Because I Am Furniture

Because I Am Furniture

by Thalia Chaltas

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Overview

Anke’s father is abusive to her brother and sister. But not to her. Because, to him, she is like furniture— not even worthy of the worst kind of attention. Then Anke makes the school volleyball team. She loves feeling her muscles after workouts, an ache that reminds her she is real. Even more, Anke loves the confidence that she gets from the sport. And as she learns to call for the ball on the court, she finds a voice she never knew she had. For the first time, Anke is making herself seen and heard, working toward the day she will be able to speak up loud enough to rescue everyone at home— including herself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780142415108
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 02/23/2010
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 617,045
Product dimensions: 8.26(w) x 5.54(h) x 0.95(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

As a teenager Thalia Chaltas wanted to do everything, and she envied people who knew without question what their life goal was. Thalia did preliminary training to be a kinesiologist, a helicopter pilot, and a fire fighter, and has at times been a bus driver, a ropes course instructor, and a contralto in an a capella group. Along the way she has played lots of volleyball, written poetry, and collected children’s books. And eventually, that anvil fell from the sky and she realized writing was what all this previous intensive training was for.

She has kept every poem she has ever written – except one. Because she can’t find it.

Thalia lives in California with her daughter. Because I Am Furniture is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

I am always there.
But they don’t care if I am because I am furniture.

I don’t get hit I don’t get fondled I don’t get love because I am furniture.

Suits me fine.

When the garage door goes up he’s home.

We close up conversation and scuttle off like crabs each to our room—
Shut the door.
Shut the door.
Shut the door.

Mom alone in the kitchen where she should be

before the garage door goes down and we are locked in hell.

Dinner.

He knocked Darren onto the linoleum.

I don’t remember his arm swing,
just Darren and his chair—
eight tangled limbs on the floor.

No reason that I could see.

But my father picked up his reasons and his plate and went to eat in the living room.

Darren picked up his chair and himself and we are now eating in customary ice-age silence.

When I was much younger Yaicha and Darren would point at my nose and say,

“You don’t look like us your nose is different you don’t belong.”

Yaicha and Darren told me that I was the mailman’s child,

and I got so angry,
stalking away,
hot steam in my ribs.

Yaicha and Darren told me that I was the mailman’s child

and now I am thinking how wonderful it would be to have the mailman as my father.

My mom.

At times I still want to sigh,
curl into her,
nourish in her motherness,
especially when she wears that old suede jacket that smells of fall leaves, like the pliable leather armchair left outside on the back porch.

But she doesn’t welcome that.
Maybe I am not that young anymore.

And when he is there all her motherness has to be spent on him.

Oh, yay charity day visiting Angeline the Wimp.

I see her often enough at school.
Don’t want to visit her house.

Since her dad left her and her mousy mother for some bouncy secretary in Texas mom and I are here to touch base, be friendly.
Our moms met way back when we were in preschool.

Angeline irritates me—
she’s delusional,
terrified,
weak.

the ocean has “man-eating seaweed”

the garden has “corn-barfing worms”

the fancy sound system has “thought-tracking speakers.”

I didn’t choose to be friends with her.

Angeline doesn’t have a father around

and my mom says she really needs one.

Maybe.

But not like mine.

Scrubbing my volleyball knee pads while I’m in the shower,
hot water,
way too much soap,
but, man,
three days of preseason training on the sly collected a hell of a stink.

The foam won’t dry out overnight.

My knees will probably froth in soap bubbles if I dare set foot in tryouts tomorrow.

First day.
Ninth grade.
High school.

Honking in the parking lot,
upperclassmen back smacking,
squeals of recognition,
a grimly nodding principal.

I’m supposed to feel something more than just rattled by the sheer number of people in the halls, right?
Scared?

Except that I’ve been in and out of this building a bunch of times for years—
Yaicha’s musicals,
Darren’s debate team.

I learned my classrooms from the map,
and I just spent whole days going to volleyball training here,
so I kind of get it already.

I like school.

Not scared.

But excited in that jiggering-on-too-much-hot-sauce kind of way that it’s time to step out of my old framework,
raw and amorphous,
to become something I’ve never thought of before.

After school is a different story.
Volleyball tryouts.

I wasn’t going to do it.
Even though I crave it I wasn’t supposed to try out because my father said,
“Competition is dangerous for a young girl’s mind.”

But I already like the girls from preseason training.
And that tenth-grader Rona saw me growing roots outside the locker room dangling my new volleyball sneakers bought with my own money in secret.

Rona looked me in the eye.

“You are going to put on some shorts, right?”

and as she steered me through the splintered wood door she told me about some player last year who tried out with mittens on to protect her nylon nails.

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

In her family, Anke feels as significant as the living room sofa. Her father is physically and emotionally abusive to her sister and her brother, but he ignores Anke. Her mother is in denial about his cruelty, and goes meekly through the motions of being a “good” mother. Despite knowing her father’s treatment of her siblings is wrong, Anke is lonely and questions her own worth—if she’s not worthy of even bad attention, does she really deserve good attention?

Desperate to belong, Anke joins the volleyball team in spite of her father’s disapproval. She makes a new friend, becomes a star player, and ultimately finds her voice. She falls for Kyler, a soccer player, and sorts through her feelings for her neighbor Jed. As her confidence grows, she gains the courage to stand up to her father when he attacks a childhood friend. In breaking the family silence, Anke gives them all a chance at a new life.


ABOUT THALIA CHALTAS

As a teenager Thalia Chaltas wanted to do everything, and she envied people who knew without question what their life goal was. Thalia did preliminary training to be a kinesiologist, a helicopter pilot, and a fire fighter, and has at times been a bus driver, a ropes course instructor, and a contralto in an a capella group. Along the way she has played lots of volleyball, written poetry, and collected children’s books. And eventually, that anvil fell from the sky and she realized writing was what all this previous intensive training was for.

She has kept every poem she has ever written – except one. Because she can’t find it.

Thalia lives in California with her daughter. Because I Am Furniture is her first novel.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

PRE-READING DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • The title Because I Am Furniture is a metaphor—a comparison of two unlike things without the use of as or like. What does the comparison of “I” and “furniture” suggest to you about the narrator and the story?
  • We have all been in situations in which we felt invisible or unheard. Describe a situation in which you felt invisible and elaborate on your feelings. Were you angry? Hurt? Confused? Did you gain visibility? If so, how?
  • Can you think of a time when you felt caught between telling the truth and protecting someone you cared about? Explain.
  • Have you ever felt envious or jealous of a sibling or friend? Share how you worked through your emotions.
  • Describe a time in which you felt torn between two people whom you loved. How did you resolve the conflict?

  • POST-READING DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • Because I Am Furniture is a verse novel—a collection of poems that work together as a complete story. Identify several passages in which the visual layout of the lines contributes to the mood and/or emotion of the story. What effect does the layout of these lines create? What role does punctuation play?
  • Conflict is central to a story. Because I Am Furniture addresses three forms of conflict: man against man; man against self; and man against society. Discuss how each type of conflict applies to the story.
  • Describe Anke’s relationships with her brother, Darren, and her sister, Yaicha, in Part I of the story. In what way is she “furniture” to them? Why?
  • Anke makes the volleyball team and becomes an exceptional player. How does being a member of the team shape her identity?
  • Compare and contrast Anke’s perceptions of her mother with those of her father. How are they alike? How are they different? Does Anke seem to love one parent more than the other? Explain.
  • Anke is aware of her father’s abuse of her sister and brother and has conflicting feelings about her own relationship with him. At one point she says, “I think that it is supposed to be good that I get less from him but I feel worth less.” Why do you believe she feels this way? Is her response normal?
  • One might argue that Angeline is a character foil for Anke. How does Angeline’s perception of Anke’s father contrast with Anke’s feelings?
  • Anke’s mother remains silent about the abuse and yet, Anke calls her mother an “oasis.” What do you think contributes to Anke’s contradicting feelings about her mother? Is Anke’s mother a good mother? Support your response with passages from the novel.
  • In what way is school a haven for Anke? In what way does she feel threatened while there?
  • At one point in the story Anke says Rona is the only person to whom she could tell the truth. Compare and contrast Rona and Angeline. Why does Anke feel safe with Rona? Why does Anke distrust Angeline?
  • Compare and contrast Anke’s feelings for Jed and Kyler. Make a case for one boy being “furniture” in Anke’s life. In what way might Anke be like her father?
  • Anke’s parents do not support her efforts to play volleyball but she excels at the sport anyway. Discuss the scene in which Darren comes to watch Anke practice volleyball. What is Anke’s response? Why do you think Darren comes? Does this scene create a turning point in their relationship?
  • One morning after her father has beaten Darren, Anke notices the bruise on his torso. She describes her feelings: “ . . . and I felt my upholstery rip and bits of fluff escape to float away.” What does Anke mean? Find other references to furniture and discuss how they contribute to the overall meaning of the story. How are chairs in particular symbols or metaphors for Anke’s life? For that of her father? For their relationship? Find passages to support your response.
  • Victims of domestic violence become caught in the abuse cycle because they buy into the belief that the abuser abuses because he/she loves the victim. Does Anke fall into this cycle during any point in the novel? Why or why not? In the end, Anke breaks the cycle for her family. How might her role as an outsider give her courage? In your response, consider the passage, “Or maybe I am just outside enough, being the footstool observing from the corner that I have a view of reality.”
  • At the end of the novel, Darren, Yaicha, and Anke build a bonfire in the backyard and burn their father’s chair. Explain the significance of this scene.
  • The story takes place in the fall, and numerous references are made to autumn colors (i.e. reds, yellows, and browns). How does this color imagery contribute to the story? Many references are made to ice and fire and similar oppositions (i.e. cold and heat). What purpose do these images serve? How does the author’s use of sensory imagery contribute to the overall tone and mood of the book?
  • Symbolism abounds in references to wood, leaves and trees. Identify several passages containing these motifs and discuss their meanings. Pay particular attention to the old hemlock tree and what happens to it toward the end of the story.
  • Near the end of the book, Anke, Darren, and Yaicha sit together against the hemlock tree stump. How does this scene bring closure to the story? To this time in the family’s life?
  • How do you envision Anke’s relationship with her mother in five years? Her father? What about her relationships with Darren and Yaicha?

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