The Magician's Assistant

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Sabine-- twenty years a magician's assistant to her handsome, charming husband-- is suddenly a widow. In the wake of his death, she finds he has left a final trick; a false identity and a family allegedly lost in a tragic accident but now revealed as very much alive and well. Named as heirs in his will, they enter Sabine's life and set her on an adventure of unraveling his secrets, from sunny Los Angeles to the windswept plains of Nebraska, that will work its own sort of magic on her.
Curriculet Details
93 Questions
93 Annotations
2 Quizzes

Designed for students in 9th or 10th grade, this free digital curriculum contains annotations which explain allusions to famous people and locations referenced in the novel, provide links to poems and paintings which thematically relate to the novel, and prompt students to focus on details which affect tone and mood or reveal characterization. It also contains interactive videos that support comprehension, such as videos which assist in visualization of the magic tricks described in the book and which assist in the analysis of character development. Over the course of the book, students will answer Common Core questions and quizzes related to the subjects of characterization, tone, and themes relating to the search for one's identity and of coping with and escaping one's past. This free online unit will increase student engagement while building reading comprehension.

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At the Intersection of George Burns and Gracie Allen

George Burns Road and Gracie Allen Avenue intersect in downtown Los Angeles, at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. (This annotation has embedded rich content)
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Parsifal's death from an aneurism instead of AIDS is compared to the death of a cancer patient from a car crash. Both of these situations are examples of 
Sabine is looking at an image like this one, showing a balloon-like bulge in an artery called an aneurism. As in Parsifal's case, an aneurism can be deadly if it ruptures. (This annotation contains an image)
In this line, the author describes Sabine's attitude about dreams by using a metaphor. Watch this video for a definition of metaphor. What is the author implying through this comparison? (This annotation contains a video)
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Why does the author include this flashback? 
Gracie Allen and her husband George Burns were a famous comedic duo in the 1930s and 40s. Below is a short clip from their self-titled television show. Gracie Allen died in 1964 from a heart attack following a battle with heart disease. (This annotation contains a video)
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Parsifal’s dialogue and the author’s narration in this paragraph leads to the conclusion that Parsifal and Sabine 
From 1962 to 1992, Johnny Carson was the host of "The Tonight Show," a late night talk show which featured performances from comedians, actors, magicians, and musicians. (This annotation contains an image)
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Why does Phan say this? 
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How does the poem in the last annotation relate to Sabine? 
Read this short poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay in order to answer the following question. (This annotation contains a link)
Phan's home country of Vietnam is located in southeast Asia. Below is a picture of one of its famous tiered rice fields. (This annotation contains an image)
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Cite evidence from the text up to this point which supports the idea that Sabine is suffering from depression. 
Phan's comments are an example of foreshadowing. Watch this video for a definition of foreshadowing. Would you consider this a subtle or an obvious example? (This annotation contains a video)
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At the time, Sabine most likely thought that Parsifal didn't talk about his family because 
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Sabine's mother assumes that 
Dartmouth College is an Ivy League College located in Hanover, New Hampshire. (This annotation contains an image)
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In his book Doctor Glas, author Hjalmar Söderberg wrote, "We know so little about one another. We embrace a shadow and love a dream." How does this quote apply to Sabine's situation? 
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The best adjective to describe Sabine's attitude in the weeks following Parsifal's death is 
Uri Geller is a controversial "mystifier" whose trademark trick, in which he uses his "psychic thoughts" to bend a metal spoon, has been the subject of doubt over the years. The video below shows Geller demonstrating his trick on "The Today Show." What do we learn about Parsifal from the fact that he dislikes performers like Geller? (This annotation contains a video)
Edith Piaf was a French singer. Click below to hear her most famous song, "La Vie en rose." (This annotation has embedded rich content)
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In the life Sabine imagines for Guy Fetters, he is 
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While Sabine probably does bear a physical resemblance to the Virgin Mary, there are other connections as well. What parallels exist between the two women's lives? 
In Catholicism, the Virgin Mary is believed to be the mother of Jesus Christ. At a very young age, Mary was chosen by God to give birth to Jesus, despite being a virgin. She stood by his side his entire life, even standing at the base of his cross and watching as he was crucified.  
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This simile used to describe Sabine's engagement ring is meant to be 
Forest Lawn Memorial Park is one of the world's most famous cemeteries. It is the final resting place of over 250,000 people, including Walt Disney, Michael Jackson, Sammy Davis Jr., and notably for this story, Gracie Allen and George Burns. Watch the video below to help visualize the setting of the next scene. (This annotation contains a video)
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Using specific references to the text, describe Sabine and Phan's complicated relationship. 
Legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday was often photographed with a signature gardenia behind her ear. (This annotation contains an image)
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By making this allusion to Lazarus from the Bible, the author is conveying the idea that 
Mrs. Fetters initially thinks Phan and Parsifal met in the Vietnam War, a conflict which lasted from 1955 to 1975 and involved nearly 3 million American soldiers. 
Phan's Spanish-style house may look similar to this one. (This annotation contains an image)
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Explain this statement. What did both parties want? Why are they disappointed? 
Watch this video for a definition of internal conflict. What internal conflict is Sabine wrestling with after dropping off Parsifal's family? (This annotation contains a video)
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Sabine probably "liked [this] thought" because she 
Senator Robert "Bobby" Kennedy, the younger brother of JFK, was shot after a political rally in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968. He was rushed to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan, where he died from his injuries. (This annotation contains an image)
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Through her use of detail and stream-of-consciousness narration, the author evokes a __________ mood in this flashback scene. 
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After Sabine tells Dot that Parsifal said she was dead, Dot most likely feels 
Earlier, you watched a video defining what a simile is. There are several examples of similes on this page. Can you locate and explain one? 
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Based on this statement, which adjective can be used to describe Dot Fetters in her youth? 
Although this particular location is fictional, a Boys Reformatory Facility is another term for a juvenile delinquent center (often known as "juvie"). Traditionally, boys in a reformatory would be sent there while awaiting court hearings or other long-term placements. (This annotation contains an image)
Parsifal takes his name from the title of an opera by Wagner. Parsifal was an Arthurian knight of the Round Table; the opera tells the story of his quest for the Holy Grail. (This annotation contains an image)
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In Sabine's dreams, Phan acts as a 
Can you find the example of foreshadowing on this page? What predictions do you have for what direction the book might go in? 
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In this paragraph, Los Angeles is personified as a girl that the rest of the country 
This paragraph uses a significant amount of personification. Watch this video for a definition of personification. (This annotation contains a video)
Sabine's favorite rug is a traditional Turkish prayer rug, which might look something like this. (This annotation contains a link)
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Whose voice is presented in this paragraph? 
The Magic Castle is a private Los Angeles nightclub, known as a popular venue for magicians and magic performances. (This annotation contains an image)
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These three metaphors imply that Sabine sees herself as 
Audrey Hepburn was an iconic actress, known for her beauty, style, grace, and sophistication. (This annotation contains an image)
The Blackstones, a father and son, were two of the most famous magicians of the 20th century. Below is a video of Harry Blackstone, Jr. performing one of his most famous tricks. (This annotation contains a video)
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How can this statement be considered a theme of the larger book? 
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According to this detail, how does being on stage without Parsifal make Sabine feel? 
A "hoop trick" is a basic trick in which two rings (hoops) are linked and separated from one another, without any visible break or spot in the ring for this to occur. 
There's a touch of irony to this statement. What else in this scene is left as it was that morning?  
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Which of the following is not a reason Parsifal wanted to marry Sabine, according to statements made in the passage? 
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Why is Sabine's sleep dreamless now? What has changed? 
The Eiffel Tower is perhaps the most famous landmark in Paris. (This annotation contains an image)
This metaphor compares the photograph to a lottery ticket. What does that imply about the photograph's value? 
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Over the course of the visit, Sabine's opinions of Dot and Bertie Fetters has  
LAX is the standard abbreviation for Los Angeles International Airport. 
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Dot wants Sabine to come with them because she 
Walter Cronkite was the legendary anchorman of the CBS evening news for 19 years. Below is a short clip from one of Cronkite's newscasts in the days following the assassination of JFK, featuring his iconic sign-off, "That's the way it is." (This annotation contains a video)
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Explain Sabine's eagerness to know more about Parsifal's childhood. 
The author uses personification in these lines. Why does she state that the house got bigger? 
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Parsifal is portrayed as very __________ in this flashback. 
The MRI machine Parsifal is afraid to go inside looks like this. While getting an MRI scan, patients are pushed into the machine for several minutes. (This annotation contains an image)
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Why does the author place this description of a magical performance here? 
Part One Quiz 

Nebraska

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Why don't Sabine's parents want her to go to Nebraska? 
Since being recognized as an independent nation by the United Nations in 1950, Israel has been involved in a series of violent conflicts with Palestine, Syria, and Egypt, among others. 
Sabine's commuter plane is much smaller than a standard airplane, making for a much bumpier flight. (This annotation contains an image)
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What has changed about Dot and Bertie which makes them "look better here?" 
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Nebraska is characterized as a(n) __________ place in this paragraph. 
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How do the details in this paragraph change the mood that was displayed in the paragraphs before it? How would you describe the mood now? 
This line is another example of foreshadowing. What is your prediction about what is being hinted at? 
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Which of the following is the best paraphrase of this cliche? 
Paris' Louvre museum houses some of the most beautiful artwork in the world, including the Mona Lisa. 
