Classroom Strategies

The novel’s setting in 1970s Detroit is almost as spooky as its subject matter given the urban decay that city has experienced in the last three decades. Also, the decline of the city is clearly linked to the deaths of the Lisbon sisters in the text. I find it useful to discuss this connection as a way to get students to think very concretely about the “atmosphere” of the novel. Photographer James Griffioen has documented the results of this in haunting photographs on his blog, "Sweet Juniper," but, if you’re looking for something a little briefer, particularly traumatizing images of his work were featured in a photo essay at Vice Magazine Online called "School’s Out Forever."

The book often focuses on the grooming habits of the Lisbon girls, both their dedication to feminine hygiene and the voyeuristic narrators’ obsession with those habits and products.  It also might be useful to show your students some vintage ads for the products they discuss (perfume, makeup, tampons, etc.), just to emphasize how much has (and has not) changed about gender construction in advertising.

There’s an extended scene in the novel where a group of boys and a group of girls play ’60s and ’70s pop songs over the telephone as a way to communicate to one another at a critical moment in the plot.  I found that providing my students with the full lyrics to those songs really allowed them a great way to get into what the characters were trying to communicate to one another and why their communication failed.  I found it a really useful way for my students to begin a sophisticated, complicated analysis of the girls motivations for suicide. [Lindsey Row-Heyveld,]

Additional Resources

The novel was adapted into a 1999 Sofia Coppola film that is atmospherically if not textually accurate.