The Search for Macadamia | Discussion Questions

(For the same list but with the author's answers, click here.)

Plot and Theme

  1. The book references the color of the sky 28 times. “Utah’s bright blue sky.” “Crimson red sky slipped through crisp leaves.” Spencer says, “…the sky turned the color of banana pudding...” What do you think is the significance of the color of the sky?
  2. A recurring theme is the mirror image of things. Why is that theme appropriate for Spencer?
  3. What are some examples of Spencer being imperfectly parented?
  4. Every story has a point of no return. Cross it, and there’s no going back. What was Spencer’s?
  5. Evie says of her rescuing Spencer from the cassowaries at Jilliby, “It’s not bravery. It’s how I’m made. Someone like you (the nomad) makes decisions about bravery and loyalty. You choose to live by a code. Not me—I must follow my instincts and protect my boy.” What do you think is the difference between a personal code of ethics and instincts?
  6. When the crew lands in Australia, Spencer notices, with curiosity, cars and electricity. What’s he puzzling over?
  7. How many times does Spencer’s gullibility get him into trouble? In your opinion, where does good faith end and gullibility begin?
  8. Farmer Bristol lies to Spencer to protect him. He also lies about Spencer to protect himself. How do you feel about that? Is Bristol’s dishonesty ethical in either case?
  9. Spencer and the nomad don’t start out as friends. At what point do you think they became friends?
  10. Do you agree with Spencer that it’s hard to make friends? Or do you agree with Evie?
  11. The nomad says there are three kinds of magic. Do you remember them? What do you think about her concepts of magic?
  12. On the way home from Macadamia, Spencer’s trying to figure out which parts of his quest were real, and which were created by his imagination, that is, by his mental health issue. Which parts do you think were real?
  13. In the final chapter,  Spencer takes Dr. Barnes’s advice one last time and very firmly says, “No.” He’s saying no to two things. What are they? Do you think he’s being disobedient in this scene?
  14. Do you think Spencer will slip into an imaginary world again?
  15. Will Evie ever speak to Spencer in English again?
  16. Is there anything in this world that can rip your heart out even as it spills over with pride the way witnessing the moment your kids leaves childhood behind?


Spencer’s Mental Health

  1. What is Spencer’s mental health challenge?
  2. How does Spencer’s dad deal with Spencer’s mental health challenge? Why might a parent react this way?
  3. How does Spencer’s mom deal with Spencer’s mental health challenge? Why a parent might do this?
  4. What did Spencer’s parents get right about his mental health challenge?
  5. Did you notice Evie (the dog) says all the things, and expresses all the emotions, that Spencer thinks and feels but isn’t proud of? Why would a world in which we said every thought and feeling be a hard world to live in?
  6. What do you think about Dr. Barnes’s ban on the word “crazy”?
  7. Would you say Spencer is a happy kid at either the beginning or end of the story? 


What the Experts Want the Rest of Us to Know about Adolescent Mental Health

  1. The “pursuit of happiness” is bad for you. Since ancient times we’ve understood that constant pleasure is numbing. Without the dark, one cannot appreciate the light. And what if we seek happiness full time and cannot find it? The seeking highlights its absence. Now that’s dreary.
  1. Happiness comes from many sources (achievement, giving of yourself, spending time with friends and family, etc.) but setting out to be happy can make us sad. Spencer pursues a goal (Macadamia), not happiness. While he’s at it, he finds meaning and friendship, he finds himself awed by the world, and he finished wiser.
  1. Spencer’s mental health challenge isn’t depression, but while we’re on the topic, depression is chemistry. But we can still work to prevent it. Science has firmly established that close family relationships reduce the occurrence of depression among adolescents. Close family in adolescence also has preventative effects for depression in adults.
  2. Therapy works! Medications are effective too for ailments like depression and anxiety, but they frequently work best in combination with therapy. For some people, therapy without the drugs is better.
  3. Like all healthcare, in mental health, prevention is important. Mental health prevention is sometimes referred to as “wellness.” Just like we are encouraged to watch what we eat and be certain we get enough exercise, the experts recommend a wellness plan for our mental health. Wellness, or wellbeing, includes strong social connections, a sense of accomplishment, being tuned-in to surroundings, and understanding which parts of your day are most meaningful.  
  4. Social media is as bad as they say.
  5. Sleep for teens is vitally important.


How to Talk to Kids about Modern Day Slavery

  1. How pervasive is slavery today?
  1. Organizations who track slavery tell us that over 40 million people are currently enslaved worldwide. Over half of these are in forced labor. Around 15 million women in forced marriages are included in these statistics, as are an estimated 10 million children. Slavery exists all over the globe. The upper estimate of slaves living in the US today is 403,000.
  1. How can this be? Wasn’t slavery abolished?
  1. Slavery was made illegal throughout the US in 1865 with the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment. Although it looks very different today, slavery persists.
  2. When freedoms are withheld—that is, when someone is trapped in her or his situation because they’ll be hurt or killed if they try to leave, that’s slavery. Sometimes the method of enslavement is milder than the threat of violence. Sometimes it’s coercion or deception, like a withholding an immigrant’s passport, or convincing them they’ll go to jail if they try to leave.
  1. Why can’t we just end it? What’s so complicated?
  1. A few difficult factors make this a very complicated problem:

As it has always been, slavery is primarily about profit. If you’re in the US, 99% of the world’s slaves live in another country, but the economic benefits are exported to our shores. Chances are good slave labor produced some of the food in our pantries, some of the clothes in our closets, and some of the gear we enjoy every day. It is a lot of work to avoid the fruits of slave labor.

The criminals who exploit the 1% within the US are very good at avoiding legal consequences. It’s difficult for the rest of us to spot a slave in the US because victims typically want to avoid the police.

Furthermore, attempting to flee is an enormous act of bravery for a slave. In the US system of justice, their exploiter is innocent until proven guilty and while the wheels of justice turn, the victim will probably face violent revenge.

Then there are the fundamental economics. If you’re enslaved, you’re penniless. You are dependent on your exploiter for your every need including food, clothing, and shelter. Your family may also depend on the exploiter. Fleeing the exploiter means deepening your personal poverty.

Most victims are enslaved when they are children. They know no other life; no other ways to put food on the table. They are often lacking the most basic fundamentals of education, and no one has ever taught them to dream of brighter futures.

  1. Additional resources:
    How to talk to kids about sex trafficking
    The US Department of Human Services’ Blue Campaign
    End Slavery Now