Trouble by Gary D Schmidt Book Summary

Cover of the book, TroubleSummary of “Trouble” by Gary D. Schmidt

“Trouble” by Gary D. Schmidt is a profound exploration of themes such as family dynamics, personal growth, and the complexities of human nature, set against the backdrop of a small town in Maine. Published in 2008, this young adult novel delves into the turbulent world of Henry Smith, whose life is turned upside down by a tragic accident. The author, Gary D. Schmidt, is known for his ability to weave intricate narratives that capture the essence of adolescence. With a thoughtful approach to its subject matter, “Trouble” is suitable for readers aged 12 and above.

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Thesis Statement

In “Trouble,” Schmidt masterfully depicts the journey of a young boy grappling with the harsh realities of life, emphasizing the themes of forgiveness, resilience, and the impact of one’s actions on others.


  • Plot Overview: “Trouble” begins with Henry Smith, a teenager from a well-respected family in Blythbury-by-the-Sea, Maine, living a life untouched by true hardship. This serene existence is shattered when his older brother, Franklin, is hit by a truck driven by Chay Chouan, a Cambodian refugee. The accident leaves Franklin in a coma, engulfing the Smith family in grief and anger.As Franklin’s condition remains uncertain, Henry embarks on a journey to climb Maine’s Mount Katahdin, which he and Franklin had planned to do together. Accompanying Henry is his loyal dog, Black Dog, and his best friend, Sanborn. Along the way, they encounter Chay, who is also heading to Katahdin to fulfill a promise to his late father.

    The narrative weaves through the complexities of guilt, prejudice, and forgiveness. Henry wrestles with his feelings towards Chay and grapples with the realization that his brother is not the perfect role model he idolizes. The Smith family’s perception of the world, once black and white, is challenged as they confront uncomfortable truths about themselves and their community.

    The climax at Mount Katahdin serves as a metaphor for Henry’s internal struggle. The ascent is treacherous, mirroring his turbulent emotional journey. In a pivotal moment, Henry saves Chay’s life, symbolizing his growth and acceptance.

    The novel concludes with Henry achieving a newfound understanding of the world’s complexities and his place within it. The fate of Franklin remains uncertain, but the family moves forward, forever changed by the events that unfolded.

  • Main Characters 
    • Henry Smith:Henry Smith, the protagonist of “Trouble,” is a complex character whose journey forms the backbone of the narrative. At the outset, Henry is portrayed as a sheltered and somewhat naive teenager, living in a comfortable, small-town environment where the biggest concerns are often the most mundane. He idolizes his older brother Franklin, seeing him as a paragon of virtue and strength. This idolization is reflective of Henry’s initial worldview, which is rather black and white.As the story progresses, Henry’s character undergoes significant development. The accident that puts Franklin in a coma is a jarring introduction to the complexities and injustices of the world. His decision to climb Mount Katahdin, initially a tribute to his brother, becomes a journey of self-discovery. Throughout this journey, Henry grapples with various emotions – anger, guilt, and confusion about his family, his brother’s legacy, and his own identity.

      Henry’s interactions with Chay Chouan are particularly transformative. Initially influenced by the prejudiced views of his community and family, Henry gradually begins to see Chay as a person rather than a symbol of his family’s tragedy. This shift is pivotal in Henry’s character development, showcasing his growing empathy and understanding of the world’s complexities.

      By the end of the novel, Henry emerges as a more mature, thoughtful individual. He learns to navigate the gray areas of life, understanding that people, including his brother, are complex and flawed. This realization marks a significant departure from the black-and-white worldview he held at the beginning of the novel.

    • Franklin Smith: Henry’s older brother, idolized by Henry, whose accident serves as the catalyst for the story’s central conflicts.
    • Chay Chouan:Chay Chouan is a Cambodian refugee whose life intersects with Henry’s in a tragic and complicated manner. Chay is initially presented through the lens of the Smith family’s and the community’s prejudices – he is the driver of the truck that hits Franklin, and thus, he is seen as the antagonist, the cause of the family’s grief.However, as the narrative unfolds, Chay’s character is revealed to be much more nuanced. He is shown to be grappling with his own set of challenges, including being a refugee in a community that does not fully accept him and dealing with his own family’s tragic past. His journey to Mount Katahdin, like Henry’s, is laden with personal significance – a tribute to his late father.

      Chay’s character serves as a catalyst for much of the novel’s exploration of themes like racism, forgiveness, and the complexities of human nature. His interactions with Henry are crucial in challenging Henry’s, and by extension the reader’s, preconceived notions and biases.

    • Sanborn: Henry’s best friend, who provides comic relief and loyalty, accompanying Henry on his quest to Mount Katahdin.
    • Black Dog: Henry’s faithful dog, symbolizing loyalty and the uncomplicated love that contrasts with the human characters’ complex emotions.

In-Depth Analysis

  • Strengths: “Trouble” excels in its nuanced portrayal of characters and the exploration of heavy themes like racism, family dynamics, and personal growth. Schmidt’s prose is both accessible and profound, making complex ideas digestible for young readers. The setting of Maine provides a picturesque and symbolic backdrop for the story’s unfolding drama.
  • Weaknesses: Some readers might find the pacing of the book slow, especially in the first half. The complexity of themes might also be challenging for younger readers in the suggested age group.
  • Uniqueness and Literary Devices: The novel stands out for its use of symbolism and metaphor, particularly in the depiction of Mount Katahdin. Schmidt also employs foreshadowing and flashbacks effectively to deepen the narrative layers.
  • Relation to Broader Issues: “Trouble” touches on societal issues such as racial prejudice and the justice system, providing a mirror to real-world complexities. It encourages readers to question their preconceptions and biases.


  • Potential Audience: “Trouble” is ideal for young adults and older children, particularly those interested in stories of personal growth and moral dilemmas. It will also appeal to readers who enjoy character-driven narratives.
  • Comparisons with Similar Works: This novel can be compared to “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson in its exploration of youth and tragedy, and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee in its examination of prejudice and moral growth.
  • Final Recommendations: I highly recommend “Trouble” for its depth, emotional resonance, and the thoughtful way it tackles difficult topics. It’s a compelling read that stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

Thematic Analysis

“Trouble” delves deeply into themes of family, identity, and the journey from innocence to experience. The novel examines how tragedy can redefine one’s perspective and the importance of empathy in understanding others. Schmidt also explores the destructive nature of prejudice and the redemptive power of forgiveness.

Stylistic Elements

Schmidt’s writing style is descriptive yet concise, creating vivid imagery and strong emotional connections with the characters. The dialogue is authentic, capturing the voices of teenagers and adults alike.

Comparisons to Other Works

In addition to the earlier comparisons, “Trouble” shares similarities with “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio in its exploration of young characters facing extraordinary challenges and the importance of kindness.

Test Questions with Answers

  1. What is the significance of Mount Katahdin in the novel? Answer: Mount Katahdin symbolizes the personal challenges and growth that Henry undergoes. It represents both a physical and emotional journey.
  2. How does Henry’s perception of his brother Franklin change throughout the novel? Answer: Henry’s idolization of Franklin is shattered as he learns about Franklin’s flaws and prejudices, leading to a more complex understanding of his brother.

Other Reviews of “Trouble”

  1. Publishers Weekly Review of “Trouble”
  2. School Library Journal’s Analysis of “Trouble”

Additional Information

  • Awards: “Trouble” has received critical acclaim but has not received any specific literary awards.
  • Bibliographic Information:
    • Title: “Trouble”
    • Author: Gary D. Schmidt
    • Publisher: Clarion Books Publication
    • Date: 2008
    • ISBN: 978-0547016146
  • Summaries of Other Reviews: The reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal praise “Trouble” for its emotional depth and complex characters. They note the book’s ability to engage young readers with serious themes.
  • Book Series and Other Media Formats: “Trouble” is a standalone novel and has not been adapted into other media formats.
  • Author Information:

    Author Information: Gary D. Schmidt

    Gary D. Schmidt is an accomplished American author primarily known for his work in children’s and young adult literature. His writing is distinguished by its depth, emotional resonance, and the exploration of complex themes within the framework of accessible stories for young readers. Here’s a more detailed look at his background and career:

    Early Life and Education

    • Birth and Upbringing: Gary D. Schmidt was born in 1957. Details about his early life, including his birthplace and family background, are not widely publicized, but these formative years undoubtedly played a role in shaping his perspective as a writer.
    • Education: Schmidt holds an undergraduate degree from Gordon College, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts. He furthered his education at the University of Illinois, where he received a master’s degree. He then completed his PhD at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His academic background, particularly in English and American literature, is evident in the literary quality of his writing.

    Literary Career

    • Teaching and Writing: In addition to his writing, Gary D. Schmidt is a professor of English at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he teaches courses in writing and children’s literature. His role as an educator has likely influenced his approach to storytelling, with an emphasis on themes and messages that resonate with young readers.
    • Notable Works: Schmidt has authored several critically acclaimed novels, including “Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy,” which won a Newbery Honor and the Printz Honor in 2005, and “The Wednesday Wars,” which also received a Newbery Honor in 2008. His other notable works include “Okay for Now” and “Orbiting Jupiter,” each lauded for their thoughtful storytelling and character development.
    • Writing Style: Schmidt is known for his ability to tackle difficult subjects with sensitivity and insight, often exploring themes of family, personal growth, and the complexities of human nature. His characters are typically well-developed and relatable, often undergoing significant personal growth and facing moral dilemmas.
    • Awards and Recognition: Schmidt’s work has garnered significant recognition in the field of children’s literature. He has received multiple awards and honors, highlighting his contribution to the genre.

    Personal Life and Interests

    • Interests and Advocacy: While details about Schmidt’s personal life are not extensively documented, his writing suggests a deep interest in history, moral complexity, and the trials and triumphs of adolescence. He often advocates for the importance of young adult literature in helping children and teenagers understand and navigate the world.
    • Influence and Impact: Schmidt’s books are frequently used in educational settings, both for their literary merit and for their ability to engage young readers with important social and emotional themes. His impact on children’s literature is significant, as he continues to inspire and educate through his storytelling.