Stuck in Neutral is the heartbreaking tale of a young boy, Shawn, who has cerebral palsy and who is profoundly developmentally disabled. However, inside his broken body, Shawn believes himself to be a genius due to his ability to remember everything he has ever seen or heard. Shawn is unable to prove this power to anyone around him as he is unable to communicate, and is unable to even focus his eyes where he wants them to go. Shawn also cannot protect himself when his father decides the best thing he can do for him is kill him. Stuck in Neutral is a journey into a world where no one can truly go but the actual participants, both in Shawn's role and the role of his father.
To the world, Shawn's senses seem dead. Within these pages, however, we meet a side of him that no one else has seen: a spirit that is rich beyond imagining, breathing life.
Ø Characterize Shawn. Does he seem real? Why?
Ø Discuss cerebral palsy. What causes this condition? Do all children with this affliction become like Shawn? Do you know anyone who has this condition? How would you feel if your brother or sister had this condition? Did reading this book give you any insight into living with a disability? Why? Has this book changed your perceptions of people who are disabled?
Ø How is Shawn just like a “normal” teenager? What did he have in common with you? How is Shawn misunderstood in the same and different ways than other people?
Ø What is your definition of quality of life? Do you think that Shawn has a good life? What do you think his life is like? Would you be happy living without the ability to communicate? Why or why not? How do you think Shawn defines quality of life? Why does Shawn want to live?
Ø What is parental responsibility? What do you see has your parents' responsibility toward you? How would you describe Shawn’s family? What are the similarities and differences among the men and the women of Shawn’s family? How did the parents’ divorce affect the family as individuals and as a group?
Ø What are Shawn's father's responsibilities toward him? Why do you think Shawn's father thinks it is his responsibility to end Shawn's pain? Do you think he has that right?
Ø What do you think Shawn’s father believed about Shawn as a person and his life? Do you think his father was using him for fame? Would you describe him as selfish or selfless? Is he suffering more for Shawn or himself? Why do you think so?
Ø How do you think this story would have worked if Shawn’s parents were not divorced? How might that have changed the family relationships and Shawn? How did the divorce bring another dynamic to the story?
Ø What roles did Cindy and Paul play in this story? How do you think they were affected by being raised in a family with a sibling like Shawn? Were these effects positive or negative? Do you think these characters were realistic? Do you think they were important characters?
Ø Do you think Shawn's father killed him or not? Why?
Ø Has this book changed your views of euthanasia or abortion?
Ø Why do you think the book was written in the first person? Retell the story from the mother's point of view; from his sister Cindy's; and from his brother Paul's.
Ø Do you think the title fits the book? Why or why not?
Ø Terry Trueman includes a note at the end, saying that his son, Sheehan, has a condition similar to Shawn’s. Does knowing this about the author take away or add to the story? Would you have preferred to know this before you read the book instead of after? Why do you think Mr. Trueman wrote this story?