Absolutely Normal Chaos

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Mary Lou Finney is less than excited about her assignment to keep a journal over the summer. Boring! Then cousin Carl Ray comes to stay with her family, and what starts out as the dull dog days of summer quickly turns into the wildest roller coaster ride of all time.

How was Mary Lou suppose to know what would happen with Carl Ray and the ring? Or with her boy-crazy best friend Beth Ann? Or with (sigh) the permanently pink Alex Cheevey? Suddenly a boring school project becomes a record of the most exciting, incredible, unbelievable summer of Mary Lou's life.

But what if her teacher actually does read her journal?

Curriculet Details
70 Questions
68 Annotations
3 Quizzes

Designed for students in 7th grade, this free digital curriculum contains annotations explaining character development, evidence of theme, and the text's multiple allusions to Homer's The Odyssey. It also contains interactive videos that support comprehension, such as videos about text structure and irony. Over the course of the book, students will answer Common Core questions and quizzes related to the subjects of conflict, character change, as well as the book's major themes of fate and coming of age. This free online unit will increase student engagement while building reading comprehension.

The curriculet is being added to your library


An odyssey is a big, long, great journey. People often go on odysseys in myths and legends.  (This annotation contains an image)
Foreshadowing is when a character in the book gives you some kind of hint about what is going to happen next. Here, Mary Lou gives us a clue that something is going to happen with characters named Carl Ray and Alex. Watch this video and keep on the lookout for those characters!  (This annotation contains a video)
Why do you think that Mary Lou does not want her teacher to read her summer journal assignment? Give evidence for your prediction. 

Tuesday, June 12

How do you infer Mary Lou felt when Alex Cheevey told her to keep quiet and stop asking the teacher questions? 

Wednesday, June 13

Notice how Mary Lou keeps telling us what she is thinking and feeling. We are able to get this personal information because of the "Point of View" of this story. Watch this video, and try to figure out what the point of view of this book is.  (This annotation contains a video)
What is the point of view in this book? 
How is reading this book different because it is in the form of a journal instead of a normal chapter book?  

Thursday, June 14

Remember Carl Ray, from the foreshadowing in the Preface? We should pay attention to this conversation about Carl Ray, as it is probably important information. 
What is the conflict between Mary Lou's mother and father in this scene? 

Friday, June 15

The video below is a reading of Robert Frost's poem "Out, Out". (This annotation contains a video)
How do you think Mary Lou feels right now? 

Saturday, June 16

What is Mary Lou worried Carl Ray will do? 

Sunday, June 17

Because of the point of view, we are clearly introduced to the conflicts in Mary Lou's life. Read on to see what problems she is having with Carl Ray and her sister! 
What adjectives would you use to describe Mary Lou's family?  
This sounds like a fun and mysterious place. The fact that the children have been storing things inside this tree nearby shows they have a strong connection to their neighborhood.  (This annotation contains an image)
Why do you think Mary Lou and her friend are so interested in figuring out what kisses taste like? Why does it matter to them? 

Monday, June 18

"Don't rightly know," has been repeated by Carl Ray multiple times in the last few journal entries. Whenever a phrase is repeated many times by a character, it is likely that it is a motif. Watch this video about Motif, and consider what this repeated sentence is trying to show us about Carl Ray's character. (This annotation contains a video)
What adjective best describes Carl Ray's behavior since arriving in Mary Lou's home? 
In these journal entires, pay a lot of attention to the characterization of Carl Ray. We see Carl Ray eating lots of food. We also see Carl Ray being very quiet and having a hard time answering questions.  
What character traits does Carl Ray show, based on his behavior on this page? 
Why is Maggie doing so many nice things for her father? 

Wednesday, June 20

The last two journal entries were very short, but remember that that doesn't mean they were unimportant! The structure of these short journal entries, and their repetition of the fact that Carl Ray still does not have a job, show the boredom that Mary Lou is living with. She seems to be getting impatient with Carl Ray and her friend, Beth Ann. 

Thursday, June 21

Mary Lou uses a lot of dialogue in this scene. What effect does using dialogue have on the journal entry, instead of just writing it like she normally does? 
Notice that she's writing with stage directions, like in a movie script! Stage directions are the lines in italics that tell the actors what to do (as shown in the Shakespeare script below). Mary Lou's use of this technique is funny, and makes the scene more clear and interesting.  (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following words does not describe life in Mary Lou's house in this journal entry? 

Friday, June 22

Carl Ray has gone from frowning to smiling! This is the first time he has smiled in this book. Pay attention... when a character's behavior changes suddenly, it is usually interesting!  

Saturday, June 23

Beth Ann is acting strange. Make a prediction: why is she behaving this way towards Mary Lou? 
Notice how Beth Ann's behavior has changed since her date with Derek. We will have to read on to see how it will affect the relationship between the two best friends.  
Based on the dialogue, we can infer that Kenny feels  

Sunday, June 24

Turns out Derek isn't as awesome as Beth Ann said! This description Mary Lou gives of Derek is a great example of verbal irony, where someone says the opposite of what they mean.  (This annotation contains a video)

Monday, June 25

The phrase "fed up" in this sentence most nearly means 

Tuesday, June 26

Mary Lou is talking about "The Pasture."  (This annotation contains a video)

Wednesday, June 27

Wow! This line really grabs our attention.  
Summarize the reactions Mary Lou has to Mr. Furtz's sudden death.  

Thursday, June 28

A viewing is a time before a funeral takes place, when friends come to comfort the family of the person who died. Often, the body is in the room with the people who are coming to give respect to the family.  (This annotation contains an image)
Remember how we said an "odyssey" is a journey? It is also a very famous Greek story. The Odyssey is the story of a hero, Odysseus, trying to get back home after fighting in a very long war. It takes him ten years to make it home; The Odyssey is the story of his journey.  (This annotation contains an image)
You can probably tell there's going to be a lot of allusion in this book! Allusion is when a written work makes references to another book or something in history. Here, Mary Lou is talking in detail about The Odyssey. Watch this video about allusion.  (This annotation contains a video)
Wow! Carl Ray speaks. What does his statement tell you about the character? 

Friday, June 29

What does she expect the funeral home to be like? Why do you think it was surprising to her that it was more like a house? 
Again, Mary Lou is connecting the ideas from The Odyssey to her life. Zeus is the chief god in Greek mythology. (This annotation contains an image)

Saturday, June 30

What change do we see in Carl Ray's character in this paragraph? 
Quiz #1: June Journal Entries 
Athene (also spelled Athena) is the goddess of wisdom. She is a major character in Greek mythology, and one of the goddesses who began the Trojan War.  (This annotation contains an image)

Sunday, July 1

In Greek mythology, muses exist to inspire creativity, particularly in art, writing, and music. Mary Lou is looking for her creativity! O, where is it? (This annotation contains an image)
Now that you are hearing more and more about The Odyssey, it might be helpful to know more about the story. This is a video that summarizes part of The Odyssey. Keep the basic story in mind as you read this book!  (This annotation contains a video)

Monday, July 2

Based on the shortness of this entry and what we know about the role of muses in the Odyssey, what do you think Mary Lou means when she says this? 

Tuesday, July 3

The short questions and answers show how awkward and hesitant Mary Lou and Alex feel around each other. 
What troubles Mary Lou about how Mr. Furtz died?  
Notice how Mary Lou keeps making strong connections between the text and her own life. This is a good reading strategy! 

Wednesday, July 4

Why do you think fireworks might seem not as special to Mary Lou this year? What theme of the story might this connect to? 

Thursday, July 5

This is an allusion to the part of The Odyssey that Mary Lou spoke about earlier.  
Why do you think Maggie chooses to tell the story in such a slow, drawn-out way? 

Friday, July 6

As Mary Lou starts to make a connection, we are seeing a theme develop in this text about fate, which are forces beyond our control having an effect on our life. 
Why do you think Beth Ann is taking so long to answer Mary Lou's question? 
There is a big conflict between the two friends. Mary Lou believes that Beth Ann's boyfriend is a jerk, but Beth Ann does not believe that. This is a good example of an external conflict. Watch the video below to learn more about external conflict. (This annotation contains a video)
Exciting detail! An anonymous person wants to give Carl Ray lots of money!  (This annotation contains an image)
How does what has happened on this page connect to the theme of fate (when things happen to you outside of your control)? 
This is an allusion to when Odysseus washes up on Calypso's island after a storm. In The Odyssey, Odysseus ends up stuck on this island for seven years. This is another example of how fate can control people's lives.  (This annotation contains an image)

Sunday, July 8

Describe Mary Lou's anxieties around Alex. What is she worried about? 
They are holding hands! Mary Lou feels very nervous and self-conscious. You can infer this because she is so worried about holding his hand right.  (This annotation contains an image)
Where is Mount Olympus? What is its connection to the Odyssey? 

Tuesday, July 10

In The Odyssey, the gods live on Mount Olympus. This allusion to that detail shows us that Mary Lou is feeling completely "divine" after her interaction with Alex. 

