Study Guide

The Circuit Themes

  • Family

    When it comes to sticking together as a family, no one does it like Francisco's family in The Circuit—and they're no small brood either. By the end of the book, we've got Mamá, Papá, Roberto, Francisco, Trampita, Torito, Rubén, and Rorra.

    No matter how large they grow in number, though, his family stays together through thick and thin. So when they have a tough time finding work and dad's back is injured, Roberto and Francisco step up to the plate, and when Torito is sick, the whole family comes together to make a pretty awesome miracle happen. Life may not always be hunky dory, but in the end this family learns what it means to show one another some serious support.

    Questions About Family

    1. What makes families strong in The Circuit? How do families become weak? 
    2. How does Francisco get along with his siblings and parents? How are parent-child relationships different from sibling ones? And how are they similar? 
    3. How does family impact Francisco's identity? 
    4. Are there any downsides to having a big family in this book? What about the upsides?

    Chew on This

    Family is a downer. In The Circuit, Francisco is held back by his family and that's a bad thing.

    Family is the best. When it comes to making Francisco's life the cream of the crop, nothing works quite like his family.

  • Disappointment

    We're not gonna lie to you: loads of bad stuff goes down in The Circuit. We've got pets dying, friends disappearing, and houses burning up all in the same story—in other words, there are some major disappointments in store for Francisco and his family. They're not easy to get through, and Francisco lets us know that sadness can feel pretty overwhelming sometimes.

    But don't worry—there's some good news, too. Sometimes disappointments teach Francisco bigger lessons, like about how much he's grown or how awesome his family is. And while this definitely doesn't erase all the downers, it might make them a tad bit more bearable.

    Questions About Disappointment

    1. What makes the disappointing experiences super rough in this book? And what makes them more manageable? 
    2. Which characters experience the most sadness? Are there any characters that experience oodles of happiness instead? Why do you think this is?
    3. What are the positive elements to being disappointed? What about the negative elements?

    Chew on This

    Disappointment breaks Francisco down. Francisco goes through so many rough patches, and by the end they've left him with a pretty broken identity.

    Disappointment builds Francisco up. Lots of stuff goes wrong in his life, but in the end it makes him a stronger guy, inside and out.

  • Language and Communication

    When Francisco and his family move from Mexico to California in The Circuit, one of the biggest challenges they face is learning English. At home Francisco speaks Spanish with his parents and siblings, but in school it's all about knowing English and feeling confident with it. Speaking English also comes up when his family is trying to find work. In other words, every time they leave their house, English comes into the communication equation. With few people willing to help Francisco learn English, though, he's got his work cut out for him.

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. What causes language barriers in The Circuit? How do the characters work around these barriers? Are they ever impossible to break down? 
    2. How is learning to communicate in English important for Francisco?
    3. Which non-verbal communication skills crop up in this book? How do they impact the communities we see?

    Chew on This

    Verbal communication is key. In The Circuit, Francisco needs to learn to talk in English just so he can fit in.

    Communication comes in all shapes and sizes, and in The Circuit, Francisco finds all sorts of ways to get in touch with those around him.

  • Visions of California

    Picture this: a land where you can sweep up money and everyone is happy. Sounds pretty great, right? When Francisco and his family think of California, this super happy image is what they have in mind… but when they show up, things are a wee bit different. Often they're living by a garbage dump and spending their days scrambling to find work. Yep, life in California sure can be tough in The Circuit. There are some good times too, of course, but in the end the California of their dreams and the California of their reality are vastly different.

    Questions About Visions of California

    1. What do the characters expect to find in California? And how does the reality of California match up to the characters' expectations? 
    2. What makes California an awesome place to live? And what are the downsides? Do you think it's more of a positive or negative place in this book? 
    3. What are the differences between California and Mexico in The Circuit? And what are the similarities?

    Chew on This

    In The Circuit, the characters discover that California might have its flaws, but overall it's still the best place on earth.

    In The Circuit, California turns out to be a big disappointment because the bad outweighs the good.

  • Perseverance

    If you're looking for a hard-working group, then look no further than Francisco's family in The Circuit. Every member of his family works hard all day long—no joke. While Francisco and Roberto are doing fieldwork with their dad, Mamá is cooking away all day; even the kids help out with babysitting and other chores. And on top of all that, Francisco and Roberto have to work hard in school for part of the year. Gosh, we're getting tired just thinking about all this work.

    With so much to do, Francisco and his family have to persevere through each and every day, no matter what comes at them. But all that perseverance leaves one seriously huge question: in the end, is all this hard work worth it?

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. Which types of hard work do we see in this book? And what makes these tasks so difficult? 
    2. Which characters really value hard work? Are there certain characters that don't try very hard? 
    3. How is hard work rewarded in this book? And how is it punished? Overall, do you think perseverance is characterized as a worthwhile trait?

    Chew on This

    In the end, hard work is worth the trouble. Even though there are bumps along the way, in The Circuit perseverance ends up being super valuable.

    Just ditch the hard work. In The Circuit, perseverance doesn't pay off, so the characters should just stop trying.

  • Time

    Here's the deal: when you make your living by picking crops, time is seriously important. Certain plants grow and need to be harvested at super specific times, and that means farm workers—like Francisco's family in The Circuit—end up working different jobs during different seasons. This means lots of moving around, and it also means that when nothing's in season, there's also no work. Needless to say, this makes the passage of time—and seasons—pretty scary sometimes.

    Questions About Time

    1. How do the characters mark the passage of time? Do different characters understand time in distinct ways? 
    2. What do you think of the way the changing seasons are represented? Do the changes sound good or bad? How so?
    3. In the novel, is there anything that stays the same over time?

    Chew on This

    Time passing means progress in this book, and important shifts happen as the years go by that are good news for Francisco.

    Time might pass, but everything stays the same. Not much changes over time in this book, which is a real bummer.

  • Education

    Education is really important to Francisco's family in The Circuit, and with good reason. Francisco's mom and dad didn't get to go to school back in Mexico, so they're really excited about sending their kiddos to school in California. This excitement doesn't mean that getting an education is easy for Francisco, of course, and being forced to change schools on the regular—plus being ignored by most of his teachers—doesn't help. But once Francisco finds some seriously awesome teachers who show him how it's done, his attitude toward school changes for good.

    Questions About Education

    1. What is school like in this book? What makes school a great place to learn? Are there things about school that stink?
    2. What helps Francisco to be a better student? And what holds him back? How so?
    3. Does education happen only in school? Where else does learning happen in this book, and how? 
    4. Which characters care the most about education? Which care the least? How does this impact the way the characters develop over time?

    Chew on This

    Francisco's education might not be easy, but in the long run it's definitely worth it.

    No matter how much Francisco learns, he still ends up in the same place, and that means his education is pretty pointless.

  • Poverty

    Here's the deal: poverty makes life pretty rough for Francisco's family. When they move to California, they've got high hopes for the life they're going to lead, but they end up doing a lot of really hard work for not that much money. Plus they have to move around a lot, and some of the places they live are pretty crummy. In The Circuit, poverty has a lot to do with not having much in terms of security and possessions. But it doesn't mean our characters lack spirit, dreams, or stick-to-itiveness.

    Questions About Poverty

    1. What does poverty look like in this book? Are there certain defining features? 
    2. What are the downsides to being poor in this book? Are there positive elements too? How so? 
    3. How does poverty impact family relationships? 
    4. How does poverty affect the characters' sense of self? Does it have positive or negative impacts on their self-esteem?

    Chew on This

    Poverty is permanent. In The Circuit, Francisco's family is always poor, and this means that poverty is inescapable.

    Poverty is temporary. In The Circuit, Francisco's family finds ways to make their situation better, and this suggests that they can escape poverty one day.