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Fade to Black
Alex Flinn

Publishing Information: New York:   Harper Tempest, 2005
ISBN: 0060568399
: 184
Ages: 14 & Up

An HIV-positive high school student hospitalized after being attacked, the bigot accused of the crime, and the only witness, a classmate with Down Syndrome, reveals how the assault changed their lives.

Book Talk:
Monday, October 27, at 6:00 am life takes a drastic turn for Alex Crusan. Alex has just moved to a small town in Florida; he has no new friends; he is HIV positive, and now he is the victim of a hate crime. His car windshield has been shattered by a baseball bat causing several shards to lodge in his face. Alex has been hospitalized and his nemesis Clinton Cole, "Joker to my Batman. Green Goblin to my Spidey," has been named the attacker. The witness is Daria, a girl with Down Syndrome. What really happened that morning and will things be made right? Through investigation and explanation the truth of the event comes to light.

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Hate crimes
HIV (Viruses)
Down syndrome
High schools

Awards & Reviews:
Taysha's List, 2006 (Texas Library Association)
Ohio Buckeye Teen Book Award Master List, 2006-2007

"Teens will enjoy ferreting out the reality from the conflicting narratives and arguing over the sensitive issues raised along the way." --Booklist, April 15, 2005, p. 1448

"Flinn draws perceptive pictures of family relationships and of the emotions of a teenager scared about his future but determined to make the most of the present in this readable exploration of ethical issues." --Kirkus Reviews

". . . a convincing and wrenching tale of teens dealing with thorny issues. The three viewpoints effectively help the reader consider the plights and concerns of each character. A worthy and thought-provoking novel . . . ." --Kliatt, March 15, 2005

"Flinn focuses on a contemporary issue and explores it with unexpected plot twists and multi-dimensional characters. Her approach and readable style will have high appeal for junior and senior high students." -- VOYA

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. What do you think Daria saw on the morning of October 27? Did she misunderstand what she saw, or did she merely have difficulty communicating with the police?
  2. In the early chapters, both Alex and Daria speak of feeling invisible or ignored. Does Clinton share this feeling? Why or why not? Do you see kids at school being treated like they're invisible, and for what reason?
  3. Alex describes Clinton as his "arch nemesis," and Clinton would probably agree that the two boys have little in common. Is this true? In what ways are Alex and Clinton alike? How are they different?  
  4. How does Clinton justify his treatment of Alex at the beginning of the book? Does he change this attitude by the end, or does he merely agree with Alex to escape trouble?    
  5. Why do Alex's parents encourage him to lie about how he contracted HIV? How does this make him feel? Why does he want to tell the truth?
  6. Would it bother you, as it did Clinton, to have to sit next to Alex in class? Why? Did your attitude change after reading this book?
  7. Alex debates whether to tell the truth about Clinton's involvement in the crime. Do you think he would have been justified in lying? Why? What would you do in his situation?
  8. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story through three different characters' eyes?   In what ways might the story have been told differently if it were told in only one viewpoint? Do you think the "truth" is affected by who is seeing it? 
  9. In what ways, if any, do the viewpoint characters grow in the course of the story? Which character do you think experiences the most growth?
  10. Discuss the relationships Alex, Clinton, and Daria have with their families. How are these relationships similar and different? In what ways do these relationships change in the course of the book?
  11. Did you feel sympathetic toward Clinton? What factors, if any, made him a sympathetic character?
  12. How do people at the school react to the crime against Alex? Do you think this is how you or people you know would react to a similar crime?    
  13. Why is Jennifer drawn to Alex?   Why does she talk to Clinton about him at school?   Why does Alex became angry at her for doing so?
  14. Alex dislikes Pinedale yet doesn't want to leave when his mother says they will go back to Miami. Why? How does his attitude toward Pinedale change during the course of the book? What factors contribute to this change?
  15. At the end of the book, Daria says, "Mama says I am still a hero." Is she? In what way?
  16. If the three characters were unable to settle their differences but were, instead, required to testify under oath in a court of law, what would the likely outcome be?

Related Websites:
Adolescent AIDS Program

Alex Flinn's homepage

American Foundation for AIDS Research

Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism

HIV/AIDS Treatment Information Services

National Association for Down Syndrome

National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs

National Down Syndrome Congress

National Down Syndrome Society

National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center

Hate Crime
The Hate Crime by Phyllis Karas (1995)
In the Paint by Jeff Red (2005)
The Rainbow Kite by Marlen Fanta Shyer (2002)
Truth and Lies Tamara Williams (2002)

The Beat Goes On by Adel Minchin (2004)
Rainbow High by Alex Sanchez (2003)
Totally Free by Stephanie Perry Moore (2002)
What You Don't Know Can Kill You by Fran Arrick (1992)

Teenagers with Down Syndrome
Head Above Water by S.L. Rottman (1999)
Honor Thy Son by Lou Shaw (1994)

Other Books by the Author:
Breathing Underwater (2001) (2002 RITBA Nominee)
Breaking Point (2002)
Nothing to Loose (2004) (2006 RITBA Nominee)

About the Author:
Alex Flinn is a former attorney whose fascination with witness reliability and bias led her to write Fade to Black. According to Flinn, she writes "for young-adults because I never quite got over being one. In my mind, I am still 13-years-old, running laps on the athletic field, wearing this really baggy white gym suit. I'm continually amazed at the idea that I have a checking account and a mortgage. So I try to write books that gym suit girl might enjoy. It's a way of going back to being thirteen ... knowing what I know now."  She lives in Palmetto Bay, a suburb of Miami with her husband and two daughters.

| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair