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Discussion Guide

Discussion Guide CHARISMA BY JEANNE RYAN Author of Nerve One shot at the new you. H

CHARISMA

BY

JEANNE RYAN

Author of Nerve

One shot at the new you.

H OW FAR WOULD YOU GO TO change yourself from the inside out? Sixteen-year-old Aislyn is the

kind of shy that makes her choke up in class and avoid parties. And it means talking to her crush, Jack, is a total

non-starter. So when she’s offered a dose of Charisma, an underground gene therapy guaranteed to make her shine, she jumps at the chance for an internal makeover.

The effects are instant. She’s charming, vivacious, and popular. But strangely, so are some other kids she knows. The media goes into a frenzy when the therapy turns

contagious, and then deadly, and the doctor who created the drug disappears. Aislyn must choose between reversing the treatment and losing her new personality, or risking her life for a shot at charisma.

Part medical thriller, part social justice commentary, Jeanne Ryan’s thought-provoking novel will have teen readers on the edge of their seats.

“Suspense balances with discussions of bioethics for a provocative and entertaining Kirkus Reviews

A solid thriller.”

this fast-paced and edgy novel has enough thrills, romance, and family drama to please a wide audience. This Robin Cook–like thriller zips along at breakneck speed to a satisfying conclusion.” Booklist

“Not a far step from Ned Vizzini’s Be More

The science is explained well enough for non-scientist

readers to understand, and gives teens much to think about regarding medical ethics and experimentation.”

School Library Journal

ethics and experimentation.” — School Library Journal jeanneryan.com Common Core State Standards addressed by the

jeanneryan.com

Common Core State Standards addressed by the discussion questions in this guide are noted throughout. For more information on the Common Core, visit corestandards.org.

Discussion Questions

Charisma begins with Aislyn Hollings suffering a panic attack during her science presentation. One of the judges, Dr. Lin, poses a question to Aislyn that is central to the theme of Charisma: “If you could fix genetic mutations, where would you draw the line?” Aislyn struggles to give Dr. Lin an answer. If the same question were posed to Aislyn at the end of Charisma, how might she respond?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.3; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.3

Aislyn has endured several treatments to help alleviate her anxiety, none of which has worked. Describe the approach that Aislyn’s best friend, Evie, uses to treat Aislyn’s shyness. How does Aislyn feel about this approach?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1

The author of Charisma, Jeanne Ryan, concludes many chapters with an article, news report, e-mail, or blog entry that focuses on gene therapy. How do these snippets of text add to the telling of Aislyn’s story? What function do these bits of information serve in presenting the conflict around gene therapy?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.5; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.5

Shyness is just one of the hurdles Aislyn faces in life. What other factors present challenges for Aislyn and might explain why she is willing to try the experimental gene therapy?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1

Aislyn and her family are closely linked to Nova Genetics through Aislyn’s interest in science and her brother’s cystic fibrosis. How does Dr. Sternfield capitalize on these connections to Nova Genetics?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1

Aislyn declares that she wants to change herself and quickly submits to Dr. Sternfield’s push to be injected with CZ88, though Aislyn recognizes a nagging feeling that she should have asked for more details about the effects of the drug. What begins to happen to those who are injected with CZ88?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1

The novel Flowers for Algernon is mentioned a few times in Charisma—first as required summer reading for Aislyn and again as a novel in Dr. Sternfield’s cabin in the woods. What is the significance of Flowers of Algernon and how it might relate to the plot of Charisma?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.9

Soon after Aislyn’s visit to Nova Genetics, Evie notices changes in Aislyn. What are some of the changes in Aislyn’s behavior, voice, and demeanor that Evie notes?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1

How does Aislyn discover that she might not be the only subject injected with CZ88? What effect does the drug have on others who also attended the family event at Nova Genetics?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1

CHARISMA Discussion Guide

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Aislyn feels that her “new abilities could make a meaningful difference.” What does she mean by this? How significant is Aislyn’s altruism in her decision to be injected with CZ88?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.2; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.2

Xavier, Dr. Sternfield’s intern, plays a pivotal role in revealing what has happened to the teenagers who are fainting and behaving differently. What does Xavier share about Dr. Sternfield’s work?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1

Who is Dr. Culdicott and what story events trigger the introduction of her character?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1

