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Your Corner Dark

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American Street meets Long Way Down in this searing and gritty debut novel that takes an unflinching look at the harsh realities of gang life in Jamaica and how far a teen is willing to go for family.

Things can change in a second:

The second Frankie Green gets that scholarship letter, he has his ticket out of Jamaica.

The second his longtime crush, Leah, asks him on a date, he’s in trouble.

The second his father gets shot, suddenly nothing else matters.

And the second Frankie joins his uncle’s gang in exchange for paying for his father’s medical bills, there’s no going back...or is there?

As Frankie does things he never thought he’d be capable of, he’s forced to confront the truth of the family and future he was born into—and the ones he wants to build for himself.

Reading Group Guide for

Your Corner Dark

By Desmond Hall

About the Book

Things can change in a second. The second Frankie Green gets that scholarship letter, he has his ticket out of Jamaica. The second his longtime crush, Leah, asks him on a date, he’s in trouble. The second his father gets shot, suddenly nothing else matters. And the second Frankie joins his uncle’s gang in exchange for paying for his father’s medical bills, there’s no going back . . . or is there? As Frankie does things he has never thought he’d be capable of, he’s forced to confront the truth around the family and future he was born into—and the ones he wants to build for himself.

Discussion Questions

1. The story begins with Frankie carrying water home after going to the well. The author creates a picture for us about how challenging it is for him to carry the water without spilling it, paying attention to the ground, the holes, and more. How might him carrying this water and having to deal with the obstacles along the way be a metaphor for his life?

2. Throughout the first several chapters, we notice the pressure Frankie feels about the scholarship. Everyone keeps asking him if he received notification or has an update. What does this scholarship symbolize for him? For his father? For the school?

3. When Frankie finally learns he has earned the scholarship, his father says, “‘Me tell you you would get it,’” before going back to his housework. What do you make of his response? How does Frankie feel in response to his father’s words and attitude? What does this tell you about Samson’s character and possibly their relationship?

4. The author works hard to develop the characters in the story in a way that allows us to move beyond any stereotypes we might have of people associated with poverty and/or gangs. How would you describe Winston? What are his characteristics, and how would you describe him as a person?

5. Joe is the gang leader, but also Frankie’s uncle. Describe Joe’s traits, values, actions, thoughts, and feelings based on the way we encounter him through Frankie and Aunt Jenny. Do you think he’s a typical or stereotypical gang leader? Is he more complicated than that? Give examples from the novel to support your answers.

6. Samson and Frankie’s relationship is complicated. What factors make their relationship difficult? What role does Frankie’s mother’s death play in their father-son bond? What words would you use to describe this relationship and why?

7. Frankie expresses some unresolved concerns and frustrations surrounding his mother’s death. What are they? Why do you think there was so much silence around her illness?

8. The story presents issues of physical abuse at home. We learn from Aunt Jenny that “‘Daddy beat Samson till him nearly dead.’” Similarly, Samson punishes Frankie physically and leaves marks when he does. Later, Joe also hits Frankie in the face. A concept that comes to mind is generational trauma. What do you think generational trauma means, and how does this pain and abuse impact the family? Given that this is a serious and challenging topic, how does the author use this novel to share more about it, and what do you think he’s trying to communicate to the reader? How do his words and these scenes make you feel? Explain your answers.

9. Later on in the book, Winston dies by Garnell’s hand. Frankie is overwhelmed and struggles to move past his best friend’s death. How does Winston die? How is his death a symbol or possible warning for Frankie?

10. After Frankie shoots toward Ray-Ban boy, he has deeply mixed feelings and overwhelmingly regrets his own situation. Buck-Buck says to Frankie, “‘You turn a man today. Joe not telling you that, but him say that to me.’” What does it mean that he “turned a man” on that day? How is violence connected to manhood and strength in the lives of Joe and his gang?

11. Buck-Buck gives Frankie a new name after his first shooting. He says, “‘Respect due to Frankie Green, killing machine!’” How does Frankie feel about this new name, and what is becoming his new identity? How does Winston react to this new name once he speaks to Frankie?

12. Leah’s passion is art and paintings. We learn that her art is considered political. What is political art? What risks does she run with her art? How does Frankie feel about her paintings? What role does painting play in her life? Is her artwork dangerous for her or for others? If so, how?

13. This book features both violence and death. Discuss the power these kinds of scenes can hold, especially when the two are glorified in any way. How do you think the author is portraying violence and death? What messages is he sending? Is the reality of gang life well developed? If so, what do you think are the lessons and themes present in this book?

14. In chapter forty-nine, Frankie has a moment of reflection: “He thought about who he’d killed and helped to kill. There was no cause for celebration. Nineteen bodies in the garbage truck.” How are his views contrary to the life he’s living in the gang? What other moments show he is not comfortable or in agreement with his surroundings? Are there moments where he gives in? If so, which ones and why?

15. When Samson dies, we get to see and learn about death traditions and ceremonies in Frankie’s Jamaican community. What is the ceremony and tradition like? How is that similar to or different from your family’s rituals and ceremonies around death? Name some traditions here in the United States, and compare and contrast them to the ones you’ve read about.

16. As the story progresses, Aunt Jenny’s role in the gang is slowly revealed to us. How important is she to the leadership of the gang? What is her relationship like to Joe? What tactics does she use to assert herself or her beliefs?

17. Throughout the story, the author depicts different types of women. He shows us Frankie’s mother, through his eyes and experiences; Aunt Jenny; the counselor; Leah; Leah’s grandmother; and the nurse. What words would you use to describe each one? What role does each play in the story and development of characters around them? Why do you think the author chose to include so many different perspectives and experiences? What does it tell you about the various forms of womanhood present in Jamaica, and the stereotypes that often exist?

