Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
The first-person narration of A Place Apart is provided by Victoria Finch, a sensitive and somewhat vulnerable thirteen-year-old. After her father’s sudden death, Victoria and her mother must move to New Oxford. The dreariness of the new house, the need to adjust socially, and the death of her father make Victoria’s outlook bleak and confused. As a freshman, she becomes best friends with Elizabeth Marx. Soon after, she meets Hugh Todd, a junior from a rich family whose mysterious aura fascinates Victoria: “I never thought as much about another human being as I thought about him.” Hugh takes an interest in some scenes that Victoria has written about her father’s death and decides that she should expand them into a full-length work, which he will direct as next year’s senior play—the first senior play to be a student’s work. Victoria is fascinated and frightened by this prospect, but she realizes that she cannot say no to Hugh. One day, Hugh draws Victoria into a game of throwing stones and shouting; although Victoria realizes how easily she can be controlled by Hugh, her infatuation with him continues.
During the summer, Hugh goes away and Victoria becomes closer to Elizabeth, although she thinks of Hugh constantly. Victoria knows that she cannot speak of Hugh to her friend because Elizabeth does not like or trust him. Victoria’s mother begins a relationship with a new man, which makes Victoria think of her father more than ever....
(The entire section is 621 words.)
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A Place Apart is set in New Bedford, a small community whose downtown is dying because businesses have moved to a mall on the outskirts of the village. The story moves from Thanksgiving to May, a year and a half later.
Victoria and her mother move to New Bedford, to start over, following the death of Victoria's father. They move from a large, roomy house into a small house that seems very ugly to Victoria and is crowded with their things. Victoria has left her best friend to go to a place where she must start over, a difficult challenge for her.
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The first-person account reveals the inner struggle Victoria has with her search for self and a place to belong. Fox makes use of flashbacks to help her audience understand the happier days Tory and her mother once had. Her use of metaphorical language creates vivid impressions for the reader.
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Fox's theme of the search for self and meaning in life is a fact of life for contemporary young people. In a society that seems topsy-turvy and lacking in significant signposts to help young people make positive choices, they will find a kinship in Tory's search.
There is no neat little package answer for Tory, just as there is none for today's youth. Fox lets the reader see the complexities of life and friendship that Tory encounters. As Tory works through them, she is left with a hint of hope that she knows what she does not want, thus hinting of what she does want. Fox writes with an understanding of the needs of young people, knowing that there are no pat answers to their problems.
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Topics for Discussion
1. The story begins in a flashback. What is a flashback? How does it contribute to your understanding of the story?
2. Paula Fox uses a great deal of metaphorical language throughout A Place Apart. For example, look at page 20 and 21 when she describes the Matcha River: ". . . The Matcha River curled and mumbled on its course . . . " and " . . . the air was fragrant and cruel as though the river had whacked it." What kind of a picture does that paint for you?
3. Victoria's father has died quite unexpectedly. In Chapter 1, page 6, Victoria says her mother sounds angry at her father for dying so young. Why would she feel this way?
4. In Chapter 2, Tory compares two of her teachers, Mrs. Tate and Mr. Mellers. She feels Tate is sincere and interested in all her students except her. Mellers is trying to be a buddy. Which kind of teacher do you like? Why?
5. In Chapter 3, Tory feels Hugh is insulted that she talked to Frank Wilson. Why would this insult Hugh?
6. Why do you think Tory is attracted to Hugh?
7. What do you think Tory is searching for in life?
8. The play is a private thing for her that she really only discussed with her teachers and Hugh, but Hugh told several others about it without asking permission. How would that make you feel if you were Tory? Why? What is Victoria's play really about?
9. Hugh draws Victoria into his strange behavior in Chapter 4 at the beaver...
(The entire section is 543 words.)
Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Victoria's mother smokes. Victoria and her Uncle Phil both try to get her to stop. Research the effects of smoking and second hand smoke on the human body. Write a report about your findings.
2. In Chapter 3, Hugh and two of his friends visit Tory. The guys discuss a variety of topics involving war, why human beings kill each other, life on other planets, and religion. Do you and your friends have such discussions? How do you feel during such discussions? Tell how you think Tory feels during their discussion, especially since she is not included.
3. When summer vacation starts, Victoria and her best friend, Elizabeth, are unable to find summer jobs, so they start their own play group to care for young children in the mornings. Write an ad for the newspaper that they might use for their new venture.
4. If you could start your own summer business, what would it be and how would you start it? Formulate such a plan. Plan a logo for your business.
5. Elizabeth feels her home life is so difficult that she plans to run away. As her friend, write a letter to persuade her not to run away and give her some advice for dealing with her mother.
6. Holidays are difficult for people who have lost loved ones. Make a tape recording, pretending it is a phone call to Tory, and talk to her about what she might do to ease the pain of Thanksgiving without her father.
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Fox writes about absent fathers in The Moonlight Man, where Catherine's father is absent from the family because of divorce; in How Many Miles to Babylon? where ten-year-old James Douglas learns to survive without father or mother; and in Blowfish Live in the Sea, where Ben lives with his mother and stepfather, wondering about his own father's need for him.
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For Further Reference
Commire, Anne, ed. Something About the Author. Volume 60. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990. Includes a biographical sketch of Fox, a recent photograph, a detailed list of books, a list of awards and notes on several of her novels.
De Montreville, Doris and Elizabeth D. Crawford. Junior Authors & Illustrators. Volume 4. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1978. A short biographical sketch and photograph of the author.
Munroe, Mary Hovas, and Judith Rogers Banja, editors. The Birthday Book: Birthdates, Birthplaces and Biographical Sources for American Authors and Illustrators of Children's Books. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1991. Provides birthdate, birthplace, and sources for finding information about authors and illustrators alphabetically by last name, by month of the year, and by geographical location.
Nelson, Harold. "The Slave Dancer." In Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults. Volume 3. Edited by Kirk H. Beetz. Washington, DC: Beacham Publishing, 1990. According to Nelson, "The Slave Dancer is a novel about ideas and history in the guise of a superbly told adventure story."
Norton, Donna E. Through the Eyes of a Child. 3d ed. New York: Merrill, 1991. Discusses the merits of authors, illustrators, and individual titles. Norton includes numerous references and descriptive paragraphs on several titles by Fox.
Tarbert, Gary C. and Barbara Beach, eds. Children's Book...
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