discussion questions

1. In chapter 1, we meet Alan, Zack, and Madison as they sit at the Unstable Table at lunch. What were your first impressions of these boys? How did they change as the story went on? Did they change?
2. In chapter 2, Alan thinks about what his life would be like had he grown up in “a different city, a different state, even a different country.” He asks himself, “How different would it be, thinking I might have a shot at being somebody else?” Can you think of something in your own life that, if it had happened differently, would have greatly altered who you became?
3. At the end of chapter 5, Alan cracks a joke with Madison, and Madison says “I didn’t know you joked.” What do you think changed for Alan that he felt able to make a joke?
4. Alan says, “Almost is better than not at all.” This seems to echo Zack’s idea about never giving up if the odds are “better than zero.” Do you agree with this statement?
5. Alan sometimes looks at the world with through an artist’s lens, with terms like “pattern” and “emphasis” and “upward movement.” If you could look at the world through the vocabulary of something you’re interested in or that you like to do, what would that sound like?
6. When Alan meets June at the company dinner, she at first appears friendly and warm, but eventually “her voice is paved over with a hardness, a coldness” that Alan realizes was always there. What do you think triggered this change on June’s part and this realization from Alan?
7. Zack tells Alan, “I’d rather have a hard time being myself than an easy time being somebody else.” Can you think of some examples throughout the book where Zack’s advice could apply? What about examples from your own life?
8. According to Miss Richter, introverts are people who get “drained by being around people and energized by being by themselves,” and extroverts are the opposite. Do you think Zack is an introvert or an extrovert? What about Madison? Yourself?
9. Zack decides to own the label of “loser,” and it seems as if Alan and (reluctantly) Madison join him. Can you think of another example of when a person or group of people took a negative label and turned it into something positive?
10. Alan looks down a lot when he’s speaking with other people, though there are moments when he looks up instead. Why do you think this is significant?
11. At a few points in the story, Nathan looks between Alan and their father repeatedly: “Me, Dad. Me, Dad.” What do you think is going through his mind while he does this?
12. ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD plays with language a lot, from Alan’s colorful comparisons to the significance of being called “Al.” Is there any language in the story that stuck with you? If so, why?



discussion questions

1. Alan opens the story with thoughts on personal change, how it might be painful at times, but people never truly stop changing. Can you think of some examples in your own life when change was painful but necessary?
2. Odin arrives in Miss Richter’s classroom with an attitude problem, particularly against Alan. What was your first impression of Odin? Why do you think the author chose to make a new character who hadn’t appeared in the first book to deposit into Alan’s world?
3. On page 22, Alan says he can’t sit back and do nothing when Ron bullies him, and Marcellus says, “I guess you can’t.” How does Marcellus’s observation play out in Alan and Ron’s relationship throughout the story? How does Alan’s desire to stand up for himself conflict with his desire to stay safe and unharmed?
4. Alan has a moment when he realizes he refers to himself as gay for the first time. Why do you think this was a significant shift for him?
5. After his first fight with Ron, Alan’s dad insists on Alan taking fighting lessons instead of going to the art academy; he wants Alan to defend himself “like a real man.” Why do you think Alan’s dad takes this approach? Do you agree with the idea that fighting is one of the things that determines whether someone is a “real man?” Do you think Alan’s dad would say this to Alan if Alan were a girl?
6. On page 81, Talia tries to recruit Alan to be “the face of bullying” in school. Alan turns her down and says he doesn’t want to be bothered now that everyone is staring at him all day. How does this opinion of his evolve throughout the story?
7. Personal identity plays a big part in this story. On page 86, Alan refers to being “caught between the identity I’ve chosen and the identity that’s chosen me.” People have multiple identities. Some we choose, and some we don’t. Can you think of a time when multiple identities of your own clashed? How did you resolve the conflict? How does Alan resolve his own conflict?
8. Alan experiences artist’s block that lasts until page 99. What do you think triggers his renewed creativity? Why do you think he starts drawing whom he draws? Why do you think he doesn’t realize who it is yet?
9. Alan is proud of his cretpoj, but he refuses to show it to anyone. On page 123, he tells Odin, “It’s like, if I show it to other people, they’ll be able to look in my . . . in my soul.” Can you think of a piece of art that gives you a glimpse into the “soul” of an artist?
10. Madison’s relationship with Meredith is complicated. On page 131, Alan accuses Madison of only liking Meredith because she’s the first girl to like him. Do you think Madison is wrong to show interest in Meredith because of this? Why do you think Madison cares so much?
11. Alan says to Odin that art can change the world, but Odin says it’s the artist doing the changing, and the art is simply a tool for their vision. How do you think their beliefs reflect these characters?
12. Zack has a hard time adjusting to change in this book, specifically his shifting friendships with Alan and Madison and the appearance of his mom’s new boyfriend. Why do you think Zack has a hard time adapting to these changes?