Who says teens can’t read? Canton high school students discuss “Cloud Atlas”


Our latest book club conversation–on Friday, March 1 at 11 am– was about David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which won the British Book Awards prize for literary fiction, and was short-listed for the Booker and several other prizes. It’s been turned into a film and talked about as a work of science fiction, fantasy, literature and as a tour de force of writing because of the range of historical “voices” Mitchell nails.

Betsy Kepes, one of our book club moderators, had observed that many of the high school students she interacted with were very excited about this book. So we planned to have some of them co-host our conversation with Mitchell.

Well, Mitchell just couldn’t fit the program into his schedule. But, having asked a number of high school students to read the book in order to help us with the program, we’ve decided to go ahead with it, led by a group of Meg McGovern’s 10th grade Honors English class Canton high school.

It turned out Cloud Atlas was a challenge for some of the students. When they struggled with the 19th century language in the first section, Betsy suggested they try a different section first. Some read the Louisa Rey mystery. Some read the Somni 451 section. A few brave souls read the book in page by page order.

Betsy has been talking about the book with the students on a regular basis for the last few weeks. As Betsy put it:

“We’ve talked about the different language and literary style in each section of the book– what makes each one unique and why Mitchell might have chosen such a style. We’ve talked about the comet-shaped birthmark and re-incarnation. We’ve examined the cover of their books which has the actors and actresses playing more than one character, and we’ve tried to figure out who is who. We’ve talked about the themes of greed and predacity (Mitchell’s word) and slavery and ascension. We thought it would be neat to watch the movie together after we finish the book group and the radio hour.”

Listen to the complete Readers & Writers conversation about the book.

  1. Martha Spear says:

    Loved the book–unputdownable. Haven’t seen the film and can’t wait til it is out on DVD. Don’t have much to suggest to the young discussers, except maybe perhaps to consider what makes a book appealing across generations. Best of luck!

  2. Ellen Beberman says:

    In anticipation of the movie release late last year I convinced my husband and daughter to read the book, while I reread it. Both enjoyed it; I think the teenager was slightly thrilled to find an adult novel that dabbled in some of tropes of sci-fi without dumbing down.

    For me, the second read brought out the humor – the “Cavendish” section is such a slam at the stuffy literary world – and allowed me to see how well he fleshed out his scenarios. I don’t think I’d read it again, but I would encourage others.