Thursday, July 12

How is Mary Lou feeling about Beth Ann in this paragraph? 
That is strange behavior. I wonder why he is showing such motivation to water Mr. Furtz's lawn. Whenever a character does something that seems unlike them, pay attention. Carl Ray has mostly seemed very lazy, so it seems weird that he would take on extra chores for no reason.  (This annotation contains an image)

Friday, July 13

Mary Lou's perspective on Beth Ann has changed very recently. What changed her perspective? 

Saturday, July 14

Mary Lou wanted to have a date with Alex. This will cause conflict between Carl Ray and Mary Lou, unless she can get him to leave.  (This annotation contains an image)
Why do you think Carl Ray came on Mary Lou's movie date? 

Sunday, July 15

Here is another reference to the theme of fate. This is referring to the Wheel of Fortune, also known as Rota Fortunae. This idea was a big idea in Shakespeare's time, just as fate has been a big idea in literature from the time of The Odyssey!  (This annotation contains a video)
A cyclops is a monster with one eye.  (This annotation contains an image)

Monday, July 16

Based on the context of this sentence, the word toiling means 
Another connection to the idea of fate. In this part, Mary Lou is wishing the gods/fate would have considered the negative consequences of letting Mr. Furtz die.  
Watch the video below to hear a recording of "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening."  (This annotation contains a video)
Mary Lou is mimicking the language of the Robert Frost poem. What do you think Mary Lou means when she says she has miles to go before she sleeps? 

Thursday, July 19

Beth Ann might be interested in Carl Ray. This fact could lead to both internal conflict for Beth Ann (deciding whether she is or isn't interested in dating him) and external conflict (fighting with Mary Lou, who does not want her to date Carl Ray). 

Friday, July 20

From the context of this sentence, "mushy" most nearly means 

Saturday, July 21

Remember, these short chapters are important even though they don't have lots of words! The short sentences require us to read "between the lines" and try to think about the big stuff that is happening that Mary Lou chooses not to write about. They build interest and suspense. 

Sunday, July 22

From this description in the stage directions, how do you infer Mary Lou feels about Carl Ray? 
Notice how much longer this section of dialogue is than what has come before. We can infer that Beth Ann is talking a lot in this part because she likes Carl Ray and wants to get his attention. 
What effect do the parentheses have in this section of the text? 
Summarize what happens in this tale. 
Seems like Mary Lou is forming a relationship to The Odyssey here. She is starting to see that The Odyssey is a metaphor, not a tale of things that actually happened. The video below explains metaphor.  (This annotation contains a video)
What is Mary Lou worrying about in this section of the text? 

Monday, July 23

What do you predict that Mary Lou and Carl Ray might do when they visit Carl Ray's home? 

Tuesday, July 24

A thesaurus is a place where you go to find synonyms for a word. Synonym is a word that means the same thing as another word. So, for example, a synonym for "smart" is "intelligent." Her mother wants her to find different ways to say the words she uses too often: "God," "stupid," and "stuff."  (This annotation contains an image)
Why do you think the author chooses to substitute these words for "stuff" and "stupid"?  
I wonder where this ring came from. Who do we know who could have the initials "C.F."?  (This annotation contains an image)
Would you want to know what bad and good things are going to happen to you in the future? Why or why not? 
This is yet another connection to a big theme we see developing in this book: fate. Mary Lou is struggling with the idea that things happen to you that you may not be able to control.  

Wednesday, July 25

The story of Antony and Cleopatra is a famous love story set in Rome and Egypt at the time of the beginning of the Roman Empire. Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, is known to be one of the most beautiful, seductive women of all time. However, it is important to know there is some irony in Beth Ann's nickname. The story of Antony and Cleopatra does not end well!  (This annotation contains an image)
What can you learn about Alex's family from the description of his home? 
What interesting, unusual characters! It is strange that they are wearing a mix of formal, fancy clothes and casual clothing. We should keep our eye on Mr. and Mrs. Cheevey to see what happens next.  
Who does Mary Lou compare the sirens to? 

Thursday, July 26

Remember the special ring? I wonder why Carl Ray gave it to Mrs. Furtz...  (This annotation contains an image)

Friday, July 27

Why does Mary Lou say "Oh, Deity!" 

