Chain Letter by Christopher Pike
Pike, C. (1986). Chain Letter. New York, NY: Avon Books.
Realistic Fiction, appropriate for ages 10+
Pike’s thriller, Chain Letter is instantly engaging, as a chain letter forces seven teenagers into bizarre and dangerous activities. A year earlier, they were involved in a car accident in which a man was killedbut they covered up the crime. Now, “Your Caretaker,” the author of the letter, threatens to expose them, and assigns each of them a task. If it’s fulfilled, they will be left alone. If it’s not, the consequences are terrifying. One teen who defies the Caretaker disappears, leaving behind a blood-soaked bed; another is burned in a fire that consumes his home. But just as the reader thinks the teens will confess to their original crime, the author finds a convenient, though unconvincing, way to get them off the hook. Pike’s story begins promisingly but leads into implausible motives and a feeble resolution. There are also formulas that crop up from his earlier books: teenagers thought to be dead reappear; alcohol figures heavily in all the plots; people with handicaps or terminal illnesses go “over the edge.” Despite these drawbacks, Pike handles suspense well, and has a good ear for dialogue.
Guilt and retribution are key themes in Chain Letter. The main events that occur in the story are relevant to retribution and the guilty conscience, which typically tend to fall hand in hand. The book is about seven teenagers and the “Caretaker” whom is inflicting punishment on these kids, making them believe someone knows about what they’re covering up about the summer before.
5.SL.2. Summarize a written text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Lesson Objective: Students will improve comprehension by interpreting, analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating written text in order to categorize text into literary genres.
Discussion Questions: What is a genre? What is realistic fiction? What makes Chain Letter realistic fiction?
- Set the targets for the students – what will they be doing in this project?
- The students will be introduced to realistic fiction.
- They will be given a choice of books from that genre, and also given a Book Review handout, which focuses students’ attention on the elements of the story.
- The students are also given a Genre Characteristics handout that is created by the class or themselves with three major components of that genre.
- They will have three weeks to read the book, complete the “review,” and add details to their bookmarks.
- Explain the information that is gathered on the Book Review handout–major literary elements (plot, character, setting, etc.) as well as critique. Students can complete their reviews in their reader’s notebooks, or can complete their reviews online using the Genre Group Book Review Chart student interactive.
- Demonstrate the interactive, showing students how to add items to the chart as well as how to print and save their work:
- On the first screen, type your name.
- Click Next to move to the chart screen and type your book review.
- Type your answers in each of the rows, using the information on the Genre Group Book Review handout.
- Demonstrate that writing is not limited to the size of the box shown on screen. Answers will scroll.
- When you’ve finished writing your responses, click Finish at the top of the screen.
- In the next window, click Print. Your answers will be displayed in a Web browser window.
- To print answers, choose the Print command from the File menu. To save your answers, choose the Save As… command from the File menu. Students can open the file later in a Web editor or a word processor that imports HTML (such as Microsoft Word or AppleWorks).
- Show students that the instructions for using the tool are available by clicking Instructions at the top of the screen.
- Pass out the customized bookmarks and demonstrate how to fill in the information on them, using one of the books you’ve gathered for the project. The bookmarks are customized for each of the given genres. On the front of the bookmark, there is a space for the students to write the title, author, and their name as well as to recreate the book jacket or draw a scene from their favorite passage. On the back, there will be a bulleted list of components of that genre. Next to each of the bullets, the students will be asked to write a page number showing where in their book the elements were illustrated.
- Answer any questions that students have about the project. Since they will be working independently, make sure that they understand the activity before concluding the session.