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Sabine dreams about Phan when she is 
This line is an allusion to the Bible. God created Eve, the first woman, from the rib of Adam, the first man. What is the author's purpose for using this allusion? 
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When Sabine looks at Kitty, she sees 
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Why does Sabine know the name Ted Petrie? 
Ted Williams was one of the greatest baseball players of all time, winning two MVP awards and two Triple Crowns among many other awards. (This annotation contains an image)
The third person limited point of view gives us an understanding of Sabine's thoughts, even though she doesn't narrate this story herself. How do her thoughts here differ from her speech? 
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The author presents two death scenes in back to back paragraphs. How do the two compare? 
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This detail clues the reader into Sabine's mood; she is primarily feeling __________ at this moment. 
Thinking about the patterns you've noticed in the book so far, why is it reasonable that Sabine would expect to see Phan in her dreams tonight? 
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In this extended metaphor, the anchor represents 
Mount Rushmore bears the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. (This annotation contains an image)
Watch this video for a definition of irony. How are these lines an example of irony? (This annotation contains a video)
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In what ways are these line true about Sabine, not just as a magician's assistant, but in her ordinary life as well? 
Up to this point, the third person limited narrator centered on Sabine's thoughts. Where on this page does the author switch and give us a sense of Dot's thoughts? 
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This list of things Sabine has learned about Parsifal begins __________ and ends __________. 
Watch this video explaining character development. How has Sabine developed from when we first met her? (This annotation contains a video)
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This statement helps to explain why 
This metaphor compares Guy to a bloodhound. What quality do the two share? 
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Sabine keeps insisting she would not make a good magician. Cite evidence from the story up to this point which suggests that she is wrong. 
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From the way they describe it, it is clear that watching the Carson performance is __________ to the Fetters family. 
Liberace was a prominent and energetic vocal and piano entertainer, known by the moniker "Mr. Showmanship." (This annotation contains an image)
Although Parsifal and Sabine are fictional, the scene described here would have actually happened with the real magicians that came on Carson's show. Below is a clip of what a typical magic act on "The Tonight Show" would be like. (This annotation contains a video)
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According to Sabine, the experience of seeing Parsifal in his element and the experience of watching the moon landing have what in common? 
Sabine and Parsifal are performing a slightly more complex version of this trick. (This annotation contains a video)
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What does the reader gain from the author's decision to structure this scene with both flashbacks and present moments? 
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What essential magician's quality does Sabine show here? 
Authors can change the mood of their writing through their use of detail and description. Keep an eye out for a mood shift in these next few paragraphs. 
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In just a few paragraphs, Howard is established as a __________ character. 
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What trait does How demonstrate in this exchange? 
What is the meaning of this metaphor? 
Iwo Jima is an island in Japan where some of the fiercest battles of World War II took place between the US and Japan. Below is one of the most famous images from the entire war, which took place at Iwo Jima. Why does Sabine link the kitchen and Iwo Jima in her mind? (This annotation contains an image)
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What do you imagine the outcome would have been if Parsifal had made a different choice? 
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When the narrator says, "Sabine was finding a part of the husband she had lost," which theme is most clearly illustrated?  
What patterns are you noticing about Sabine's flashbacks? Does there seem to be a "triggering event" or not? 
Click below to hear the Dartmouth fight song. Do you think Parsifal went to college? Why would he know this fight song otherwise? (This annotation contains a video)
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Up to this point in the novel, all of the following events have taken place in a hospital except 
Wal-mart Supercenters are humongous retail stores, selling everything from food and clothing to home goods and appliances. (This annotation contains an image)
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Compared to life in Los Angeles, life in Nebraska is more 
Almond Roca is a chocolate covered toffee. (This annotation contains an image)
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Think of the four major female character's husbands: Parsifal, Howard, Haas, and Albert. Which men are similar? Which are different? How? 
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All of the following characters think Sabine would make a good magician except 
A zig zag box would be used in a trick which involves cutting the assistant into three pieces. A demonstration and explanation of the trick is found in this video. (This annotation contains a video)
The author provides this insight to help us contrast Sabine and Parsifal's childhoods. How do the two compare? 
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The author includes this memory to show 
Death by suffocation in a refrigerator was more common in the 1950s, leading to the passage of the Refrigerator Safety Act in 1956. Watch this advertisement from the 1960s on refrigerator safety for the answers to Kitty's questions. (This annotation contains a video)
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Which theme is illustrated in these descriptions of Phan and Parsifal and Sabine's parents? 
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Based on this paragraph, we can infer that Parsifal  
The Pont Alexandre III is a bridge which spans the Seine River in Paris, France. (This annotation contains an image)
Phan speaks to Sabine in French, saying, "Look, Sabine. Who is it?" 
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What are these lines an example of? 
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What is the main reason Sabine now feels closer to Kitty? 
