The Death of Jayson Porter: A Teaching Guide

Teresa Young and Darwin Henderson

December 2009

[Editor’s Note: The following teaching guide for Jaime Adoff ’s The Death of Jayson Porter is a supplement to “Jaime Adoff and the CreativeProcess: A Conversation with the Author,” which can be found in the December 2009 print issue and digital issue. Please check out this interview to find out Jaime’s recipe for success and to read more about the authors, Teresa Young and Darwin Henderson.]

Jaime Adoff ’s The Death of Jayson Porter is a moving, page-turning novel about sixteen-year-old Jayson Porter. Porter is living a life of abuse with a neglectful mother and drug-addicted father. Although his reality is, at times, harsh and disturbing, Adoff grabs the reader with his short, poetic-prose writing style. He keeps readers entangled in Jayson’s life and captures their attention from beginning to end. Glimmers of hope also keep the reader intrigued and searching for an uplifting conclusion in the darkest of hours.

About the Book

I am a bullet

screaming to the ground.

The air rushing past me, so fast I

can’t breathe.

I am gasping.

The sound—like a 747 taking off in

my eardrums.

Getting louder and louder.

The ground getting closer and closer.

This is supposed to get rid of my

pain,

get rid of it forever.

This is my cure.

When Jayson Porter feels there is nowhere else to turn, he makes a decision he has been thinking of, dreaming of, in his mind over and over again that will change his life forever. How does Jayson get to this point? Adoff helps the reader internalize Jayson’s hurt as he recounts his miserable circumstances of living in the Florida projects with an abusive mother. A mother more interested in drugs, alcohol, and her boyfriend than her son. His style of writing with mixtures of white and dark space emphasize the despair and pain of his main character.

A-Bandoned, Florida

Nine a.m. Mom and Lay are tuned up and out the door . . . . Just another day in the hot hell of Bandon, Florida. Me and Trax call it A-Bandoned. Wish a hurricane would just wipe us off the map. No such luck. We’re too inland. Not close enough to the ocean.

Everyone in Jayson’s life, besides his best friend Trax, is either abusive, neglectful, or just uninterested in his life. His dad hits the pipe hard but the pipe hits back harder. He wants to be interested, but can’t. Jayson’s job at a car dealership is degrading, and his boss is always threatening to fire him.

Jayson needs the money so he takes the abuse. School does not provide any source of solace either. Jayson goes to Graham High School.

I go to Graham

and that’s about the worst place you can go to around here. See, Graham is all white. Except for me

and Hank Carter. But he’s on thebasketball team. That’s not

like being a regular person. All sportsstars get special

treatment at Graham. It’s like regular society doesn’t

apply to Carter, just as long as he gets his twenty points

and ten rebounds, of course.

He goes to Graham because of Trina, the only other person that provides any glimmer of hope to Jayson’s life. Trina is his mom’s friend but he seldom, if ever, sees her anymore. Until the day his dad reveals an ugly secret.

I’m almost numb

from this story. This tale I’ve heard and seen a hundred

times out on these Bandon streets. But this time the story

hits home.

This time

the story

hits me.

More tragedy is to follow, as Adoff continues to peel back the layers of Jayson Porter’s life until he is without hope.

I climb up onto the top run of the rail. I start to lose my balance

but I catch myself at the last second. I

spread my arms out as far as they’ll go. I shut my eyes, knowing

that in seconds the pain will be gone

forever and I’ll be free.

Finally, I’ll be free . . . .

In the Classroom

Activities, Discussion, and Projects

Classrooms, book clubs, and literatures circles may find the following activities, projects, and discussion questions helpful in promoting a deeper understanding and discussion of the themes of this novel, including family relationships, friendship, racism, abuse, addiction, betrayal, and hope.

The Death of Jayson Porter is powerful and will capture the reader’s attention from the first page. Use these two activities to help initiate and facilitate discussions.

1. As students read the novel, they keep a journal identifying the significant points in Jayson’s life that influence his actions and thoughts. Examples: alcoholic mother, Florida Projects, drug-addicted father, minority scholarship to Graham, best friend Trax.

2. In addition to identifying the significant events in Jayson’s life, identify key phrases and sentences that capture the essence of the character’s feelings about his life. Examples: “all they know is what they know,” page 19; “other means you ain’t a brutha,” page 21; “I feel myself starting to slide. That familiar sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that tells me my outside game is starting to crack,” page 37; “Dad’s dope life on display for everyone to see . . .,” page 58; “I want to tell him everything. I want to confess,” page 69.

Discussion Questions

l. What emotional words describe the character and his circumstances in chapter 1?

2. How is the description of the setting used to emphasize the character’s situation?

3. Does Jayson feel better off than Trax or is it his positive outlook that makes him feel more hopeful?

4. What do you think Jayson means by The Slide? Identify the foreshadowing event in chapter 4.

5. In chapter 6, Jayson says, “I’m alone, always been that way.” Discuss this phrase. Discuss who you think Trina is and her significance in the story.

6. Jayson’s plan is revealed, but does he really want to end his life?

7. Jayson lives in two different worlds—describe and compare these two worlds.

8. Discuss how Jayson feels his life is one of those made-for- television movies.

9. April enters Jayson’s life—is she a friend?

10. “Dad’s words stabbing me in my brain . . .” How do you think Jayson will deal with the news of his real mother?

11. In chapter 15, Jayson says he is first and third person . . . floating above this reality that can’t be real. Do you think he can deal with one more tragedy? Why or why not?

12. Jayson has made his decision but realizes he has made the wrong decision. He says, “It’s too late.” Do you think it is too late?

13. Adoff cleverly provides several black pages—what do they represent?

14. Describe how you feel about Jayson’s future?

15. “It’s time.” How does this summarize the life of Jayson Porter?

Activities

Book Bites

To pique students’ interest prior to reading the novel, provide each student quotes, phrases, or sentences that will spark curiosity and stimulate thinking about the text. The teacher should select a number of sentences or phrases that are significant to the text—not too revealing but helpful in creating interest and predictions about the novel. Each student shares his/her sentence with the other members of the group. After students hear the quotes, they can complete a quick-write or first impression of the story. Students can then discuss their ideas with each other.

Character Story Map

Create a story map with Jayson Porter in the center of the story diagram. As students read the story, have them complete the story map highlighting Jayson’s feelings as the story of his life is revealed. The story map can be created as a group or individually.

Oral Interpretation of the Text with Group and Individual Readings

In groups, students will create a script to read in the classroom setting. Students will identify specific episodes or events that are significant to the beginning, middle, and end of the novel. Each group will provide a transition to bridge the storyline. Students may wish to perform their script in related classes.

Book on Tape

In small groups, students will audio record The Death of Jayson Porter.

Author Study

Jaime Adoff is a critically acclaimed author. Create an author study examining poems and novels by this author. Discuss the themes, style of writing, and book topics. Review Adoff ’s Web site, book reviews, and interviews about the author and his work.

Collage

Create a collage inspired by the book. The writing is powerful and can be displayed by using images from magazines, newspapers, the Internet, or creating your own. Use color, words or phrases, and images that reveal the essence of the story and the life of Jayson Porter. This activity can be expanded to create a classroom mural or collage.

Resources

Adoff, Jaime. “Jaime Adoff: Writer, Poet, Rock n Roller.” http://www.JaimeAdoff.com (Accessed October 7, 2009).

National Council of Teachers of English. http://www.ncte.org (Accessed October 7, 2009).

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 1-800-273-TALK. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org (Accessed October 7, 2009).

“Suicide Prevention.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/dvp/suicide (Accessed October 7, 2009).

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