Jack is a kind presence at the science contest as Aislyn fumbles her presentation in front of the judges. After being injected with CZ88, Aislyn becomes more extroverted and able to respond to Jack in a more romantic way. Do you think that the relationship between Jack and Aislyn would have developed without Charisma? Can a real relationship exist if it is based on an altered state of being?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.3; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.3

The author draws parallels between how the teenagers injected with CZ88 are treated and how those infected with HIV are treated (and were treated in the past). What are the similarities between the two groups? What message is the author trying to convey by likening CZ88 to HIV?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.2; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.2

Most of the teenagers who were injected with CZ88 eventually fall into a coma. Shane and Aislyn, in contrast, remain conscious and become CZ88 focal points for politicians, school boards, scientists, and haters. Each group has a unique motivation for their focus on the “healthy” teens. In what ways do these various groups use Shane and Aislyn to promote their own agendas?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1

How does Dr. Sternfield respond to the mounting bad news surrounding the teens injected with Charisma?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1

Once Aislyn is released from isolation at the hospital, she concocts a plan to find out more information about Dr. Sternfield from Dr. Sternfield’s mother. Aislyn hopes that Dr. Sternfield’s mother will have insight about a possible cure for those injected with Charisma. How does Aislyn execute the plan and what are the results?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1

What role do Dr. Dulcet and VidaLexor play in Aislyn’s pursuit of a cure for Dr. Sternfield’s brand of

gene therapy? CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1

Aislyn agrees to give a speech about gene therapy and her experience with Charisma at Nova Genetics. The Aislyn at the beginning of the story couldn’t conceive of standing in front of a group of important people to give a speech. What might have motivated Aislyn to speak about gene therapy besides the personality-altering effects of Charisma?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.3; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.3

CHARISMA Discussion Guide

This page may be photocopied for free distribution.

Shane plays a pivotal role in Aislyn’s journey from accepting the gene therapy and battling the physical side effects, to pursuing answers to the mystery of Charisma. Compare the characters of Shane and Jack and how each affect Aislyn as she journeys from shy girl to extrovert to brave detective.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.3; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.3

When Aislyn and Shane head to the beach after Aislyn’s talk at Nova Genetics, things go horribly awry. Who are the “blood jackers” and what is their interest in Aislyn and Shane?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1

Aislyn braves another visit to Mrs. Sternfield’s house, successfully breaking into it, but is interrupted before she can gain any information to help those suffering from the effects of Charisma. Further sleuthing on her part does lead to a startling discovery though. What does Aislyn discover and what happens as a result of her discovery?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1

Dr. Sternfield says to Aislyn, “Wasn’t it worth the risk to enjoy even a few days of life to its fullest rather than enduring a long existence of mediocrity?” Discuss the pros and cons of this point of view about tinkering with DNA.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.2; ; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.2

At the end of the story, Aislyn is handed a drug at a party that she is convinced was created by Dr. Sternfield. The drug promises to make you feel “oh-so-friendly.” Despite all of the pain Aislyn has been through as a result of Charisma, she finds herself briefly attracted to the drug and to the idea of “being more than myself for just a night.” What does this ending scene say about human nature and the impetus for desiring change?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.2; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.2

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.2; CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.2 Author JEANNE RYAN grew up in a huge family—eleven

Author JEANNE RYAN grew up in a huge family—eleven brothers and sisters!—that traveled the world. Before writing fiction, she tried her hand at many things, including war game simulation and youth development research. She has a Ph.D. in Social Welfare and lives with her family in Seattle, Washington. Jeanne’s previous novel, Nerve, a YA thriller about an online game of Truth or Dare (without the Truth) is currently being made into a feature film starring Emma Roberts and Dave Franco.

Also by JEANNE RYAN

NERVE

Soon to be a feature film!

978-0-8037-3832-4

RYAN NERVE Soon to be a feature film! 978-0-8037-3832-4 The discussion questions in this guide were

The discussion questions in this guide were created by Leigh Courtney, Ph.D. She teaches in the Global Education program at a public school in San Diego, California. She holds both masters’ and doctoral degrees in education, with an emphasis on curriculum and instruction.

CHARISMA Discussion Guide

This page may be photocopied for free distribution.