Stuck in Neutral

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Shawn McDaniel's life is not what it may seem to anyone looking at him. He is glued to his wheelchair, unable to voluntarily move a muscle—he can't even move his eyes. For all Shawn's father knows, his son may be suffering. Shawn may want a release. And as long as he is unable to communicate his true feelings to his father, Shawn's life is in danger.

To the world, Shawn's senses seem dead. Within these pages, however, we meet a side of him that no one else has seen—a spirit that is rich beyond imagining, breathing life.

This edition features an Extras section, giving readers even more insight into Shawn's life, and includes a Q&A with Terry Trueman, as well as a sneak peek at the sequel to Stuck in Neutral, Life Happens Next.

Curriculet Details
25 Questions
40 Annotations
3 Quizzes

Designed for students in 7th grade, this free digital curriculum contains annotations explaining cultural references and asking readers to make personal connections with the text. It also contains interactive videos that support comprehension, such as videos about figurative language and different media adaptations of the story. Over the course of the book, students will answer Common Core questions and quizzes related to the skills of making inferences, identifying central ideas, and analyzing point of view. This free online unit will increase student engagement while building reading comprehension.

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Title Page

Before you begin reading, watching the video below will help you understand the content of the novel and the deep impact it has on readers.  (This annotation has embedded rich content)

Chapter 1

Notice the details that indicate the setting of the story. It takes place in Seattle, Washington, when grunge music was popular in the 1990's. Grunge music is generally characterized by heavily distorted electric guitars, contrasting song dynamics, "growling" vocals and apathetic or angst-filled lyrics. Many grunge musicians were noted for their unkempt appearances, leading to the label "grunge." Watch the below video to hear a popular grunge song by Nirvana.  (This annotation contains a video)
This story is told in ________ point of view. 
The point of view of a story has a big impact on what readers learn about the characters and events. Watch the video below to learn about point of view, and then answer the question that follows. (This annotation contains a video)

Chapter 2

Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently. Is there a word on this page you need to look up? 
Notice that the narrator knows a lot about George Washington, but he can't communicate it to the psychologist. Also note that the narrator has a wise-cracking personality. 
What does the narrator mean by comparing his inability to communicate with calling the Grand Canyon a pothole? 
Note the origin of the book title. What does it mean? 
This is a pretty shocking piece of news to end a chapter. The author is using a technique called foreshadowing to keep the reader in suspense. Watch the video below to learn more. (This annotation contains a video)

Chapter 3

Now that you've had a chance to hear or imagine Shawn's voice over several chapters, listen to an audio recording of Chapter One, then answer the following question. (This annotation contains a link)
How does the audiobook narrator's voice match your vision of what Shawn would sound like?  
What do Cindy's actions with the dog tell you about her personality? 
The highlighted phrase is an example of a type of figurative language called personification. Watch the video below to learn more. (This annotation contains a video)

Chapter 4

Here we get the first glimpse into the perspective of Shawn's father and what he thinks Shawn's life must be like. 
The highlighted phrase is an example of what type of figurative language? 
This story is based on the author's real-life experience with his son, who was also born with cerebral palsy. Trueman wrote a poem about his experience called "Sheehan," which is his son's name, that is quoted throughout the novel. Check out the interview at the link below to read more about Trueman's feelings, which may help you better understand the character of Sydney McDaniel. (This annotation contains a link)

Chapter 5

This idea that Sydney may want to kill Shawn is an important conflict in this plot. As you read, pay attention to how Shawn reacts to his father's behavior. 
What does Shawn dislike about his experience at the poetry reading? 
The author is using a type of figurative language known as a metaphor to compare Shawn's seizures with doorways. Watch the video below to learn more about metaphors and their close cousins, similes. (This annotation contains a video)

Chapter 6

In your own words, explain what happens when Shawn's seizures begin. 
The highlighted phrase is an example of  
Part One 
Here we come back to the same unsettling idea Shawn shared a few chapters ago. 

Chapter 7

Notice how the chapters are now beginning with an excerpt of Shawn's father's poem. 
Note how Shawn's humor helps to lighten the mood of a story on a very serious topic. 
Why does Shawn use the word "retard" to describe himself and his classmates? 
Why would William be angry? 
Do you agree with Shawn's father that educating children like Shawn is a waste of taxpayer money? 
Notice how Shawn reuses his father's phrase to make his own point. 

Chapter 8

How does Shawn's mother react differently from his father to Shawn's situation? 
Why do you think this moment is when Shawn feels most loved by his dad? 

Chapter 9

What do you think this section of the poem means? To what is Sydney comparing his feelings? 
In this context, the word "invisible" means 
Maxfield Parrish was an American painter and illustrator active in the first half of the 20th century. He is known for his dazzlingly luminous colors and idealized neo-classical imagery. One of his paintings is included below. (This annotation contains an image)
The highlighted phrase is an example of 
Note how much detail Shawn is able to see in his dream. 
The word "buzz" is a type of figurative language called an onomatopoeia. Watch the video below to learn more, and look for more of these special words as you read. (This annotation contains a video)
Can you imagine what it would be like to have all these deep, personal thoughts and not be able to communicate them in any way to the people around you? 

Chapter 10

What do we learn about Shawn's mother from his description of her feeding him? 
Notice how even though Shawn cannot move in any way, he still has new experiences that change his outlook on life. 
We know that Paul doesn't get along with his father, but what about Cindy? 
List three reasons Shawn's mother thinks his dad wants to do a project on Earl Detraux. 

Chapter 11

Why do you think the author chose the genre of a poem to share Sydney's feelings about coping with his son's condition? 
Note these little instances within the family that show how much they love Shawn. He's not invisible to them. 
Summarize the main points of Sydney's argument about why Earl Detraux's actions showed love for his son. 
Is this description of Earl what you expected? 
What reason does Earl give for ending Colin's life? 
Why do you think Shawn's family is silent? 
Part Two 

Chapter 12

What is the "it" to which Paul and Cindy are referring? 
The link below leads to a story by National Public Radio that created much controversy by publishing pictures of a family caring for a son with a condition similar to Shawn. Some readers thought that publishing the photo of James holding his 16-year-old son Justin in a diaper was disrespectful. After reading the story, what do you think?  (This annotation contains a link)
Follow the link below to read the interview with the photographer for the NPR story to get his point of view and to hear what the family themselves had to say. Has your opinion on whether or not the photos were appropriate changed? Why or why not? (This annotation contains a link)
Notice that the story has shifted to a time in the past, a flashback, which will tell the reader why Shawn is so certain that Paul will protect him from their father. 
Identify three details in the highlighted section that the author uses to show the ferocity of Paul's intervention. 
Notice how before Cindy called his name, Paul was in a sort of trance that she had to snap him out of. Do you think he was aware of the damage he was doing to the two strangers? 

Chapter 13

What type of figurative language does the author use to describe the feeling of negativity? 
What does the author mean by the phrase "I am memory"? Do you agree that "memory is all we have"? 

Chapter 14

The highlighted phrase evokes a feeling of 
Shawn's dream is an example of what central idea? 

Chapter 15

Notice the passage of time slowing down. Chapter 13 was Friday afternoon, Chapter 14 was Friday night, and now it's Saturday morning. We can assume Shawn's mother and sister will be gone at least overnight, based on the details of their packing. 
In the highlighted section, what description does the author include to show that Vonda is excited to meet Sydney? 
What do you think will happen when Shawn is finally alone with his father? 

Chapter 16

Remember that Earl Detraux used a pillow to smother his son in bed. 
Watch the video below to learn more about irony in literature, then answer the question that follows.  (This annotation contains a video)
Sydney says two things in the passage that could be considered ironic--that Shawn could be a genius and that he recently dreamt that Shawn was talking to him. What type of irony would these examples be? 
Part Three 
Note that the author purposely leaves the ending of the story ambiguous. That can be frustrating to a reader, but what purpose could it serve?  
There are actually several more books about Shawn and his family: a prequel called "Sheehan" about Terry Trueman's real-life son, a sequel to this story line called "Life Happens Next," and then a novel from Paul's point of view called "Cruise Control."