Warning! Contains Plot Spoilers!
Project Sweet Life
By Brent Hartinger
“This summer was going to be the sweet life and now it’s not.”
Dave and his two best friends are looking forward to a sweet summer of freedom, but their fathers have another idea. Instead of spending the summer swimming, biking, and kicking back, the three fifteen-year-olds are supposed to get jobs. Dave, Victor, and Curtis have a plan, though: They’re going to tell their fathers they have jobs but not actually get them. The trouble is, their dads are going to want to see that they’re actually bringing in money. And that means finding a way to get rich quick…without breaking the law, and without doing any work.
But as the summer passes and the three friends try everything from attempting to catch bank robbers, to scientifically calculating the “correct” number of jelly beans in a contest jar, to diving for sunken treasure, they soon discover that things may not be quite as simple as they thought!
Major Themes and Ideas
(1) Things rarely work out as expected in life, but that’s part of what makes it so interesting.
(2) Sometimes the most worthwhile things are the most challenging, but such challenges can press a person to become more than the person they were.
(3) Work can be fun if you’re doing something interesting surrounded by people you like and respect.
(4) Friends help make us who we are; the act of choosing our friends is an expression of who we really are.
(1) Is it fair of Dave, Curtis, and Victor’s dad to force them to get summer jobs at age 15? Are the three friends wrong in doing what they do? Is it ever okay for kids to lie to their parents? Is it okay in this instance?
(2) What do you think about the fact that in the 19th century, Tacoma, Washington, treated its Asian residents so unfairly? What does it mean that social mores can change so dramatically over the generations? Is it “fair” of us to judge earlier generations? Are there any modern parallels in the way we treat groups of people today that future generations will look back on and wonder why we acted the way we do? What do you think future generations will think of us?
(3) As with the women in the Evergreen Retirement Community, do you think it’s true that women tend to keep the secrets in a community, knowing things that the men don’t necessarily know? As women become more equal members of society, is this becoming less true?
(4) Dave’s dad stopped him from being friends with Shawn Kelsey-Emmerling, and threatened to keep him from seeing Curtis and Victor. Was that fair? Have you had the experience of being friends with someone that your parents didn’t “approve” of? In retrospect, were your parents right or wrong? Does that matter? Do you think parents have the right to “forbid” a friendship? Is it different for an 8 year-old than for a 15 year-old?
(5) What do you think about what Mrs. Shelby did, taking credit for catching the bank robbers? Were the three friends right to break into her house? Have you ever done anything like this, doing something to prove to yourself that you’re “better” than someone else? Does it make a difference if an outside person is aware of the situation?
(6) What are the obligations of “friendship”? Can you be friends with someone you don’t respect? Have you had the experience of realizing that a friend isn’t quite the person you thought he or she was? What about when you realize a friend is a better person than you thought? How can a friendship change you for the better or the worse? How should a person choose their friends?
(7) The three friends note that they worked harder in trying not to work than if they’d just gotten jobs in the first place. Have you had this experience—in trying to simplify things, you make them more difficult? Did you learn anything in the process, or was it just wasted effort?
(8) A lot of adults think the younger generation is lazier and/or more immoral than they were or are. Do you think this is true? Are there ways that the younger generation is more moral that the previous generation? Are there ways that the younger generation works harder or is expected to do more than the older generation?
(9) Is it important to work hard in life? Does working hard build “character”? There’s an expression–”Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”—which means that if you’re not working hard, you’re going to get into trouble. Is this true? Is there anything wrong with having fun?
Suggested Class Projects
(1) Project Sweet Life! Design projects that would make the most amount of money with the least amount of work. Then put them into effect!
(2) For residents of Washington State: visit the Reconciliation Park in Tacoma and consider a speaker from the Tacoma Historical Society or the Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation.
(3) Explore the early history of your city or town. Were minorities treated fairly? How did the way minorities were treated affect how people treat them today?
(4) For younger kids: imagine of there was a series of tunnels under your city, town, neighborhood, or school. Where would they go? What’s the story behind them? Map them, and come up with your story of how they came to be.