Random Family Reading Group Guide
1. At the beginning of the book, the author writes that "chance was opportunity in the ghetto and you had to be prepared for anything." What opportunities did Jessica, Boy George, Coco, and Cesar consider significant, and how did they prepare for them? Did they have opportunities they could not see? Why?
2. Loyalty plays a crucial role in Random Family.
What did it mean to each of the principal characters? How do their loyalties shape the course of their lives?
3. We are told that "For Jessica, love was the most interesting place to go and beauty was the ticket." Describe the relationship between romance and money in the lives of the book's female characters. Is this different, in degree or in kind, from the sexual economy in mainstream American life?
4. We meet Cesar as a young boy, sitting on "the broken steps of his mother's building, biding his time, watching the older boys who ruled the street." Who were his male role models? According to their example, what did becoming a man entail? How did this understanding of manhood prepare Cesar for prison? How did his definition of masculinity change over time?
5. For the teenage girls in Random Family,
what are the attractions of being a mother? What sort of power and influence-real or imagined-is associated with the role?
6. Describe the role of social service agencies in Coco's life. Describe the ways in which their treatment of her enhanced or undermined her own sense of agency.
7. By conventional standards, Elaine and Iris are more successful than their sisters. What qualities and actions were instrumental in achieving that success? What price did they pay for it? How do their strategies confirm or challenge traditional notions about the supportive functions of families?
8. Explore the reasons why the households in this book are often in a state of flux. Why do people move? What are the advantages and disadvantages of relocation? Do men and women move for the same reasons?
9. Many of the characters in Random Family
continue to be optimistic, even cheerful, despite extremely difficult lives and setbacks. When and how can hope be a sustaining force and when and how can it be a destructive one? Discuss.
10. The author writes, "The sexual threat men posed to little girls was so pervasive that even the warnings meant to avert it were saturated with fatalism." Explore the ways in which the ubiquity of sexual abuse in the world of the book affects the characters' attitudes about it.
11. None of the young people in the book blame their circumstances for the choices they made, yet much of the public discussion of the poor uses terms that infer moral and personal blame. Why do you think this is? Would you assign blame for the tragedies described here? To whom? Why?
12. Political activists often complain about society's "crisis approach" to poverty, how basic supports are only granted in emergencies. Are there examples of this in the book? What alternate strategies would improve the lives of children like Mercedes?
13. Have your ideas about poverty and privilege changed since reading Random Family?
Were there moments when you particularly empathized with the people in this book? Were there moments that you felt particularly alienated? If so, when and why?
14. The author, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, interacted with/observed??? these families for over a decade and was witness to most of the events that took place, yet she is not present in the narrative. How might this have been a different book if she had included herself as a character? Why does she leave herself out?
15. In an interview about the title, the author described her ongoing interest in the families teenagers form among their friends and the appeal of self-created families. Have "random families" played an important role in your own life?