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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

Free Spirit: Growing Up on the Road and Off the Grid

1. What’s the effect of beginning the book with the prologue about the harrowing incident driving home with Leopoldo?

2. Consider the various ways Claudia talks to Josh about the event of his own birth. What value is it as mythic story? What of the initial disappointment about him being a boy?

3. What are your thoughts about Claudia asking Josh not to call her “mom” because it is too limiting a name?

4. Claudia’s mature honesty about Josh’s father seems helpful to him, while details about nuclear warheads clearly cause him great anxiety. How much of difficult truths should be shared with children?

5. How is “Uncle” Tony, the “soft, dreamy intellectual,” a positive influence on Josh?

6. How is Uncle Tony’s complex inner world—one that considers concepts like parallel universes—and his less successful outer world experience as a janitor relevant to Josh as he matures?

7. Claudia refuses Uncle Tony as a husband to find a “real boyfriend” who is less domestic and more committed to the revolutionary struggle. What do you think of this?

8. How would you describe Bob DiNardo's philosophy? What are the disadvantages of such a world view? Are there any benefits?

9. Claudia gave Josh a remarkable amount of freedom as a child. What of this was positive? What of this was negative? How much freedom is too much for a child?

10. At one point, during a “fifth-gear whiskey-ganja party,” Josh concludes that “adult exuberance rarely correlated with anything actually exciting.” What do you think he means?

11. How might it be that Claudia is intelligent and informed about political issues, and seems a loving mother, but can’t see Leopoldo for the harmful and deceitful man he is?

12. What insight do we get about Josh from his interaction with Karina Katherine Cheese?

13. What’s the difference between a passionate or heroic person and one who is chaotic or out of control? What do they have in common?

14. Textbook abusers initially charm their victims and gain their trust before manipulating and abusing them. How did Leopoldo conform to this character type?

15. At a certain point in Stanwood, Josh develops positive feelings toward Leopoldo consistent with "Stockholm Syndrome" or "traumatic bonding." Why do you think this type of bonding occurs?

16. The "cycle of abuse" between abuser and victim typically involves (1) a buildup of tension, (2) an abusive incident, (3) an apologetic reconciliation, and (4) a calm honeymoon phase. How did Leopoldo and Claudia's relationship conform to this cycle?

17. How realistic is it for Claudia to “heal” someone like Leopoldo? What’s the difference between supporting and enabling?

18. Claudia identifies herself as a "feminist." How did she reconcile that identity with being the mother of a male child in San Francisco and a wife to Leopoldo in Washington?

19. What is it that gives Josh his strength when left on his own, for example during the stormy time on the mountain?

20. Claudia is extremely critical of traditional education, while Josh grows up to value it highly. What does it provide for him?

21. What are the potential effects when adults act like children in the presence of actual children?

22. Tony tells Josh he will say his mantra for him every night even if they are separated. What other ways do the two maintain connection despite so much chaos and distance between them?

23. Josh says that he felt "trapped on an island" between straight society and the counter-culture. Why do you think he felt that way?

24. How did Josh use humor as a child to get by? What role does humor play in this book?

25. Consider the many animals Josh encounters and talks about in his life. What do they provide or teach him? How did Josh's life story mimic Tony's? How did it differ?

26. As an adult, Josh says “Judaism became my rebellion.” What does he mean?

27. In what ways is the story about Deborah Peagler relevant to Josh’s lifelong experience?

28. For years, all Claudia would say about the Leopoldo era was: "He didn't kill us. He made us stronger." Do you agree? When do you think traumatic experiences do not serve to make one stronger?

Free Spirit: Growing Up on the Road and Off the Grid
by Joshua Safran

  • Publication Date: December 31, 1969
  • Genres: Autobiography
  • : pages
  • Publisher:
  • ISBN-10:
  • ISBN-13: