Say Goodnight, Gracie takes place in and around Chicago. Morgan and Jimmy live in Glen Ellyn, a Chicago suburb, but Jimmy's interest in dancing and Morgan's interest in acting frequently draw them to the city. Deaver's familiarity with the Chicago theater world is apparent, because the theater scenes are highly believable. The families both live in relative affluence; there is always enough money to support Morgan and Jimmy during their frequent excursions into the city, and the parents seem intent on fostering the teenagers' aspirations by providing them the material support as well as verbal encouragement to pursue their dreams.
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Written in first person, past tense, Say Goodnight, Gracie makes significant use of dialogue and reflection to move the plot. Morgan Hackett's story is told to the reader through the eyes of a young woman who is confused and angered by the tragic turn of events that alters her life forever; readers share the heroine's frustrations and despair firsthand, and see the efforts of other friends, parents, and especially her aunt only obliquely. Nevertheless, the sensitive reader will realize that Morgan is wrong to dwell morbidly on the loss of her dearest friend; the advice offered by her father and her aunt makes good sense to those not too caught up in the emotional turmoil Morgan feels.
Deaver pays little attention to creating central metaphors that would give universal dimensions to her work. There is one clear exception, however; the title of the book, Say Goodnight, Gracie, will recall for adult readers the long love affair between comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen (the phrase was the tag line with which the two ended their popular television show in the 1950s). Burns and Allen were a team on stage and in life for four decades. Then Allen died, and Burns went through a long period of grief before he emerged as a senior statesman of comedy, able to speak fondly of his deceased wife. The loss of Jimmy, Morgan's friend for less than twenty years, is slight by comparison. This is not to suggest, however, that Morgan's grief is not sincere or...
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While Say Goodnight, Gracie contains little that could be considered sensitive to parents or educators, some adults might find the cavalier attitude of the characters about school attendance distressing. Additionally, on occasion Deaver places blunt language in the mouths of her teen-age characters. It would be foolish to think that young adults do not use foul or suggestive language, but younger readers seeing four-letter words in a book recommended by adults may get the impression that such language is acceptable.
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Topics for Discussion
1. At the beginning of Chapter 3, Morgan and Jimmy's mothers call the school to have Morgan and Jimmy excused. Is their behavior responsible? Should parents ever lie to school authorities? Discuss the options that schools could implement to cover such events.
2. Compare the last part of Chapter 4 with the first part of Chapter 12. Why did Jimmy and Morgan lash out at each other after their poor performances? Discuss constructive ways to deal with feelings of failure.
3. When she sees her aunt comforting Mrs. Woolf after Jimmy's accident, Morgan does not have to be told that Jimmy is dead. Why? Discuss the power of nonverbal communication.
4. Why was Morgan unable to attend Jimmy's funeral?
5. At the end of the novel, Morgan throws Jimmy's jacket in the river. What does this act symbolize for Morgan?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Funeral customs are different throughout the world. Write a paper comparing the funeral customs of our culture with those of different culture.
2. In Say Goodnight, Gracie, Jimmy has chosen to be a dancer, often considered a female pursuit, and Aunt Lo is a psychiatrist, traditionally a male profession. Write a paper on the career that you plan to pursue, paying particular attention to traditional gender roles.
3. Read A. E. Housman's "To an Athlete Dying Young." Compare the sympathies expressed in Housman's poem with the feelings Deaver expresses about death through her protagonist, Morgan.
4. The accident that kills Jimmy is caused by a drunk driver. Research and report on your community's efforts to decrease the number of people who drink and drive.
5. "Knowing what you have to lose, but risking the loss anyway. That's what it's all about." What is the meaning of this quotation from the last page of the novel?
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The issue of loss through death is one treated by several writers of young adult fiction. One particularly good example is Robin Brancato's Facing Up (1984); in that novel a teenage boy loses his best friend, and suffers the same sense of loss and anger that Deaver's heroine feels. Pairing the novels might be a good way to show readers that these feelings exist in both boys and girls.
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For Further Reference
Allen, Susan. Review. New York Times Book Review (July 31, 1988): 33. Allen finds Deaver's treatment of Morgan's mourning process convincing, but her treatment of the relationship central to the plot less convincing.
Burns, Connie Tyrell. Review. School Library Journal (Fall 1988): 84. This review calls Say Goodnight, Gracie "[a] well-drawn portrayal of the complex emotions of an adolescent's first confrontation with death."
Sutherland, Zena. Review. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (Fall 1988): 114. A short, positive review of Say Goodnight, Gracie.
Trosky, Susan M, ed. "Julie Reece Deaver." In Contemporary Authors. Volume 129. Detroit: Gale...
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