Stop Pretending; What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones (HarperCollins, 1999)
Here is a Digital Trailer for STOP PRETENDING created by graduate student Michelle Brosi.
Here is a Readers' Guide for STOP PRETENDING created by graduate student Sarah Buckner.
Sones, Sonya. 1999. Stop pretending: what happened when my big sister went crazy. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
*Recommended reading level: Ages 12 and up
1. Summary of book
Stop Pretending: what happened when my big sister went crazy is inspired by Sonya Sones’ own account of what happened when her older sister had a nervous breakdown. In the book, 13 year old Cookie recounts her older sister being admitted to a mental hospital after a Christmas Eve breakdown. The book follows Cookie as she visits her sister in the psychiatric ward, witnesses her parent’s marriage self destructing, loses her friends, and loses hope. Not all is bad though as Cookie finds hope again in a new hobby, new friends, and a new boyfriend. This collection of poems is both heart breaking and inspiring and readers will find themselves rooting for Cookie and her family all the way to the very end.
2. Review Excerpts/Awards
*Christopher Award-Best Children’s Book
*Claudia Lewis Award-Poetry
*Myra Cohn Livingston Poetry Award
*Gradiva Award-Best Poetry Book
*Chosen as an ALA 2000 Top Ten pick for reluctant readers
*Named and International Reading Association Young Adults’ Choice for 2001
*Booklist starred review-“This novel-in-verse shows the capacity of poetry to record the personal and translate it into the universal.”
*School Library Journal-“An unpretentious, accessible book…”
*Boston Globe-“Stop Pretending is a tour de force debut”
3. Questions to ask before reading
Students can discuss these questions before getting into the poems:
*Cookie finds solace in photography. What hobbies do you enjoy doing to take your mind off stress?
*Talk about a time when you felt like you were being excluded by your friends. How did you handle that?
*If you had a friend whose sister was hospitalized for a mental illness, what advice would you give her?
4. Suggestions for reading aloud
*Two voices-Like Alice
Ask for two female students to volunteer to read this poem. One student will read the part narrated by Cookie and one will read the lines of her sister.
*Adult Read Aloud
Choose important and impactful poems from the book and read them aloud to the class. Project the poem onto a screen so students can read along. Suggestions include My sister’s Christmas Eve breakdown and During history class.
In the poem, After Shock, the word ‘nope’ is repeated. Read the poem aloud but have the class read each ‘nope’ in unison.
5. Follow-up Activities
Gather old magazines and have students recreate a scene in the book. This could be Christmas Eve, the mental hospital, school dance, etc.
*Writing-Christmas Eve free-verse activity
Christmas Eve was an eventful night in the book. Students can write a free verse poem of their last Christmas Eve and if willing, share with the class.
Assign small groups of students the task of creating a short presentation of various mental illnesses such as manic depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, etc. Students can use resources found in the author’s note section of the book.
6. Related websites/blogs
*Sonya Sones’ website:
[Look here for reading suggestions, writing tips, and more from Sonya Sones]
*Teen mental health website:
[Look here for resources about mental illnesses for teens]
*Teen Ink poetry website:
[Look here to find poetry written by teens and for teens. Students can also submit their own poetry to the website.]
7. Related Books (Poetry, Nonfiction, Fiction)
Sones, Sonya. What my mother doesn't know. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2001.
Sones, Sonya. One of those hideous books where the mother dies. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2004.
Sones, Sonya. What my girlfriend doesn't know. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2007.
Kaysen, Susanna. 1994. Girl, interrupted. New York: Vintage Books.
Pipher, Mary Bray. 1994. Reviving Ophelia: saving the selves of adolescent girls. New York: Putnam.
Shandler, Sara. 1999. Ophelia speaks: adolescent girls write about their search for self. New York: HarperPerennial.
Halpern, Julie. 2007. Get well soon. New York: Feiwel and Friends.
Klavan, Andrew. 2012. Crazy dangerous. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Shaw, Susan. 2002. Black-eyed Suzie. Honesdale, Pa.: Boyds Mills Press.
Here is an extra bonus-- a mini Readers' Guide for Stop Pretending created by graduate student Kristin Shieldknight. Click on this Glogster link here.