a single character or just the narorater. There are so many things going on at once so you are always interested to find out what¿s next and are longing to read. Plus there is so much action and excitement, and the wordage is very down to earth, so it¿s not like you¿re reading something pre fabricated or old school. I think it¿s so interesting that you get to know every character individually. The book lets you know there personality, the way they act, the kind of people they are, and why they are like they are. It¿s more than just characters in a book, you feel like you know them and can see relate them to people in you¿re life. Also, the problems in the book are very real. The stuff in the book is stuff that goes on everyday in everyone¿s life so you can really relate to the book. Plus, the book doesn¿t go off too far and seem impossible. If you think about the stuff that goes on in the book, it seems like a long shot, changing the world and all, but if you think about the idea of paying it forward, it dose seem possible. So in conclusion, if you are someone that likes things you can relate to your like and is a little structured out of the ordinary, you should defiantly read this book.
Loves2ReadMS More than 1 year ago
Honestly I like the movie better. They both have the same concept of Paying it Forward but the book was slow and some of the characters didn't need to be in the book.
Nicnac63 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
PAY IT FORWARD review, by NicPay It Forward, by Catherine Ryan Hyde, is a feel good story with a lot of substance. After being given a class assignment to find a way to change the world, 12 year-old Trevor McKinney creates the ingenious idea of `paying it forward¿. He proposes that if he does good deeds for three people, and each of them does the same (and so forth) the world would most certainly change. I like that this story isn¿t saccharine-sweet. It shows the diverse problems of society as well as the good. I don¿t want to give too much story-info that might affect the surprises, twists and turns; but make no mistake, they are there! I rarely prefer a movie over a book, but in this case, I felt the movie was just a tad better.
larson23 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Pay It Forward" is a really good book. I absolutely loved it. I liked it so much, because it shows the good and the bad sides of human nature. It shows the good side, by having Trevor come up with the idea of "paying it forward" and helping people out in a big way to them and having them "pay it forward" to other people. It shows the bad side of human nature by having Jerry, the first person Trevor helps, go to jail as soon as Trevor gets him back on his feet. Another example of bad human nature, is at the end of the book. I will not tell what happens at the end, because I want people to read the book to find out what happens. The book has a depressing mood, throughout the book, which will explain itself when people read the book and get to the end. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves books to make you feel good, cause it does make you feel better about things.
cmbohn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Themes: helping others, race, family, changeSetting: California 1990sTrevor is a 12 year old junior high student and nice kid. Arlene is his mother, a recovering alcoholic and single mom. Reuben is his teacher, a Vietnam vet with physical and emotional scars from the war. And Trevor has an idea that will change the world.This book and the movie are pretty much a part of popular culture. The phrase "Pay it Forward" is common enough. But I hadn't ever read the book, so when I found it at the thrift store, I thought it looked like it was worth a try. I'm glad I picked it up.The story is pretty straight forward. I haven't seen the movie, but I have to admit that I kept picturing Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment as Arlene and Trevor. But Reuben was nothing like Kevin Spacey, being a Black man who is missing an eye. I can see that the disfigurement would be hard to leave in the movie and make it convincing, but why did they change his race? That was an important part of the book.As a story, I enjoyed it. As a believable recipe for social change, I'm not buying it. People are not that altruistic. It's too bad, but there it is. In the book, gang violence drops by 80%. In a book, that might work. In real life? No way. Still, it was a nice feel-good story. I'd call it a fantasy. 3.5 stars
LittleBookSnob on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The phrase "Pay it Forward" is common enough. But I hadn't ever read the book, so when I found it at the thrift store, I thought it looked like it was worth a try. I'm glad I picked it up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing so inspirational. So much feelings and expressions. Remember to Pay it Forward. ;)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nothing like the movie. Jump around way to much. I gave up after 110 pages. Hope you give up before you waste your money. I'm mainly a non fiction reader so to be fair to my fiction reading friends I started to read fiction and was very happy I did till I came upon this bomb.
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Can you plz just leave me alone?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even though I've seen the movie many times I decided to read the book. It was just as good as the movie and although I knew the ending I still enjoyed the story again.
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