Family Book Club: Kent State

Wiles, Deborah - Kent State

Title: Kent State by Deborah Wiles (A Wordplay author! Watch a recap of her discussion of Kent State here.)

Reading level: young adult

Synopsis: In 1970, the state of Ohio responded to students at Kent State University protesting the Vietnam War by calling in the National Guard. Supposedly, it was never supposed to escalate, but it did, and soldiers fired on unarmed, peaceful protesters, killing four of them and wounding nine more. This tragedy shocked the nation and was a turning point in public opinion and support for the war. Folks shouted louder, not just about the injustices overseas but the ones happening in their own backyard. 

In Kent State, a heavily researched ode to this tragedy, Wiles brings to life a multitude of voices—a neutral student, a protester, a pro-war and anti-protester local, a frightened townie, a National Guardsman—to give as thorough an explanation as possible of what happened and to show how shockwaves jolted the lives of everyone involved, including those who supported calling in the military. The book is formatted as a conversation—sometimes arguing, sometimes convincing, sometimes pacifying, but ultimately mourning the lives lost and the violence that tore a community apart. But the story ends in hope. We watch as students, scared and bullied but brave enough to speak up and stand their ground, start a rallying cry that ends up changing the course of history.

Categories: politics, protest, anti-war, death, history


  1. Have you read a novel in verse before? How did the experience of reading it this way change your interpretation of the story?
  2. Did you enjoy the way the story was told in multiple voices? Which of the voices resonated most with you? Why?
  3. Have you ever participated in a protest or a political event at your school or in your community? What led to you doing so? If not, would you like to? Which cause would you want to support?
  4. Had you heard of the Kent State shooting prior to reading this book? Did the story make you feel helpless, empowered, hopeful, angry, sad, or something else entirely?
  5. Your voice is loud, and you have power to make change now. What do you see happening in the world that you wish was different? If you could start an organization or movement to address it, how would you do so?

Activity: You're never too young to get involved in your community and have a say about the world at large. Take a read through this article and see if any of these ten options resonate with you. If something does, you can either work with your parents/guardians, educators, and/or community leaders to see how you can initiate change starting in your neighborhood. If you want to get involved on a larger level, organizations like the Youth Activism Project are dedicated to training teenagers in how to be change-leaders.

Thank you so much to Red Balloon Bookshop for partnering with us on this series! If you'd like to see all of the Family Book Club picks in one place, check out their FBC page