NOW AND AT THE HOUR
The title of the story references part of the Hail Mary prayer that Albert recites during a difficult time, emphasizing the present moment and also future experiences of joy, pain, and the end of life. The human experience of time is a major theme of the story. How does Albert’s past intersect with his current experiences? What things exist throughout all of time (past, present, and future) in the story? Is it easier for you to focus on the present, or to think about the future?
Foreshadowing gives clues and hints about something that is going to happen later in a story. Can you find examples of foreshadowing related to Mary’s diagnosis, Albert’s desire to help find a cure, and their pilgrimage to Rome? Were you expecting the things that ultimately happened?
Albert loves the freedom and adventure of skateboarding. How is this interest unusual given other aspects of his personality? What do we learn about his relationship to his mom through her reactions to his skateboarding? Are there activities or interests that you use to relieve stress? What activities make you the happiest? Do you do them alone or with other people?
Early in the story when Pat confronts Albert and his friends, Albert thinks about what he has in common with the bully when he notices his Army jacket. What does that say about Albert? Do you think he handled that situation well? How do his interactions with Pat change over the course of the story? How do they parallel how Albert is feeling about what’s happening with his mom?
Albert and his friends have nicknames for each other, and some of the adults like Sister, Uncle Wood, and Big Anne also have nicknames. How are some of the names symbolically significant? What do you learn about the characters through their nicknames? If you have a nickname, how did you get it? Do you like it?
Albert’s father, Pat’s father, and Jazz Bonnie served in the military. What are special challenges that military families face? How did Jazz Bonnie’s military experience continue to affect him even after he came home from Iraq? How does Albert feel when he wakes up on July 4th? Is that how most Americans feel? Should it be?
Why do you think Albert decided to try to save the shark near the Cliff House? How did that event reappear in different forms throughout the story? Have you ever had a “save the shark” moment?
Trees are powerful symbols in this story. Why are they important to Albert? Find examples where trees are featured, and note what they represent in those parts of the story. What are some other objects, places, or events in the story that help to convey a larger meaning or significance?
Albert tries to control a lot of things: his emotions, his mom’s experience, Jazz and Clyde’s situation. What are different strategies he uses for maintaining control? Are they always healthy? What problems arise for Albert when he is engaged in this behavior? How does Albert’s experience throughout the novel change this part of his personality?
The reader meets Albert before his mom’s diagnosis. What was life like for his family before cancer? What are examples of good things and bad things prior to her illness? Describe some things that changed after she began treatment. What are examples of good things and bad things that happened when she was sick?
Having faith might be described as believing in something you cannot see. What role does faith play in Albert’s experience? How would you describe his faith journey, or the ways his faith changes or evolves, throughout the story?
What are the relationships that are most important to Albert? What are the different communities that show up to support his mom’s fight against cancer? Do you believe it’s possible to have meaningful connections with strangers? With animals? With nature? With art? Find examples of these kinds of bonds in the story. How do these connections, or the absence of them, change how we experience life?
Do you use social media? How was it useful to Albert and his family? How was it problematic? What lessons can you learn from Albert’s experience on Twitter?
Albert and his mom go on a pilgrimage, or special journey, in search of a transformative change. Why do they go to Rome for their pilgrimage? How was Albert changed by the experience? Was the change that occurred the one he originally wanted?
Compare and contrast the opening and closing scenes of the story. How does each one make you feel? Imagine what might happen after this story ends for Albert and his friends, or for your favorite character.