Waiting for No One - Teachers’ Guide

Waiting for No One

A Discussion Guide prepared by the author:
Saskatoon-based educator Beverley A. Brenna


This discussion guide is geared for grades nine and up.

Book Summary

Waiting for No One is a sequel to Brenna’s young adult novel Wild Orchid and includes in its early chapters the title story from Something To Hang On To, Brenna’s collection of young adult short stories. Waiting for No One follows 18 year old Taylor Jane into first-year university and through her attempt to enter the world of work.

Teens will identify with Taylor’s struggle for independence and self-control, and empathize as she outlines the ways that her Asperger’s Syndrome—both a curse and a blessing—affects her daily life. Connecting with a play by Samuel Beckett called Waiting for Godot, Taylor explores the fear of solitary existence while reaching out to a world she works hard to understand. Most important, she wants the world to understand her as an individual, not as a stereotypical person with special needs, or a rare wild flower. A cameo performance by Taylor’s new gerbil-- Harold Pinter-- adds further emphasis to themes of existentialism and humour.

Waiting for No One is the first Canadian winner of a Dolly Gray Award for Children’s Literature, sponsored by the Council for Exceptional Children: Division of Autism and Developmental Disabilities. Wild Orchid was shortlisted for the Canadian Library Association’s prestigious Young Adult Book Award, a number of provincial readers’ choice awards, and is a starred selection from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre as well as on the New York Public Library’s list of Recommended Books for the Teenage. Brenna (www.beverleybrenna.com) is an assistant professor in Education at the University of Saskatchewan; she spent five years as a school board special education consultant and has previously worked as an elementary classroom and special education teacher. Brenna has numerous other published books for young people. The title short story in one of these books—Something to Hang On To (Thistledown Press, 2009)—appears in the beginning chapters of Waiting for No One as a seminal basis for this Wild Orchid sequel. The third and last book in the series is called The White Bicycle.

Pre-reading Small-Group Discussion or Writing Topics
  1. What kinds of conflicts are common between parents and teens?
  2. What kinds of stresses and expectations are considered typical of the teenage years? In your opinion, are these things actually typical or just stereotypes?
  3. Wild Orchid begins with a stressor related to a job interview and extends into a conflict between a parent and an eighteen-year-old about part time work. Read pages 1-28 to explore these situations and then discuss the following questions with a partner:
    1. What are some of the key stressors for Taylor in the context of the job interview?
    2. What do you know about Taylor Jane from the beginning of this novel?
    3. As you read the novel, keep track of the differences Taylor demonstrates in language and communication. In particular, note any unique characteristics of her speech patterns or interpretations of language.
    4. What picture in your head do you now have of Taylor’s mother? See if this shifts during the course of the book.
    5. What personal connections can you make to anything in this section?

Much of the study is designed as class discussion, either in partners, small groups, or as a larger group. Students should complete the following for their portfolios:

  1. A character web of Taylor Jane, Following each reading, students will add or elaborate on information about Taylor’s character.
  2. 2. A webbing of minor characters in the novel (Penny Simon, Garth Simon, Luke Phoenix, Martin Phoenix). This could be designed as a web of concentric circles, with Taylor’s name in the middle, and the characters and their connections to her included on the outside rings.
  3. A reader response journal, with entries following each reading, or a collection of sticky notes added to the students’ copies of the text creating “commonplace” books (Sumara, 1995).* The journal or sticky notes should contain the students’ thoughts, feelings, connections, and questions as they read.

    *Sumara, Dennis J. (1995). Response to Reading as a Focal Practice. English Quarterly, 28 (1).

