Kung Fu High School
About the book:
MLK High School has collapsed into Kung Fu High School–where Jen B. and her brother, Cue, belong to one of two gangs still standing against the puppet principal and the drug kingpin who pulls his strings. Cousin Jimmy–a world-champion martial arts master of mythic stature–arrives in town after swearing to his mother that he’ll never fight again. His rep precedes him and everyone’s itching to see him "kicked in"–Kung Fu’s brutal initiation ritual. But he won’t break his vow and defend himself, so Cue steps in when things go too far. Soon, a surprise counterstrike sends Kung Fu spinning toward one final, raging battle. Teachers flee, students break out full weaponry, and Jimmy must make a decision that will brand him a coward–or a hero.
About the author:
ABOUT THIS GUIDE
This discussion guide is intended for students, teachers, and other readers who wish to ignite a conversation about this graphically rendered, joltingly violent, and ultimately moving and memorable novel. The guide primarily consists of five different areas of focus or points of departure.
I. FOLLOWING AND UNDERSTANDING THE NARRATIVE
1. Paraphrase the "food chain" appearing in the opening pages of Kung Fu High School. Why are the gangs at Kung Fu High called "families"? Who do all the families at this school finally answer to, and why? Are there exceptions to this system-or, are there families that stand outside the dominant order of things? If so, who are they, and what are their chances of survival?
2. Discuss the artwork that appears throughout this book. How was your grasp of the novel enhanced by its illustrations? Which drawings were, in your view, most useful or beneficial in this way, and why?
3. When Jimmy Chang initially arrives at Kung Fu High, his reputation is almost godlike. Why is he looked upon as a person who, in Jen’s words, "isn’t real . . . [who's] a myth"? And-as the plot unfolds-is his mythic status ultimately underscored or undercut, proved or disproved? Explain.
4. One book reviewer described Kung Fu High School as a novel where "inconceivably graphic violence explodes with the feverish pace and clarity of a video game . . . A nightmarish, confrontational, and fascinating world." Another reviewer wrote: "You feel every blow, every break . . . Wonderful, tragic, and ultimately cathartic." How did you, as a reader, react to this book’s many, various, and ultragraphic descriptions of fighting, violence, bloodshed, and injury? Were there any scenes or descriptions that you found excessive, or even offensive? If so, identify and discuss them. (And do you think the term "cathartic" applies to this book? Explain.)
5. Look back to the three opening quotations at the beginning of the novel-by Cheng Chao-an, Robert Cormier, and William Shakespeare, respectively. How does each passage reflect, comment on, or otherwise relate to the major themes and ideas of Kung Fu High School?
1. What is a dojo? Also, define these terms: karate, judo, and kung fu. What other martial arts words, names, or styles did you learn about from reading this book?
2. How did Jimmy-in his celebrated victory at the World Championships in London-actually defeat The Bulgarian? What did everyone think had happened during that fight, and what really happened? And why was Jimmy himself frightened by how he’d won?
3. Explain the so-called "Sand Witch" move. Summarize the Sand Witch story that Jen and Cue originally created on a childhood camping trip and that Jen concludes in the final paragraph of her tale. (Also: Note how, when completing the story of the Sand Witch, Jen makes a preferential distinction between "flying" and "craving [the] sky." Explain the difference between these two ideas, and explain the metaphor that Jen is sketching out here.)
4. More than once during the telling of her story, Jen assures us that the hand-to-hand combat occurring in her narrative is actually quite different from what we see in the movies. Yet her story is keenly focused on the sorts of things that kung fu action films always depict: weapons (like kinfés), types of armor, elaborate fighting techniques and styles, and so forth. Is this contradictory, in your view? Explain why you do or do not think so.
5. The following passage appears throughout the book: "Roll over it. Dress it up. Put a flag in it." What does this mean-literally and metaphorically? Why does it appear so often in these pages?
1. After the sudden and shocking murder of her brother, Cue, Jen begins to feel a great deal of "ice" within her. What does she mean by this? When, and why, do these "ice" feelings return to Jen? What do they trigger within her? What do these feelings foster or lead to?
2. In the chapter called "The Test," Jen describes how a big fighter named Karl ("the Blades’ Pop") was mentioned "in the newspaper last year in some plea to stop all youth violence." Specifically the newspaper showed pictures of a kid who’d been beaten up by Karl, "wicked pictures of the kid’s head looking like a tennis ball with curving scars across the top . . . That was all Karl’s handiwork. He had the newspaper clippings in his locker." While Jen here seems to take a cynical-if not critical-view of her local newspaper’s sensational treatment of violence, her entire story-that is, this novel-could be likewise deemed a sensational glorification of violence. Address this assertion-either pro or con, either for or against-with support from the text itself.
3. After he gets severely beaten on his first day at Kung Fu, Jimmy is asked by Jen how it felt. He tells her, of course: "It hurt." But then he adds: "I needed to feel it, though." What does he mean?
4. Who is Remo? What does he do? Where does he live? Why is he so important to this story? What did you make of the fact that Jen gets fixed up, at the end of the novel, not by Remo but by "Dr. Vanez and a team of other doctors"?
5. Describe the physical condition of our narrator at the end of the novel. Why do you think the epilogue of the book is called "Consequences"? Why does Jen say that she’d one day like to ask Jimmy "if he had ever learned anything about fighting damaging not only your body but your soul, too"? What is Jen referring to here? Cite passages from the book in support of your answers.
IV. HIGH SCHOOL, COMING OF AGE, AND FAMILY LIFE
1. Early in the novel, in the "Survival List" chapter, Jen says that her school is "real egalitarian." What does she mean by this? Do you agree with her? Why or why not?
2. Describe the relationship that exists between Jen and her father. What do Jen and Cue do for their Dad? How do they help him-and in what ways are they unable to help him? (See especially the "Home" chapter.) Also, how-and why-does Jen’s relationship with her father change over the course of the novel? What about Jen’s relationship with her late mother? Why does Jen thus admit: "I used to wonder if I killed her . . . made her unstable somehow, made her head break . . . I used to feel guilty"?
3. Were you surprised by the "one night stand" that Jimmy and Jen shared? Explain why or why not.