Under Her Skin Reading Group Guide

  1. After reading "Becoming" by Anita Darcel Taylor discuss the author's childhood friendship with a girl named Jackie. Was it a positive relationship? Why did it end? Does the author have any regrets? Later, when she witnessed a feminist rally, her comment to the spectator when asked if she, too, would burn her bra was, "Do you have any idea how much my mother pays for these things?" How is this comment on privilege? How did it open a door to a new friendship?


  2. In the essay "In Which I Wade" the author declares: "There was only one story I ever heard: universal poverty, unlettered ignorance, a solemn solidarity. A black middle class, a history of rhetoric or letters? In Buffalo? Anywhere? Never heard of it." (p.35) Do you believe this was a common experience for the time or does this attitude still persists anywhere? How did this influence her treatment of Reezy and Vesta? What has she come to understand about complicity as a result of her relationship with these women? What did she learn from her mother? What did she learn from Reezy and Vesta?


  3. In the essay, "A Child's Christmas in Revere," the author gives a vivid portrait of a memory. How can one moment like this represent an entire childhood and the belief system of others in which she was raised? Did her father do anything right in her interaction with the stranded family? How did he offend them? Do his good intentions count? How much?


  4. In "The Last Safe Place" how does the adult world interfere with the balance and equality that the students have managed to carve out? What does the author mean when she says: "We understand each other./ We don't trust each other./ We never have." Give examples to justify your response.


  5. Did any facts surprise you in the essay "Except?" What were they? Why was the author expected to act better than everyone else? Do you think this survival technique works? Why or why not? What does the author mean by the last line?


  6. How did the boycott in fifth grade change the author's world view in the essay "The Teach-In?" Discuss the author's difficult relationship with her father. Why was it so tumultuous? How did she think her mother was able to love all parts of him?


  7. In "Beat the Buddha Day" the author learns an early strategy for handling violence: "No Words = No Reality. I'd learned to swallow trauma." How did the parents also seem to subscribe to this formula? How did their silence make these events more difficult for its victims?


  8. Discuss Karen Elias's upbringing in "Mirror." What did her parents try to teach her? Did they succeed? What is the significance of the title? Why does the author's mother discuss Brown vs. the Board of Education only with African Americans? What justifications does she use for her opinions?


  9. What factors in the essay "Homecoming" contributed to the author never feeling at home in either South Dakota or Santa Domingo? How does food "make bridges between communities?" How does her Abuela help her to finally accept who she is?


  10. What lessons did the author's parents teach her in the essay "Running Girl?" How were they able to instill such confidence in their children? Why, do you think, the girls didn't tell their parents about the harassment they faced in the neighborhood?


  11. Do you agree with the author's assessment in "Neon Scars" that "Poetry is both ultimate fact and ultimate fiction; nothing is more brutally honest and, at the same time, more thickly coded." (p. 138) Do you think the author is capable of rebuilding her life out of such a severe landscape? How?


  12. How did the author's friendships in "Betsy, Tacy, Sejal, Tib" make the girls feel ordinary? What does the author mean by the last paragraph? How was the author "more Indian once?" Is this source of grief for her? Why?


  13. What family history is revealed through the grandmother's seemingly innocuous talk as she does household chores in the essay "As American as Apple Pie?" How will the author breathe life into her Grandmother's story? What would you do with this information?


  14. Discuss the following quote from the essay "Breathing Lessons: "I feel like a displaced person from a war no one will admit to: between mother and daughter, rich and poor, immigrant and native, black and white." (p.188) Do you think many people have this experience in America? Why? Discuss why the author was chosen as valedictorian.


  15. Trace the dreams of the grandmothers and mothers to their daughters in the essay "Don't You Want to Sound Puerto Rican?" Why didn't the author show interest in boys? What things had she endured to attend a privileged school?


  16. In "An Apology to Althea Connor" the author relates a timeline of a friendship she had as a young girl where she for the first time "puts race at the center of her thinking." In the end though, we learn that the sequence of events is remembered quite differently by the Althea herself. Whose memory do you believe? Is this fair? Do you think the author should have used Althea's real name? Why or why not?


  17. Compare the author's suburban and urban lives in "Bionic Child." Why do you think so many of the suburban parents seemed to believe that "Detroit was a howling post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by roving bands of armed black marauders hell-bent on defiling white children?" (p. 245) Where do these images come from? Why?


  18. In the essay "Black Men" how does the author explore her feelings about race within her own family stories? How many lies do you think are told between the pages of family bibles? Why?


  19. What does the author see when she looks in the mirror in the essay "Mangoes and Sugarcane?" How does it change how she feels about herself? Why did she want her face to disappear?


  20. Why do you think both the author and her sister wear severe haircuts as adults in the essay "Blonde?" Discuss this quote: "… a kind of guilt for not being happy with what I had, for what I should have been thankful for; it's a kind of loneliness that never made any sense, since I was surrounded by trees and grass and cats on the bed and by people who loved me." (p. 292) Why do you think she felt this way?

Reading group guide prepared by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer.