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"The Field Guide to the North American Teenager" Book Discussion and Key Lime Pie Cupcakes Recipe

I wish to inspire readers, teachers, and book clubs to bake along with their reading and promote discussion about the books we've enjoyed.

Book review, discussion questions, and recipe

Book review, discussion questions, and recipe

"The Field Guide to the North American Teenager" Questions and Discussion

Norris is a black, French-Canadian hockey-playing teen loner who just relocated to Austin, Texas, where he literally cannot stop sweating, often changing shirts three times a day. On his first day, he is given a yellow journal by the school guidance counselor, where he writes observations and snap judgments about his surroundings, particularly the people he encounters. He is quick-witted, snarky, and hilarious in his observations about the American teen and high school stereotypes. Though these make for amusing reading, more than one person will be hurt by his callous words. Norris has much to learn about others “just trying our hardest to make it through each day being who we are” and perhaps that is his biggest struggle in a new country: rediscovering himself. Norris is a modern-day high school Mr. Darcy, or even Elizabeth Bennet, who must set aside his own protective superiority and pride to see the people around him who've come to consider him a friend.

It's filled with all the high school drama and cliches we love (the jocks, the outsiders, the cheerleaders, the artist, the loner, the strange but beloved teacher, the sports, the unkind antihero) and new types that always should have been included (those struggling with mental health, those who are trapped in the past, the powerhouse of a single mother, and those who forgive).

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager is witty, insightful, intelligent, and an entertaining account of a teen’s realizations: that much of what he does is to hide his own insecurity, and that those who loved him already had, despite his biting comments and stark humor.

Perfect for fans of

  • Teen dramas
  • Teen comedies
  • Ten Things I Hate About You
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Snarky characters
  • Friendship stories
  • Teen romantic comedies

Discussion Questions

  1. How was an advertisement responsible for Liam and Norris meeting? Who was responsible for it, and how was it actually a loving gesture?
  2. What was the deal Maddie and Norris struck about his job and Aarti? Why do you think Maddie agreed to it?
  3. How did Norris’ teacher, Mr. Goade, quickly become his favorite after an incident with a cheesy chicken bacon sandwich in the hallway?
  4. How did Aarti and Maddie each, as Maddie admitted to Norris “save the mind games for people we actually like”? With whose minds were they each messing?
  5. Who was Maddie’s first gigantic, overwhelming crush? Why did it not make sense to Norris, and how did it blind him to her true affections?
  6. How did Maddie have “to be in the middle of the pyramid because she was the only one who could hold it all together”? Did this only apply to her with cheerleading?
  7. Norris hated the movie that Aarti took him to see. But how was he like the main character, who “made people close to her leave”?
  8. Aarti said that “When you push people away, they leave. All that’s left of you is the beautiful tragedy of your solitude.” How did Norris feel about (his) solitude?
  9. Because Aarti was the child of immigrants, how was photography “just a fun high school curricular”? What were some of the pressures put on her, and Norris, because of being children of immigrants? Did this further isolate them at school and socially? Why would Liam probably have been able to easily choose a career in photography, with his parents’ full support?
  10. What did Norris choose to do for the date he took Aarti on? How did that represent him? How did it end hilariously?
  11. Why was hanging out with Norris, the new kid, appealing for Liam? What was his semicolon tattoo about? For more information about it, search for “Project ; (Semicolon)” or To Write Love on Her Arms. How does the semicolon signify a “new chapter” for those who desire to move on, or to “pause” for those struggling with mental health issues at the moment?
  12. Who owned the Harry Potter books at Aarti’s house, and why did Norris lie about being in Slytherin, saying he was a Gryffindor? Would you tell the truth, and to what house do you belong? Find the real quiz at
  13. One of the pressures on Aarti and Norris was symbolized by Aarti’s family “wall of relatives.” Why were these on the wall, and how was it meant to be a prod for Aarti and a source of pride for their family? Do you have anything similar in your home, or know anyone who does?
  14. Why did Maddie keep helping Norris with Aarti, and if “it’s really not supposed to be this hard” then why was it for them? How did they both showcase that they were “very good at being nasty when hurt”? What were some of the other problems in their relationship?
  15. Liam called Norris “a poker. You don’t fight; you poke and then run away. I don’t know why. Maybe so you can feel rightfully victimized.” Was he correct? What evidence did he have?
  16. Were most of Norris’ journal writings “bitter rants, mean asides…” from a guy who was “homesick, insecure, bitter, and lonely”? How were these things also excuses, as he told his dad?

The Recipe

Every spring and summer at the Boneyard there was the tradition of making key lime pies: condensed milk, sour cream, lime juice, and graham crackers. “And don't forget the whipped cream! Special homemade recipe. None of that canned nonsense.”

For that reason, the accompanying recipe for this book is key lime pie cupcakes with lime whipped cream frosting.



Fro the cupcakes:

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
  • Zest of 2 large limes, or 6 key limes
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk, whole milk, or 2 % milk, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (about 9 crackers/1 package) graham cracker crumbs, some reserved for topping
  • 6 tbsp (key) lime juice

For the whipped topping:

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • Zest of 2 limes, or 6 key limes
  • 3 tbsp (key) lime juice
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons powdered milk


  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer using a paddle attachment on medium-high speed, whip one stick of salted butter with the sugar for two minutes. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. To the mixer, add the milk, lime zest, and sweetened condensed milk and combine on low for one minute. Stop the mixer to scrape down the inside of the bowl with a rubber spatula if some of the batter is sticking to the sides of the bowl. When the wet ingredients are fully mixed in, add a third of the flour, then an egg, and repeat. Finally, add the lime juice and mix just until combined. It may foam a bit from the acidity of the lime juice—this is completely normal.
  2. Distribute the graham cracker crumbs evenly into paper-lined cupcake trays, just enough to cover the bottom of the cupcake liner in a thin layer. Add a scoop of batter on top of the crumbs (using a cupcake scoop), filling 2/3 of the way, and bake for 18-22 minutes or until cupcakes are completely cooked through the centers. Test it with a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake. Allow to cool at least 15 minutes before frosting.
  3. For the frosting, pour one cup of heavy whipping cream into the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment and whisk on medium-high speed for two minutes, until it is less liquid, and becomes light and fluffy. Stop and add the lime zest and one-third of the powdered sugar. Whisk for one more minute at the same speed. Stop and add the remaining powdered sugar very slowly, with the mixer on the lowest speed, and slightly increase the speed back up to medium-high as the powder is incorporated. Once you have a fluffy whipped topping (it should double to triple its original liquid size), pipe onto cupcakes that have cooled at least 15 minutes. Frost onto cooled cupcakes (if using a piping tip, use X-large) and garnish with more graham cracker crumbs, if desired.

Rate the Recipe

Similar Reads

Ben Philippe’s only other work is a co-authored comic book anthology called Nobodies Volume 1. Norris also mentions the Sorting Hat from the Harry Potter series in this book.

Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty also features a snarky, cynical, brilliant teen who despises the cheerleaders and jock she is surrounded by, yet she is an athlete (a runner) herself. It is the first in a hilarious, impossible 5 part series, where she first meets Marcus Flutie, a boy who will challenge and upend the status quo and all stereotypes, and change Jess Darling’s life forever.

Turtles all the Way Down by John Green also deals with mental health issues, and not fitting in as a teen, through the lens of a social outsider. His book Paper Towns is also told from the perspective of a teen boy trying to find himself and his purpose in life, and piece together what he knows about a mysterious neighbor girl named Margot.

Barely Missing Everything by Matt Mendez has two friends similar to Norris and Liam, one who wants to leave Texas with a basketball scholarship, and involves a road trip to try to find the father he was told had died.

Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith is about a Native American teen in a mostly white school in Kansas. Her boyfriend makes a racist comment against her people, so she breaks up with him, over email. But greater challenges lie in the way the school music director is choosing to cast a production of The Wizard of Oz, and what it says about their town and its prejudices.

Notable Quotes

“Who decided to build a city here? What sick wagon of explorers stopped here and went: Guys, the surface of the sun is looking a little out of reach for the horses; let’s just settle here.”

“The way his mother loved him was occasionally vexing in how overwhelming it could be.”

“Up close, their [the cheerleaders] arms all had definition where his didn’t, and they were probably already prone to rage blackouts from all the low-calorie meals...”

“The Sorting Hat of Anderson High had spoken, and Norris Kaplan was to be a Loner, which was fine by him. Better than Hufflepuff, by all accounts.”

“The first skill an only child learns is to be alone and completely satisfied.”

“The sudden thought that all cheerleaders were functioning sociopaths crossed Norris’ mind.”

“People like what they can’t have. It’s a rule of dating in these parts.”

“Let me have my delusions. You need them, the older you get.”

“I’ll consider gently massaging your virtue. How’s that?”

“You can’t always see people well through other’s eyes. Who they are when there are other people around isn’t who they are when they’re alone.”

“Some people like to be alone. The fact that people see them as being a kicked puppy for that doesn’t make it so.”

“Being alone is an unnatural state.”

“You’re never alone in your interests. You just got to dig a little further.”

“The people who cause the most harm never really intend to.”

“There was something about kissing someone that knew you that quieted the part of your brain that ever felt anxious or small.”

“No one is normal. We’re all just different flavors of ****ed-up, hiding it as best we can.”

“We all mess things up. It’s what you do with the mess that matters.”

© 2019 Amanda Lorenzo


Shawindi Silva from Sri lanka on April 10, 2019:

Lovely recipe and an interesting book !!

Naude Lorenzo on April 09, 2019:

I never cease to be surprise by your awesome recipes and your suggestions on books, as usual you are incredible Amanda, thank you for your faithfulness. I'm sure my family will enjoy the Key Lime cup cakes with the frosting. I love it.