18. Toward the end of the story, there is a big shoot-out on the mountain between Joe’s gang and Taqwan’s. Can you summarize the events? What kind of imagery would you use to describe the scene? What role does Frankie play? What is symbolic about the way Joe and Taqwan are both taken after they’re dead?

19. If you were in Frankie’s shoes and had to choose between joining your uncle’s gang to save your father or leaving for another country with an academic scholarship, what would you have done? What would have influenced your decision? Does it feel like his choice was necessary, irresponsible, reasonable, illogical? Explain your answers.

20. Trace Frankie’s growth and changes throughout the story. Is he a dynamic character or a static one? What lessons does he learn? What changes happen to him and how, if at all, does he transform by the end of the story?

Extension Activities

Setting:

The book is set in various places in Jamaica. For example, we spend time at Frankie’s school, his home, and the bush where Joe lives. With a partner, consider the different places where Frankie visits and spends time. How would you describe each? How does his role change in each? What pressures or realities does he have depending on his setting?

Symbolism:

Identify the objects, people, and actions that represent larger ideas. For example, Frankie’s gun becomes an important object in his life. It represents power and safety, but it also represents going against his father’s wishes, as well as doing something he doesn’t want to do. Consider other symbols in the text: What do they represent? How do these symbols relate to character development? How do these symbols relate to conflict?

Characterization:

Form a small group with two or three classmates. Then choose one character in the story and do an in-depth study of their characterization. Analyze the character’s physical attributes, thoughts and feelings, motivations, actions, and important milestones in the story. Consider the character’s impact on the plot of the story, including the conflict. Lastly, prepare your findings to share with the rest of your class. Once each group has presented, discuss as a class how the author builds and creates characters that are complex and thoughtful, and that go beyond stereotypes of Black people and communities.

*Teachers, consider using the author’s Characterization and Story Structure in a World of Danger Using Your Corner Dark lesson plan as an additional resource for this activity: https://bit.ly/37I82Xp

Herbal Medicines:

There are moments in the story, particularly when Samson is sick in the hospital, where characters talk about herbal medicines or the power of land to heal us. This is not a common belief system in the mainstream United States, yet it is for many others in countries all around the world. Research herbal medicines, especially those unique to Jamaica, and their connection to land and geography; then discuss as a class how these are generally perceived in the United States.

Exploration of Culture:

Through Joe, the author introduces us to the ideas of Rastafarian culture. Research more about the culture and belief systems. Answer some of the following questions:

Who are some famous Rastafarians?

What do Rastafarians believe?

What is the history of Rastafarian culture in Jamaica?

How is Rasta culture related to marijuana?

Once you’ve read about and discussed this culture, assess as a class whether or not Joe was a true Rastafarian. Winston claims, “‘Me say Joe not even a real Rasta.’” Do you think he’s right? Explain your answer.

Jamaican Art:

Through Leah, we learn a little about art in Jamaica. Research famous Jamaican artists and paintings. What style of art is common in Jamaica? What issues do Jamaican artists take on?

Colorism:

In chapter forty-two, we encounter the issue of colorism. Colorism can be described as the way racism (preference for light(er) skin) shows up among and within communities of people of color. Frankie reflects, “Light-skinned Jamaicans like her had so many damn issues with people who looked like him.” Use this chapter to start a conversation with your classmates about race, racism, and colorism. Do a close reading of these pages. Closely analyze Penelope’s, Leah’s grandmother’s, words. In small groups, research each topic (race, racism, colorism), and gain greater context for why this issue exists and how it complicates this relationship between Frankie and Leah.

Paired Readings:

Other books teachers can read to explore alongside Your Corner Dark:

Long Way Down (Reynolds), This Book Is Anti-Racist (Jewell),

American Street (Zoboi), Gone to Drift (McCaulay),

Yummy (Neri)

Lorena Germán is a Dominican American educator who works with middle and high school students, as well as supporting teachers and schools to ensure best practices in terms of inclusivity and antibias, anti-racist approaches. She’s been published by NCTE, ASCD, EdWeek, and featured in The New York Times. She’s a two-time nationally awarded teacher and is co-founder of #DisruptTexts and Multicultural Classroom, and currently chairs the National Council of Teachers of English’s Committee Against Racism & Bias in the Teaching of English.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.

Desmond Hall was born in Jamaica, West Indies, and moved to Jamaica, Queens. He has worked as a high school biology and English teacher in East New York, Brooklyn; counseled teenage ex-cons after their release from Rikers Island; and served as Spike Lee’s creative director at Spike DDB. Desmond has served on the board of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and the Advertising Council and judged the One Show, the American Advertising Awards, and the NYC Downtown Short Film Festival. He’s also been named one of Variety magazine’s Top 50 Creatives to Watch. Desmond lives outside of Boston with his wife and two daughters.

  • Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (January 19, 2021)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534460737
  • Ages: 14 - 99

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"The best way to describe Your Corner Dark, is to say it’s a stomach-knotter. It’s one of those tales that ties you up, turns you inside-out, wrings you like a wet cloth. Desmond Hall leaves us no choice but to root for Frankie Green, a young man in Jamaica doing everything he can to claw himself out of the bear trap of his environment, that has transformed him, not exactly into a bear, but definitely into more than just a good boy. Take note—Hall is a hurricane of a writer." --Jason Reynolds, author of New York Times bestseller Long Way Down

"A riveting, fiercely heartfelt and gutsy exploration of one boy's determination to wrest control over his own life, on his own terms. Readers will find it impossible not to root for Frankie as he is confronted with one impossible choice after another. Your Corner Dark is a memorable and unmissable debut by an author to watch." --Courtney Summers, author of the New York Times bestseller Sadie