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Reader's Guide, Metamorphosis, Junior Year

illustration copyright 2009 Tom Franco


novel and play by Betsy Franco
drawings by Tom Franco
audio book read by James Franco and Dave Franco

"Seems like we're all just groping our way through a labyrinth, fighting our own personal minotaurs…"

ABOUT THE BOOK, from Candlewick Press

Life. Love. Death. Identity. Ovid’s got a lot on his mind, and he pours it all -- as confessions, observations, narrative poems, and drawings— into the pages of a notebook. Inspired by his namesake, he wryly records his classmates’ dramas as modern-day Roman mythology. Meanwhile, Ovid hides his own Olympian struggles: his drug addict sister Thena has run off, leaving him with a suffocating home life and a disturbing secret. In her striking YA debut, Betsy Franco introduces an expressive soul with a heartbreakingly authentic voice. Fantastical ink illustrations by her son Tom Franco enhance the intimate tone, delving deep into one intriguing teen’s imagination. He’s a young artist obsessed with myths. But can he fix his own fate? Acclaimed author Betsy Franco and her talented son collaborate on a hip YA novel of "epic" proportions.


"The cool teen narrator, Ovid, may be on Facebook or texting his high-school friends in northern California, but he also recognizes the parallels between his life and classical mythology..." - Booklist

"Ovid captures it all in his private notebook filled with prose entries in realistic teenspeak, beautifully crafted poems that provide a back story and surreal black-line illustrations that the author's son reworked from his own high-school notebooks..." - Kirkus Review

The creative mix of poems, prose, and creative illustration works beautifully…"- The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books


Betsy Franco is an award-winning author with over eighty books, including a young adult novel, picture books, and poetry collections. She also writes screenplays, plays, and sketch comedies and compiles anthologies of teen writing. She particularly loves to show people how wise teenagers can be, and how sassy, beautiful, and creative math can be. Metamorphosis, Junior Year, the novel, is the basis for her play which premiered at the Palo Alto Children's Theatre to sold out audiences. Metamorphosis is illustrated by her son Tom Franco and read on audio book by her actor sons James Franco and Dave Franco. Betsy is also an actor on TV (General Hospital) and in film (The Broken Tower), and is a member of a sketch-comedy troupe called Suburban Squirrel. She is currently polishing the sequel to Metamorphosis—The Art of Love. Betsy's greatest inspiration comes from her three sons, who are fearless in their creativity. See

Tom Franco has been a committed creative artist since the age of thirteen. He is the director of the Firehouse Art Collective, a California based group creating spaces for artists of all disciplines to co-create community and culture. See Tom is a mixed media sculptor and painter collaborating heavily with select artists of all ages in the greater Bay Area. He illustrated the novel, Metamorphosis, Junior Year, using drawings that were originally created during his high school years and re-worked as a series for the novel. From the beginning, his mother Betsy saw Tom's old notebooks and journals as the springboard for a collaborative process, although it's worth noting that the novel is not about Tom's life. Those illustrations, which were animated and projected on the set of the play of Metamorphosis, were a major element of the production.


This guide is to help bring out the themes and layers of the book. Some of the themes are the power of creativity and friendship, the difference between people's insides and outsides, and the timelessness of the myths.

1. What do you think Ovid means when he says, "We're all wrestling with the messes the gods got us into, or we got ourselves into. Or maybe we an blame our fate..." (page 8)

2. What do you think Ovid means here? "And we all have our stories—myths, reality, a little bit of both—that nobody knows or everybody knows…or nobody knows." (page 8)

3. What does Ovid do to appease his parents? What doesn't he do that they'd like him to do? Which parent is he closer to? What are the clues? Does he think his parents are 100% irritating, or does he see their side at all? Explain.

4. Interpret Ovid's dream about the animals in cages: "...I tap the sheep cage, and the sheep's skin falls off, and there's a bear underneath..." (p. 24) Have you had a significant dream that you can remember? What was the dream and what do you think it meant?

5. In the play of Metamorphosis, Junior Year, Ovid says he wishes his parents would ignore him like Mei's mother ignores her? Do you think he really means it? Explain. (page 51)

6. Make a list or chart of Ovid's friends and classmates. Who are his closest friend? Acquaintances?

7. Pick two of Ovid's friends and explain what he learns from their myths/lives/circumstances and how their "dramas" help him sort out his life.

8. What is the most challenging situation in Ovid's life? Why? How is it affecting him?

9. Describe some characters in the book who are self-destructive? Describe what they do for themselves that actually helps them in their lives? Does creativity play a part in any of this?

10. How about Ovid? What does he do to keep himself "sane?"

11. How does Ovid feel about his secret and his attempts to share it? Why do you think he can't share it? Why do you think it could be good to let out secrets?

12. Trust is a big issue in the book. Find some parts of the novel where trust plays a role.

13. Look up one or two of the myths. What are the parallels with the characters in the book?
Orpheus and Eurydice
Narcissus and Echo
Icarus and his father
Sophie and Caleb
Icarus and his father
Apollo and Diana
Narcissus and Echo
Myrrha and her Father

14. How is Ovid like Io? (p. 66)

15. What does Ovid conclude about his dream about "poking the sheep and out from under the sheep's skin comes a bear?" (p. 104) Have you found this to be true? Give an example or two.

16. Ovid sometimes compares his insides with other people's outsides; that is he compares how he's really feeling on the inside with other people's covers/how they want you to perceive them. Ovid learns more about other people's insides as the book progresses. Give one example of a character's insides and outsides being different in the book.

17. Describe the evolution of Ovid's relationship with Thena. Have you ever lost someone close to you? How did it feel?

18. Did Ovid learn anything over the course of the novel? How has he changed? Name at least two ways.

19. What other characters change significantly by the end of the epilogue?

20. Have you confronted your parents on any important issues? What were the issues and what was the outcome?

21. The ending doesn't tie everything up. How do you feel about that?

22. What do you think will happen to Thena?

23. Do you agree with Ovid that high school is like a labyrinth? Explain why or why not.

24. Do you think you'd be friends with Ovid? Why or why not?

25. Describe one of your favorite scenes. Why that one?


Discuss one of Ovid's drawings from the novel. What does it tell you about Ovid?

Which drawing(s) are intriguing to you? Interpret it.

Illustrate a scene or situation from the novel. Try to choose something that isn't illustrated already.

Draw an image inspired by Tom Franco's illustrations. Incorporate these three elements: an animal, an indoor setting, and a person.


Write a short story incorporating a dream you've had.

Compare a circumstance or a person at your school to a myth. Incorporate this modern situation into an updated version of the myth. Feel free to write it as prose or poetry.

Create a character. Then put that character in a conversation.

Write a conversation at the dinner table between a teen and his/her parents.

* Write a poem that includes a reference to a Greek or Roman myth, like those in the novel, or to the word myth.


Research one or two of the myths. Find different versions of the same myth and compare them.


Notice how the characters talk differently from each other. Give examples of how their speech/jargon differs, and then write your own conversation between two of the characters. One possibility is to have them arguing or razzing each other.



Act out one of the myths with a friend. Improvise the dialogue.

Divide the poem about Sophie and Caleb AKA Psyche and Cupid, starting on page 89, into two speaking parts. Have two actors read it aloud as a dramatic reading.


Your character, Ovid, refers to his namesake, the Roman poet, who lived 2000 years ago. What inspired you to incorporate the Roman Ovid’s Metamorphoses into your book? And did you have to do a lot of research?

I saw the play Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman at Palo Alto High School, the high school my sons attended. In fact, I saw it three times. When I was headed to the play for the fourth time, I decided I'd better write my own book about mythology, but I wanted it to be contemporary. I did a lot of research about the myths, by reading different versions of each myth, and I kept folders of ideas of how the myths apply in today's high schools. I read some, but not all, of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Metamorphosis is your first young adult novel. What inspired you to start writing in this field?

One of my editors told me she felt I could write a novel and that I should give it a try. I, in turn, thought she was crazy, because I'd been writing picture books and poetry collections, along with compiling teen-written anthologies. But I woke up with an idea the next morning. I wrote a verse novel based on my parents' high school days that my editor said was an "impressive foray into novel writing," but she didn't publish it. It was apparently for practice, because it went nowhere. But I jumped into Metamorphosis after seeing the high school play I mentioned above. After what felt like a million drafts, I took a workshop in novel writing. I like to try a new genre and then take a workshop or class in it, because it enables me to come up with all kinds of elements that "break the rules" before I know what the rules are.

It seems that there would be unique challenges when including your character’s poetry in your novel. Do you have any advice for writers who would like to try this style?

Just know your character well. Once I've gotten to know my character's insides and outsides and I understand how he/she thinks and feels, I can write anything in his/her voice. The funny thing is, I actually feel more comfortable writing as a teenage boy, like Ovid, than as a teenage girl. Go figure. But anyway, I write journals in my characters' voice, and I develop a whole life for them.

I take acting classes, so I can act out my character's emotions inside myself as I'm writing—I can feel them in my whole body, not just in my head. Once I know the character, if he/she writes poetry, I just let it come out. By the way, if a novel is in third person, I write the whole book again in first person, from the point of view of the protagonist, and sometimes the antagonist.

Looking back on Ovid's poetry, it was so easy to write because it involved mythology and contemporary situations. If I have "two sticks" to knock together like that, it becomes immediately rich and interesting to me, and I dive in. In general, I love mixing elements together that aren't normally combined. For example, I combined prose, poetry, and artwork in Metamorphosis. In Mathematickles and Bees, Snails, & Peacock Tails, I combined poetry and math. When I mix two elements, it's like a chemical reaction. Poof, something new is created.

How did you end up using your son Tom Franco's drawings in the book?

The book was a poetry collection at first, with just one or two poems about Ovid himself. The poems started bringing to mind my son Tom's artwork—artwork he gave me permission to sift through. Many of the poems were about the theme of metamorphosis and many of his drawings were, too. They seemed like just the sort of art that Ovid would do. Tom started The Firehouse Art Collective in Berkeley, and he does a lot of collaborating on sculptures. I felt as if I were collaborating with him because his drawings were informing the poems in the book and giving me details for them.

Tom's sketchbooks also had a journal aspect to them (which I didn't read). But I'd already been writing the book as a notebook. Where else would someone be writing all this private stuff that he wasn't telling anyone? BTW, Ovid is not Tom, nor any of my sons. But my actor sons, James and Dave ended up reading the audio version.

How did the book become a play?

The Palo Alto Children's Theatre approached me about writing a stage play of the novel, and I was off and running. I love working with teens, so the director, Rafal Klopotowski, and I had the teens from the Teen Arts Council help us develop the script, the video projections, and many other unique aspects of the play. It was a sold-out success, and my son James Franco produced a documentary of the making of the play. Anyone interested in permorming the play, please contact me at

Thank you to high school student, Ivy Sanders Schneider, for her help with this reader's guide.