  4. Bulletin board material that symbolizes Taylor Jane to add to the class bulletin board. Be able to identify your addition, and its purpose, and add this to the key at the side of the board, along with your name.
  5. Discussion notes based on an examination of the novel for stereotypes. Consider whether societal stereotypes about people with special needs appear in the book. Discuss with a small group.
  6. Student choices from the following menu:
    • Compile images and understandings related to the story into either visual art or a musical representation depicting the character of Taylor Jane. Be prepared to share and discuss in class.
    • Is Taylor’s character consistent with research on autism? Develop a formal essay to examine this question or take jot notes and then select particular words and phrases to create a found poem.
    • How does the author use humour to move the story along? Develop a written argument to explore this question.
    • Taylor has a number of strategies she uses consciously or unconsciously when she is angry or upset. List these, and compare to your own habits, in a chart of your own devising. Alternatively, develop Incredible 5-Point Scale charts (Karen Dunn & Mitzi Curtis, 2003) to display your own, and Taylor’s, habits. Consider how the psychiatrist may have assisted her and include that information along with other strategies Taylor uses.
    • Explore your personal connections to this story through a series of poems.
    • Create the résumé Taylor might develop for her next job application. Develop a résumé for your own future job applications.
    • Taylor strongly connects to literature, comparing herself with characters from Harold Pinter’s absurdist play “The Birthday Party” and Samuel Beckett’s existential drama “Waiting for Godot”. Describe in a reflective essay your own connections to things you have read.
    • Dramatize the conversation Taylor and her mother have after the job interview. Improvise to add details to actual elements of the book.
    • Compare this book to others you have read on thematically similar subjects such as one of the following: the teenage search for independence; developing friendships; family dynamics; animal rights; opting out vs failing out; characters with special needs; another related theme of your choice. You may use either chart or essay format.
    • Develop a series of improvisations around details or situations from the novel. Work with a partner or a small group, and be prepared to share these on video tape or in person for the class. Length: 10 – 15 minutes.
    • Write a song from any of the perspectives of characters from the novel. Be prepared to share with the class.
    • Create a photo album of images from the story.
    • Research the trip from Saskatoon to Cody Wyoming. How accurate has the author been in terms of Taylor’s bus trip? Are there other aspects of the book you think were researched authentically or inauthentically? Prepare notes for a class discussion.
    • Learn the tango with a partner and demonstrate for the class.
Related Literature

The Space Between by Don Aker

the story of a teen whose younger brother has autism; just dumped by his girlfriend, Jace wants an intimate relationship as a right of passage for his 18th birthday

Between Sisters by Adwoa Badoe

this book illuminates another main character searching for her own identity, and focuses on coming-of-age in the sometimes risky context of contemporary Ghana

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

an existential play for very mature readers, often performed at the university level

Something to Hang On To by Beverley Brenna

a collection of young adult short stories focusing on diversity and coming-of-age; the first chapter of Waiting for No One is the title story in this collection; the story “Travelling Light” was written as an existential One Act play and outlines the tensions between a son and his mother

The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna

sequel to Waiting for No One and Wild Orchid and the last book in the series

Somewhere in Blue by Gillian Cummings

this novel charts the tensions between mothers and daughters

Me, Myself and Ike by K.L. Denman

this title focuses on the story of a teen with schizophrenia and is told from his first-person perspective

the curious incident of the dog in the night time by Mark Haddon

a novel for teens and adults about a high school kid with autism who deals with family problems; the first person narrative is written in the unique style of a detective-story mystery and the animal “sidekick” is Christopher Boone’s rat

What My Father Gave Me edited by Melanie Little

the narration by seven outstanding women of father-daughter relationships in the teen years

Rules by Cynthia Lord

this novel deals with respect for people with special needs through the growth and development of a sensitive protagonist whose younger brother has autism as well as a secondary character who has cerebral palsy; for more information about this Newbery honor book, see the author’s website at: www.cynthialord.com

Bringing Up Beauty by Sylvia McNicoll

the first book in a series of three, following by A Different Kind of Beauty and Beauty Returns; Kyle, one of the main characters, has diabetes-induced blindness and works with a guide dog to regain his independence

The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter

the existentialist play referred to by Taylor in Wild Orchid; for mature readers, often performed at the university level

Wings of a Bee by Julie Roorda

a family narrative highlighting the relationship between a young girl and a sister with cerebral palsy; strong themes of school inclusion and advocacy are included.

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