This “Nightcrawling” Reading Group Guide Will Spark Thoughtful Reflection and Lively Conversation

·4 min read
Photo credit: Author photo: Magdalena Frigo
Photo credit: Author photo: Magdalena Frigo


Nightcrawling is a stunningly gritty and achingly honest tale of survival by 2018 Oakland youth poet laureate and debut novelist Leila Mottley.

The novel follows Kiara, a 17-year-old East Oakland native forced to try and salvage the pieces of what her family once was in the wake of tragedy and injustice. Facing eviction, Kiara must find a way to stave off homelessness and protect the people she loves most. Without the support of her parents—her father is dead and her mother in a halfway house—or the financial help of her older brother, Marcus, Kiara stumbles into the world of nightcrawling as a way out.

What begins as a means of keeping the lights on and the landlord out soon thrusts Kiara into a web of danger, corruption, and media scandal that threatens everyone and everything she holds dear. Bringing readers into the dark depths of the criminal justice system, Nightcrawling is a heartbreaking and unforgettable work of fiction that gives a much-needed voice to the silenced.

The following questions and topics are designed to spark thoughtful reflection and lively conversation around your book club’s reading and discussion of Nightcrawling. We hope they enrich your experience of this astonishing debut from a shining new literary star.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Questions and Topics for Discussion

  1. A recurring element in Nightcrawling is the imagery of water, from the swimming pool in Kiara’s apartment complex to the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. What do these bodies of water represent to Kiara, and how do they manifest themselves in her emotional state throughout the text? Returning to the first and last pages of the novel, how does Kiara’s perception of the pool change?

  2. Which images of Oakland stand out to you most? How do development and underdevelopment contrast each other within the city? Could your own hometown be described in this way?

  3. In the absence of parental figures, Kiara must piece together her own family, reflecting, “Mama used to tell me that blood is everything, but I think we’re all out here unlearning that sentiment, scraping our knees and asking strangers to patch us back up” (page 32). Does Kiara succeed in creating a chosen family? Who are the members, and how do they support one another?

  4. What are the different degrees of success and survival that Kiara sees in the characters around her, such as Alé, Cole, and Uncle Ty?

  5. Nightcrawling is interspersed with flashbacks to moments in which Kiara felt connected with her big brother, Marcus. Is Marcus a good brother? How do these flashbacks differ from the Marcus who interacts with Kiara within the timeline of the story? In what ways does he support Kiara, and in what ways does he fail her?

  6. Describe the circumstances that lead to Kiara’s nightcrawling.

  7. On page 82, Kiara reflects, “Houses give away all their secrets at the door. Dee’s is full of scratches. Mine doesn’t have a working lock no more.” Do you see symbolism in Kiara’s unlocked door? Over the course of her story, how does she attempt to find and/or create safety for herself and Trevor?

  8. On page 130, Kiara describes watching Camila dance and realizing that she is not as free as she thinks she is. How does the protection Demond provides Camila parallel the protection the police department provides Kiara? Is either woman really safe or free?

  9. Compare Kiara’s father’s experiences with the Oakland Police Department as a Black Panther to those of Kiara and the sex workers she encounters. In what ways are their experiences similar, and in what ways are they different?

  10. Do you think it is important that the story is written from a first-person perspective? How would the novel be different if it was told by a character other than Kiara?

  11. Despite their strained relationships with their mother and father, do Kiara and Marcus inherit any of the behaviors and personalities of their parents?

  12. Describe your impressions of Marsha and the development of her relationship with Kiara. What steps must Marsha take to gain her trust? In what ways can Marsha see Kiara, and in what ways is she blind to her experiences?

  13. How did your perception of Kiara and Alé’s relationship shift as the novel unfolded?

  14. What is the significance of Marcus’s choice to bail out Cole instead of himself? Were you surprised by his choice? Why do you think he made this decision?

  15. During her testimony for the grand jury, Kiara repeats, “I was a child” (page 263). Why is this important for Kiara to recognize?

  16. How did you react to the grand jury’s verdict?

  17. Read or listen to a few poems by Leila Mottley. As you reflect on the novel, what elements of her poetry do you notice being incorporated into Nightcrawling?

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

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