Jay is living his best life at Karloff Country, one of the world’s most famous resorts. He’s got his family, his crew, and an incredible after-school job at the property’s main theme park. Life isn’t so great for the rest of the world, but when people come here to vacation, it’s to get away from all that.
As things outside get worse, trouble starts seeping into Karloff. First, Jay’s friend Connie and her family disappear in the middle of the night and no one will talk about it. Then the richest and most powerful families start arriving, only… they aren’t leaving. Unknown to the employees, the resort has been selling shares in an end-of-the-world oasis. The best of the best at the end of days. And in order to deliver the top-notch customer service the wealthy clientele paid for, the employees will be at their total beck and call.
Whether they like it or not.
Yet Karloff Country didn’t count on Jay and his crew—and just how far they’ll go to find out the truth and save themselves. But what’s more dangerous: the monster you know in your home or the unknown nightmare outside the walls?
The Getaway is an example of what I’ve come to think of as “Disney-theme-park-inspired horror”—something that’s happened enough times to be an actual category, but not something so common as to be overdone and stale. Giles certainly puts his own spin on the subgenre, focusing in particular on the intersections of race and class within his exaggerated Disney World.
Personally, I found this book challenging to wholeheartedly enjoy. There were too many problems in the book’s internal logic, as well as a lack of nuance in Giles’ portrayal of racism (which seems to simply pit the evil rich capitalists against the good poor laborers, regardless of Giles’ attempts to muddy the waters with the character of Chelle). Nonetheless, it’s one hell of a ride and Giles certainly knows how to build dread and deliver horror. For a quick dip into socially conscious sci-fi horror, I’d definitely recommend reading The Getaway.
Discussion questions below the cut!
Discussion Questions: PDF | Word Document
Reading Quiz: PDF of Quiz | PDF of Quiz Answers | Word Document
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On his website, Lamar Giles states, “My books are the kind that anybody can enjoy. But, while anybody can enjoy them, they’re not about generic avatars; my books are about Black kids. They may be in strange situations, or have talents you don’t expect, but they are Black.”
- Think about the four main characters of The Getaway: Jay, Chelle, Zeke, and Connie. How does Giles write them as “Black kids” instead of “generic avatars”? What kinds of personal history, concerns, or mannerisms does he use to show this specific identity?
- Although Giles writes about kids raised within Black American culture, he also describes his books as “the kind that anybody can enjoy.” How does Giles also make The Getaway accessible to readers who may be less familiar with Black American culture?
The Getaway combines two genres: science fiction and horror. Sci-fi is an “intellectual” genre, inviting the reader to explore social, philosophical, and ethical questions in a setting outside of our everyday reality. Horror, on the other hand, is an “emotional” genre defined by the feeling it creates in the reader.
- A sci-fi novel will typically examine how technology has shaped a possible future of humanity, allowing the reader to consider larger questions in the process (such as, “What is a human being?”, or, “How should society be organized?”). Creating a detailed and believable imagined world is crucial. Strong characters are less important than a well-designed and thought-provoking story.
Do you think The Getaway succeeds as a sci-fi novel?
- A horror novel typically explores age-old questions about human nature, human capabilities, and human anxieties. Often the protagonist is already haunted or lacking self-control at the beginning of the story, leaving them vulnerable. Strong characters are important, since a reader’s emotional response is tightly tied to whether or not they care what happens to the people on the page.
Do you think The Getaway succeeds as a horror novel?
- In her critique of science fiction published in the past few decades for teens, literary critic Farah Mendlesohn wrote, “… we have a bunch of readers who want stuff that tells them about the world, and the future, and what they can do to take part in it, and they are mostly being told that it’s really depressing, the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and now is the best of all possible worlds.” Do you think her criticism of young adult sci-fi here is also true for The Getaway? Why or why not?
- Regarding the horror genre, librarian Megan M. McArdle stated, “The monsters of horror have great appeal in that one can read about them and then safely close the cover and leave those horrors on the shelf.” Do you think this statement holds true for The Getaway and other horror novels about social issues like racism or sexism? Why or why not?
