A Dan­ger to Her­self and Others

January 1, 2013

Han­nah knows there’s been a mis­take. She doesn’t need to be insti­tu­tion­al­ized. What hap­pened to her room­mate at that sum­mer pro­gram was an acci­dent. As soon as the doc­tors and judge fig­ure out that she isn’t a dan­ger to her­self or oth­ers, she can go home to start her senior year. Those col­lege appli­ca­tions aren’t going to write them­selves. Until then, she’s deter­mined to win over the staff and earn some priv­i­leges so she doesn’t lose her mind to boredom.

Then Lucy arrives. Lucy has her own bag­gage, and she’s the per­fect project to keep Hannah’s focus off all she is miss­ing at home. But Lucy may be the one per­son who can get Han­nah to con­front the secrets she’s avoid­ing — and the dan­ger­ous games that land­ed her in con­fine­ment in the first place.

Packed with intrigue and sus­pense, A Dan­ger to Her­self and Oth­ers is great for read­ers who loved Sui­cide Notes for Beau­ti­ful Girls by Lynn Wein­garten and Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Alyssa Sheinmel

Please note: ques­tions con­tain spoilers!

Han­nah’s Char­ac­ter and Perspective
  1. At the begin­ning of the nov­el, Han­nah seems to think she’s right about pret­ty much every­thing. She thinks her insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion is a mis­un­der­stand­ing, and she doesn’t seem all that upset about what hap­pened to Agnes, or sor­ry for her secret rela­tion­ship with Jon­ah. Did this affect the way you felt about Hannah’s char­ac­ter? Did it make it hard­er — or eas­i­er — to relate to her?

  2. Han­nah might be described by some read­ers as an unlik­able char­ac­ter.” Do you find her lik­able”? Do you think it’s impor­tant for a char­ac­ter to be lik­able” to enjoy read­ing a sto­ry? Did you find Han­nah more or less lik­able” as the sto­ry went on?

  3. There are lots of dif­fer­ent types of unre­li­able nar­ra­tors: some nar­ra­tors out­right lie to read­ers, oth­ers per­ceive their worlds dif­fer­ent­ly from those around them, and still oth­ers are unre­li­able sim­ply because they’re telling their sto­ries from their per­spec­tives, bring­ing their own opin­ions and bias­es to the page. (Han­nah might be unre­li­able in all these ways!) Did you enjoy read­ing a sto­ry from the per­spec­tive of an unre­li­able nar­ra­tor? What oth­er books have you read with unre­li­able narrators?
Han­nah’s Parents
  1. Han­nah and her par­ents like to say that Han­nah was born mature,” yet, of course, as Dr. Cha­ran points out, no one is actu­al­ly born mature. Do you think Hannah’s par­ents nev­er real­ly gave her a chance to be any­thing else?

  2. In chap­ter 46, Hannah’s father refers to Lucy and Jon­ah as Hannah’s imag­i­nary friends.” Dr. Cha­ran tries to explain that Hannah’s hal­lu­ci­na­tions weren’t imag­i­nary friends — Lucy and Jon­ah were real for Han­nah. Do you think Hannah’s par­ents will ever understand?

  3. Han­nah believes her moth­er is ashamed of her diag­no­sis: Mrs. Gold tells the flight atten­dant her med­i­cine is for a headache, says Hannah’s teach­ers will keep her con­di­tion con­fi­den­tial. Do you think Hannah’s moth­er is embar­rassed? Does she think she’s pro­tect­ing Han­nah or her­self ? (Or both?)

  4. Han­nah thinks her par­ents don’t react well to the news of her ill­ness. Still, her moth­er gives Han­nah her med­i­cine and arranges for her to have a new doc­tor when she goes home. Could Hannah’s par­ents be react­ing bet­ter than Han­nah real­izes? Are you hope­ful that Han­nah and her par­ents might come to a bet­ter under­stand­ing over time?
Han­nah’s Friendships
  1. Through­out the sto­ry, Han­nah refers to the many best friends she’s had over the years. Do you think Han­nah real­ly cared about these friends? Why do you think she was drawn to girls who felt like projects”?

  2. Dr. Cha­ran says that Han­nah may remem­ber Lucy and Jon­ah bet­ter than she remem­bers oth­er friends… It’s called the gen­er­a­tion effect.” Why do you think hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry mem­o­ries are so pow­er­ful? Do you think Han­nah will con­tin­ue to miss Jon­ah and Lucy?
Han­nah’s World
  1. Before her time in the insti­tute, Han­nah had what looked like an almost per­fect life: ador­ing par­ents, fan­cy vaca­tions, wealth and priv­i­lege. But as we get to know her, it becomes clear that her life wasn’t all that per­fect. Do you think Han­nah was in denial about the flaws in her life — her par­ents’ neglect, her lack of deep, true friend­ships? Or was she real­ly unaware that those flaws existed?

  2. On her way to the air­port, Han­nah con­sid­ers what sto­ry she’ll tell her class­mates about her time away. What do you think Han­nah will tell her class­mates when she returns to school?

  3. At the end of the book, Han­nah ques­tions whether she might have hal­lu­ci­nat­ed more of her expe­ri­ence than she yet real­izes. Do you think it’s pos­si­ble that she might have been going to group ther­a­py, to the cafe­te­ria, to art ther­a­py with­out real­iz­ing it? If not, do you think Dr. Cha­ran behaved respon­si­bly in keep­ing Han­nah isolated?

  4. As Han­nah sits on the plane in the novel’s final pages, she con­sid­ers not tak­ing her med­ica­tion, hop­ing she might be able to see Lucy and Jon­ah again. It’s only when her moth­er forces her that she takes her pill. What do you think lies in Hannah’s future?