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Reader's/Teacher's Guide to If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor

The following discussion questions are good for either a book club discussion or for use in a classroom by a teacher after the book has been read. Of course, please contact me if you need any clarification.

 Book Summary

Carolyn Samuels is obsessed with the idea of being popular. She is convinced that the only thing keeping her from happiness is her too heavy for fashion body and not being a cheerleader. Hyperventilating when she gets nervous doesn’t help.

When she is paired for a Math project with the girl who tormented her in middle school, Jennifer Taylor, she is sure it is going to be another year of pain.With Carolyn’s crush on Jennifer’s hunky Junior quarterback Brad, her freshman year in high school looks like a rerun of middle school.

After Jennifer’s the only student who knows why she fell in gym class, Carolyn is blackmailed into doing her math homework in return for Jennifer’s silence. Jennifer takes on Carolyn as a pity project since she can’t be seen with someone who dresses in jeans and sweatshirts.

When Jennifer invites Carolyn to sleep over to make her over and teach her to tumble, Carolyn learns Jennifer’s secret and lies to her own friends to cover it up. Knowing it is wrong, Carolyn continues to keep Jennifer’s secret from her parents and friends and becomes closer to Jennifer. She is constantly questioning herself and her motives.

Will Carolyn become a cheerleader and become popular? Does she continue to keep Jennifer’s secret? Or will she be a target of this mean girl again?

What is Bullying?
Bullying can be physical or verbal. Boys or girls threaten other children by physical means like:

  • pushing
  • punching
  • poking
  • grabbing and pulling
  • shoving 

Verbal forms of bullying:

  • Calling names
  • threatening someone
  • making fun
  • gossiping or making up rumors
  • putting someone down
  • stealing their money with threats like, “Give me your money or else!” 

Bullies feel superior when they do any of these things, without any regard to how the other person feels. At times, a bully might not like someone because of the way he/she looks, what he/she wears, the color of his skin and race, so the way they respond to this person is by bullying them.

If you see a friend bullied on school grounds, here are a few tips:

  • walk away and get a teacher and let them know what you saw
  • if someone encourages you to join them in bullying another student, say NO!
  • be a friend to the student who is bullied and tell them to tell a teacher. Be supportive
  • if you are afraid of the bully, then tell the teacher or grown-up not to reveal your name
  • do not fight the bully. It’s better to go and get a grown-up 

Remember this: if you stand around watching a friend or fellow student bullied, to them it feels you are part of the ‘bully group’ because you are watching and doing nothing to help them out. Walk away and get a teacher or grown-up. 
If you are a victim, remember – IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT! Try to follow these tips:
try to avoid reacting when a bully is bothering you. The more of a reaction you show, the more satisfied he gets and will continue

  • if you are shoved, don’t shove back. You will only succeed in angering them and the bully will shove you back harder
  • try to play in an open area where teachers and supervisors have a better view
  • hang out with your friends
  • if bullied on the school bus, then sit up front somewhere close to the bus driver
  • avoid bringing expensive items to school that a bully might want to steal or grab from you 

Reader/Class Discussion and Ideas:
Bullying: Carolyn has been bullied by Jennifer all through middle school because of her hyperventilation. Her friends have looked on and not really done anything to stop it.

Why do you suppose her friends haven’t tried to stop it?
How do you think Carolyn feels about being taunted for her hyperventilation, a physical problem over which she has no control?
What are some of the things her friends might have done to help her?
What is the reason you think Jennifer decided to bully Carolyn?

Friendship: Carolyn has two really good friends, Becky and Janie. Why does she want to be friendly with Jennifer?

What does Carolyn hope to gain by this friendship?
What happens as both girls get to know each other better?
How does Carolyn’s keeping Jennifer’s secret help to strengthen their friendship?
Would you ever do what Carolyn did for someone?
What is it like to be a true friend?
How does Carolyn show that she is a true friend?

Keeping secrets: Keeping secrets is very important in If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor. The girls both keep secrets from each other.

What kinds of secrets do Carolyn and Jennifer keep from the other kids?
Why do you think Jennifer keeps Carolyn’s secret?
What secret do we learn that Jennifer has been keeping from Carolyn?
Have you ever had to keep a secret?
Do you think it is wise to keep a secret when telling it might help someone?
What are the reasons Carolyn kept Jennifer’s secret?
Have you ever gotten in trouble for spilling someone’s secret?

Body Image: Body image plays an important part in how Carolyn feels about herself. Her friends keep telling her she is beautiful, but she doesn’t believe them. She thinks she is too heavy for fashion. The truth is she might be a few pounds overweight, but she is not obese. Even when she has lost weight and looks in the mirror she can’t believe she looks the way she does.

How does Carolyn’s feeling about her body image hurt her on the first day of high school?
Do you think this is the first time Carolyn has ever tried to get out of going to school because she doesn’t like the way she looks?
How does hanging out with Jennifer help Carolyn to feel better about her own body?
When Carolyn talks with John about trying out for the cheerleaders, does he help or hinder her feelings about her body?
How has Carolyn’s feelings about her body hurt her socially? Why doesn’t she have more friends before she gets involved with Jennifer?
By the end of the story has Carolyn’s feeling about her body changed? Why?

Eating Disorders: Jennifer has an eating disorder, but she doesn’t want to admit it. She has been binging and purging for so long it has become almost a routine for her. When she needs to stay at her peak gymnastic weight and she is being trained for a winning spot the pressure causes her to spiral out of control. She has the perfect body, but she pays a price for it. She starts to show symptoms with her fainting and pale color.

How does Jennifer deal with her eating disorder?
Do you think she has this because she wants to stay at performance weight or are there other factors that influence her?
Why do you think Jennifer tells Carolyn about her eating disorder?
By the end of the story Jennifer is getting help for her problem. How do you think Carolyn persuaded Jennifer to tell her parents?
Have you ever known anyone who had an eating disorder? What did you do?
Do you think binging and purging or not eating is a good way to maintain your weight?
Have you ever thought like Jennifer about eating?

Hyperventilation: The reason Carolyn is bullied is her breathing problem. She hyperventilates when she is nervous. On the first day of high school she holds her breath so much she faints. During the story whenever she gets nervous she starts to hyperventilate. It creates problems for her both socially and in school. Yet she doesn’t do anything about it.

Why doesn’t Carolyn tell her parents about her breathing problem?
Do you think Jennifer would have bullied Carolyn even if she didn’t have her breathing problem?
Can you think of at least three times in the story where Carolyn had a breathing problem? What was happening?
Does her feeling about her problem change by the end of the story?
How does she learn to take care of it by herself?
Have you ever had Carolyn’s breathing problem? How did you solve it?
Would you know how to help someone if they started hyperventilating?
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