Speculative fiction like sci-fi and fantasy is often critiqued for the quality of its worldbuilding: how well the author makes the fictional world feel “real.” Do you think Giles’ imagined world is complex and vivid? Do you think Giles does a good job of delivering worldbuilding information in a way that makes sense and feels natural? Does the world of The Getaway feel “real” to you? Why or why not?
- During the Juneteenth celebration, Jay says, “A DJ blasted playlist tracks that ranged from ancient times to… slightly less ancient times.” With the exception of the Karloff animations, Jay’s statement could apply to all of the media (books, TV shows, musicals, etc.) that he and his friends reference throughout the book—even though the story takes place several decades in the future. While reading, did you find these frequent references to “ancient times” unrealistic or did they not bother you? How do you think Giles could have dealt with this time gap more gracefully?
- Jay frequently reads sci-fi novels written by Black women. Some of these books have themes relevant to The Getaway, such as Octavia Butler’s Kindred, which transports a present-day Black woman back in time to a slave plantation.
Any reference that an author includes in their book has the potential to add new meanings or further explore particular themes. Do you feel that Giles is taking advantage of this potential when referencing media in The Getaway? For instance, does the media Giles references further your understanding of the book’s ideas and themes? Why or why not?
An epistolary novel originally meant a novel written entirely in letters, but these days an epistolary novel might include all kinds of documents: advertisements, interview transcripts, chat messages, and more. Novels written mostly in narration can also include occasional epistolary documents, as is the case in The Getaway.
- Why do you think an author might choose to include epistolary documents in their novel? What do epistolary documents do that ordinary narration doesn’t?
- What specific purpose do the epistolary materials in The Getaway serve?
- Do you think The Getaway uses its occasional epistolary documents effectively? Why or why not?
Although Jay narrates most of The Getaway, Connie, Zeke, and Chelle all have their own turns.
- Why do you think Giles chose to bring in these additional narrative voices? What could they add to the story that would not otherwise have been there?
- Did you find Giles’ use of these additional voices to be effective? In other words, do they strengthen the story or do they weaken it? Explain your answer.
- Do you think Giles should have provided these different points of view more often? How would doing so have changed the story? Do you think those changes would have helped Giles better explore the themes of his novel? Or would they have distracted from his overall goals?
When Karloff Country first begins going into lockdown, the Jubilee residents lose the ability to watch the news, use the internet, or even communicate with each other via phone.
- Consider your own daily life. What kinds of sources do you use in order to get information about what’s happening in the world—globally, nationally, locally, or even personally among your friends and family members?
- Consider each of those sources in turn. How do you know whether or not the information you receive from each source is trustworthy? Which sources do you consider the most accurate? Which sources do you depend on the most?
- Imagine you were in Jay’s position and suddenly lost any ability to access TV, internet, or a phone connection. What would you do in order to get information about what’s happening in the world—globally, nationally, locally, or personally?
When Harry is first electrocuted, Jay states, “All around Trustees watched my boss—my friend—convulse and drool. Like children watching a mildly amusing puppet show.”
- In this scene, every Trustee appears to be immediately comfortable with the horrific torture of another human being. Did you find this scene believable? Why or why not?
- Consider all of the Trustees who we meet. Did you ever feel empathy and understanding for any of them while reading? Explain your answer.
- Why do you think the Trustees behaved with such cruelty towards the Helpers and Concierges? Imagine you yourself are a Trustee. What would it take for you to allow yourself to treat someone else like the Karloff employees are treated in this novel?
- Civil rights organizer and Black Power leader Stokely Carmichael criticized Martin Luther King Jr.’s policy of nonviolence, stating, “His major assumption was that if you are nonviolent, if you suffer, your opponent will see your suffering and will be moved to change his heart. That’s very good. He only made one fallacious assumption: In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.”
Do you agree with Carmichael’s statement? Why or why not? Feel free to draw on examples from your own life, American history, or current events to support your answer.
Zeke accuses Jay of not doing enough to fight back against the Trustees, calling him “Go Along to Get Along Jay.”
- Why do you think Zeke has this perspective of Jay? Do you think Zeke’s belief is justified, based on the information he knows? Given what you know of Jay, do you think Zeke’s belief is actuallytrue?
