Synopses & Reviews
For a 16-year-old boy out in the world alone for the first time, every day's an education in the hard work and boredom of migrant labor; every day teaches him something more about friendship, or hunger, or profanity, or lust--always lust. He learns how a poker game, or hitching a ride, can turn deadly.
He discovers the secret sadness and generosity to be found on a lonely farm in the middle of nowhere. Then he joins up with a carnival and becomes a grunt, running a ride and shilling for the geek show. He's living the hard carny life and beginning to see the world through carny eyes. He's tough. Cynical. By the end of the summer he's pretty sure he knows it all. Until he meets Ruby.
Raw, funny, sensual, and mature, this new novel by bestselling author Gary Paulsen is about a 16-year-old boy out in the world alone for the first time during his summer's employment as a migrant laborer and carnival worker.
The author recalls his experiences as a migrant laborer and carnival worker after he ran away from home at age sixteen.
About the Author
Gary Paulsen is the author of more than 100 books and the winner of numerous awards.
Reading Group Guide
The Beet Fields
is a raw, funny, sensual, and mature new novel by award-winning and bestselling author Gary Paulsen.
He gives us the story, "as real," he says, "as I can write it," of one boy's summer out in the world on his own for the first time. The questions, discussion topics, and author information that follow are intended to guide readers and spark discussion as they begin to analyze the larger emotional, sociological, and literary elements of this provocative new novel.
1. Not one character is identified with a name throughout the first chapter of The Beet Fields. The Mexicans are referred to by their looks or age (e.g., "old Mexican") and the farmer and his wife as simply "the farmer" and "the farmer's wife." However, in Chapter 2, Paulsen introduces farmer Bill Flaherty and starts to distinguish his characters by name. What changes?
2. The boy develops an interesting relationship with the Mexicans in Chapter 1. What do the Mexicans teach the boy? How is the boy's experience on Bill Flaherty's farm different from his experience with the Mexicans? Which experience do you feel taught him more, and which do you think he ultimately preferred?
3. In the prologue to the novel, we learn that The Beet Fields is set in 1955. If you didn't know this, how would you be able to tell that this story takes place in the 1950s? Could this novel be set in the present? Why or why not?
4. Setting and imagery are key ingredients in The Beet Fields. In many ways, Paulsen uses a "you are there" approach to writing. Select parts of the novel that you think are especially powerful in terms of setting and imagery, or that you find particularly effective.
5. Dealing with authority figures is a key issue for the boy in the course of the novel. The boy resists authority, sometimes outwardly and oftentimes silently. Yet he is ultimately looking for structure in his life. Read through the novel and discuss instances in which this is the case. Why do you think the boy has problems with authority to begin with? And does he finally resolve them at the end of the book?
6. In Chapter 5, Paulsen writes, "And the boy was a wanted man; he thought that way, not as a wanted boy but as a wanted man." Discuss the many different ways in which "the boy" grows into a man by the end of the novel.
7. he boy's quality of life changes for a brief time once he meets Hazel. How is the boy's relationship with Hazel stronger than his relationship with his own mother? The boy says of Hazel, "she was maybe crazy, and he didn't care because it was not the evil kind of crazy like his parents but the soft kind." (p. 99) What does he mean by this comment?
8. On page 104, Paulsen writes, "The boy turned and found himself looking at a figure who summed up everything he wanted to be in a man." After you read the subsequent description of Taylor, are you surprised that the boy feels this way? What does Taylor represent to the boy? How is living the carny life satisfying for the boy, yet unsatisfying for him at the same time?
9. The "Wild Man from Borneo" and the boy have many similarities. They are both ruled by basic needs and desires. Yet, they are vastly different. Discuss how this is so.
10. The introduction of Ruby marks a huge turning point for the boy. Talk about his experience with Ruby. Was it everything he anticipated it to be?
11. Discuss the last line in The Beet Fields. How is this comment by the recruiter ironic?