Saturday, July 28

Notice how these two characters treat each other here. They look at each other and don't say anything, and everybody else is quiet. Even if Mary Lou didn't tell us, we could infer that Carl Ray isn't getting along with his dad. 
Based on the context of the sentence, what do you think Mary Lou means by "absolutely desperate?" 
When people faint in books and movies, it is usually because they were surprised or have strong, hidden emotions about something. I wonder why Aunt Radene is reacting so strongly to the fact that Carl Ray gave the ring away... this might be foreshadowing!  (This annotation contains an image)
Why do you predict that Carl Ray doesn't want to tell his family about the money he received from the anonymous person? 

Sunday, July 29

Why does Aunt Radene say not to tell the others about Carl Ray's money? 

Tuesday, July 31

Based on the context of the page, which of the following classes do you think Arvie Joe would consider "school crud?" 
What does cockamamie mean? 
They are scared, and running away! 
A "convict" is a prisoner.  
What do you think happened? 
Quiz #2: July 

Wednesday, August 1

Mary Lou is having dreams that are connected to The Odyssey. Like Odysseus, she feels like she is a long way from home and can't get back.  
How ironic... these are all the same complaints that Mary Lou had about Carl Ray! How do you think this experience will change Mary Lou's perspective? 
Mary Lou really does not want to be seen as the lazy guest! 

Thursday, August 2

Why do you think Mary Lou says "The ship didn't crash in the storm?" 
Telemachus = Son of Odysseus  (This annotation contains an image)
Why does the author choose to draw out telling us this information about Carl Ray? 

Friday, August 3

Carl Ray left home because he was upset to learn that his father at home was NOT his actual father! 
Make a prediction: who do you think Carl Ray wants to talk to before revealing his father's identity? 
This gold and black ring is also becoming a motif in the story.  (This annotation contains an image)
None of this adds up! Mary Lou is so frustrated and confused... 

Saturday, August 4

What is ironic about this? 

Sunday, August 5

Describe what Mary Lou is beginning to understand about Carl Ray's character. 

Monday, August 6

Mr. Furtz is his father?!!  
How has fate impacted Carl Ray's life so far? 
We've learned so much in these pages! Mr. Furtz is Carl Ray's biological father, and he gave him the money! 
Why do you think Alex is nervous? 
What do you think Mary Lou thinks makes somebody a real parent, based on the highlighted text? 

Thursday, August 9

Why do you think that Mary Lou's journal entries have gotten so short? 

Friday, August 10

Tacky means "in poor taste." Beth Ann calls the girl Derek was with "tacky" because she is jealous and may still want to date him. 
A&P was a famous grocery store in the middle of the 20th century in America. They are kind of like a soda fountain, and were found in small towns in the United States. They were also featured in a famous John Updike short story, A&P.  (This annotation contains an image)

Saturday, August 11

What is the meaning of the word "Sacking" in this sentence? 

Monday, August 13

Looks like Dennis had the same experience with Carl Ray's family as Mary Lou. 
Why does Mr. Furtz say she wants Carl Ray around? 

Tuesday, August 14

How do you think Mary Lou actually feels about the group GGP? 

Thursday, August 16

Here is a little more situational irony. Mary Lou thinks it is lovely when Alex calls them "Athene and Poseidon," yet thinks it is gross when Carl Ray refers to his relationship with Beth Ann as "Antony and Cleopatra." The same irony is present here as there was with Antony and Cleopatra: the story of Athene and Poseidon is full of conflict, not happiness!  (This annotation contains an image)

Sunday, August 19

Why do you think Carl Ray decided not to move in with the Furtzes? 

Monday, August 20

Do you think that Mary Lou and Alex really broke up? Why or why not? 

Thursday, August 23

In this journal entry, it is hard to tell where Mary Lou and Alex stand. He sends her a rose, but things still seem off. Let's watch their behavior closely to see what happens next.  (This annotation contains an image)

Friday, August 24

When Mary Lou asks "Muse? Where have you gone?", what do you think she means? 

Sunday, August 26

Oh no, Carl Ray! Mary Lou is still making her connection to the idea of fate, by showing her fear that something "can happen just like that." 

Wednesday, August 29

Mary Lou can't write about it. Imagine you are Mary Lou. Write (in her voice, from her point of view) how she is feeling right now. 

Thursday, August 30

Mary Lou is coming to accept Carl Ray for who he is.  

Friday, August 31

What does Mary Lou realize about love? 

Sunday, September 2

Another Odyssey reference. Carl Ray seems to be connected to Odysseus, in Mary Lou's mind... 

Tuesday, September 4

What significance do you think this journal has to Mary Lou? Why do you think she ended up writing so much? 

Wednesday, September 5

Quiz #3: August, End of Book