- When Zeke makes this accusation in Chapter 32, Jay says, “Rage and denial and confusion swirled in me. Zeke was way out of line… The dead Splash Zone Helpers were a whole conversation to be had, but not with him.” Jay then leaves without any attempt to explain himself or better understand Zeke’s point of view.
Do you think it would have been possible for Zeke to understand Jay’s behavior if Jay had tried to explain it better? Do you think it would have been possible for Jay to understand Zeke’s perspective if he had asked Zeke to explain himself instead of getting angry and defensive? Why do you think Jay left instead of trying either of these options?
- When Jay and Zeke see the Popsicle Man killed, Zeke asks, “Could we have helped the man? … Should we have tried?” Jay responds, “We could’ve tried, but we’d—we’d still be there with him.”
Do you think Jay and Zeke made the right choice in not trying to help the Popsicle Man? Why or why not? What do you think is the difference (if any) between the Popsicle Man situation and the “go along to get along” behavior Zeke finds so shameful?
Frequent advice for writers of speculative fiction like sci-fi and fantasy is to create your world’s rules and then firmly stick to them. Clear rules not only help the reader understand how the world operates, but also help create obstacles that the main characters must then figure out how to overcome as part of the story.
- What are the rules of The Getaway’s speculative world that are different from our own world?
- Does Giles stick to these rules throughout the book? Use examples from the text to explain your answer.
- Do Jay and his friends figure out how to overcome the obstacles created by The Getaway’s rules? Use examples from the text to explain your answer. If you think that they don’t overcome them, do you feel that choice on Giles’ part weakens the story? Why or why not?
The panopticon is a hypothetical prison design in which any prisoner can be observed at any time by a prison guard; however, the prisoner never knows for sure whether they are actually being observed. In 1975, philosopher Michel Foucault used the panopticon to illustrate systems of power, control, and punishment in modern society. In the case of prisons, Foucault argued that we have moved from punishment of the body (through torture and executions) to punishment of the soul as we seek to watch and control prisoners until they begin to police themselves unthinkingly.
- What panopticons—either physical or metaphorical—do we see in The Getaway?
- Giles deliberately references the panopticon in the name of Zeke’s message board, as well as the design of Connie and Jay’s prison. Did you find these references to be effective? Why or why not?
- Foucault also suggested that the techniques for control developed in prisons can be seen in other public institutions, saying, “Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?”
What similarities do you see between our own modern-day prisons and other public institutions, such as schools and hospitals? Foucault was writing in 1975, but our society and its technologies have changed a great deal since then. What systems of surveillance do you see existing in our own society today?
In 2014, author and poet Scott Woods wrote, “Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. … Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on.”
- What manifestations of racism do you see portrayed in The Getaway? Use examples from the text to support your answer.
- In The Getaway, is racism a “complex system” as it is in our present-day American society? Or is it a simple one? Explain your answer.
At the end of The Getaway, Chelle says to Jay, “You and your family have to be careful out there. Find some good people and stick with them.” Jay then responds, “Who are the good people?”, prompting Chelle to reflect, “… I got his point. You never know for sure. Even if all’s good at first, it can change.”
- Based on this quote and the book as a whole, what do you think Giles wants readers to take away from this novel? What insights or realizations do you personally feel the novel offers?
- In her speech at the 2014 National Book Awards, science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin stated, “Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope.”
Do you think The Getaway is a book that imagines “other ways of being” and gives us “real grounds for hope”? Why or why not?
- Did the ending of The Getaway satisfy you as a reader? Why or why not?
For February 2023, the Imagine Society, the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, and the Green Hill Juvenile Detention Center have partnered together to create a science fiction reading club for teens—and I wrote the discussion questions for all nine books! If you are a teen—or know a teen—who would be interested in exploring some classic and/or contemporary sci-fi, please check out the Imagine Society’s event page. Participation can come in many forms!
If you are able to do so, consider supporting Green Hill Juvenile Detention Center’s young men by donating to their ongoing library book drive. Librarian Julie Forbes works incredibly hard to encourage a love of reading among her students and these donations are extremely important when it comes to achieving that goal.