Although they reached their summit of popularity in the 1970s, a percolator is a tool used to brew coffee. (This annotation contains an image)
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What does this simile suggest about Howard Plate? 
Notice that the author always uses his full name when referring to Howard Plate. How does this affect Howard's characterization? 
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View the painting in the annotation above. How are this scene and the painting related? 
The painting below is called "The Card Trick," by John George Brown. Use this painting to answer the next question. (This annotation contains an image)
Sabine just performed a trick called "Out of this World." Watch the video below to see the trick performed. (This annotation contains a video)
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Which word best describes how Howard Plate feels at the end of the trick? 
Sabine knows that being a magician is more than just performing a trick. What essential qualities have been identified up to this point in the book?  
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What is "happening to Sabine," as she says in this paragraph? 
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In your opinion, does any couple in this text have a completely healthy relationship? Why or why not? 
Watch this video for a definition of motif. What potential symbolic significance might be associated with the constant presence of hospitals in this text? (This annotation contains a video)
What does this detail suggest about how Howard Plate feels about Sabine? 
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In what sense is this moment a turning point for Bertie? 
"Sesame Street" is an educational children's television show which premiered in November 1969. 
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Although Dot means for this statement to apply to Kitty and Howard, what else can it also be considered an example of? 
"The $64,000 Question" was a 1950s game show in which contestants would answer a variety of trivia questions, doubling their money with each question until reaching the final, $64,000 question. Sabine's allusion indicates that her mother's question is a tough one. (This annotation contains an image)
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What details let us know what historical background may have surrounded Sabine's parents first meeting? 
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By "outside," Sabine means 
Static characters remain the same throughout the course of the text, while dynamic characters grow and show development. Which characters are static up to this point? Which are dynamic? 
Elizabeth Taylor was a glamorous, iconic actress often associated with the golden age of Hollywood. (This annotation contains an image)
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"Nature abhors a vacuum" is a saying from Aristotle, meaning that the universe always fills empty space. How does it apply to the story in these lines? 
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Howard Plate hurting Bertie is __________ why Kitty is leaving Howard Plate. 
Sabine metaphorically compares Howard and Kitty's relationship to something which is cyclical: the seasons. What does this suggest about Kitty's latest decision to leave Howard? 
What does Kitty mean by "like this"? 
Phish is an alternative rock band with a very large and dedicated following. (This annotation contains an image)
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What is the irony of this statement? 
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Sabine's father tries to present his daughter with a __________ view of the world. 
Monticello was Thomas Jefferson's home, located in Virginia. Jefferson designed the home himself. (This annotation contains an image)
A talisman is an object that is oftentimes thought to have magic powers or to bring good luck. In what sense is the video a talisman for the Fetters family? 
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Compare this second viewing of the tape to the first one, depicted earlier in the novel. What is different? Why? 
Sabine is a dynamic character. In what ways has she grown as a character during her time in Nebraska? 
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Kitty's question is 
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The primary purpose of this paragraph is to portray 
Why are Sabine and Kitty drawn to one another? 
What subtle foreshadowing is found in this paragraph? 
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This paragraph contains all of the following literary devices but one. Which one is not found in the paragraph? 
Cup and ball tricks come in a variety of forms. In this video, magicians Penn and Teller perform their variation. (This annotation contains a video)
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
Dot is __________ that Kitty will stay separated from Howard. 
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The two Fetters Sabine is referring to here, in their respective order, are 
A skilled designer can create elaborate miniatures like this one. (This annotation contains an image)
Look at this painting by Norman Rockwell. How do the painting and Howard's version of his "fine" family compare? (This annotation contains an image)
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Cite evidence from the text which suggests that we are nearing the climax of the novel. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
According to the text, How will make a better magician than Guy because he possesses more of which of the following qualities? 
MTV is a music television station. In the time this book is set, MTV primarily showed music videos. (This annotation contains an image)
Mozart was a musical prodigy, displaying an enormous talent for music and composition from a very young age. 
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The details in this paragraph create a(n) __________ mood. 
Can you cite some details which reinforce that this is a dream, and not reality? 
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In this dream, Sabine's mood is __________. 
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"She followed his lead like they were dancing" is an example of 
The Sands was a hotel and casino on the Strip in Las Vegas.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Which detail most clearly suggests that Sabine has achieved closure with Parsifal? 
How do the details about the setting and the atmosphere add to the intensity of this scene? 
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How is this scene similar to the one between Parsifal and his father? How is it different? 
In what way does Sabine offering to bring Kitty to California bring the novel full circle? 
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Earlier in the text, Sabine stated that dreams were "just a television left on in another room." What is her attitude now? 
Can you predict what trick Sabine will perform? 
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Why does Sabine perform this trick? 
In what way is Laney a young version of Sabine? 
Part Two Quiz