Pay It Forward

A Novel

Pay It Forward

The internationally acclaimed sensation that started a movement of giving.

When his teacher sets a challenge to his class to come up with a plan to change the world for the better, twelve-year-old Trevor McKinney’s idea is simple: Do a good deed for three people and ask each of them to “pay it forward” to three others who need help. At first, the plan goes awry, and Trevor’s project seems valuable only as a lesson on the dark side of human nature. But then something amazing starts to happen: a vast movement of kindness and goodwill spreading beyond Trevor’s small California town and across the world.

Soon a journalist with a story of his own tracks down the source of the epidemic, and makes Trevor a celebrity. Yet Trevor has problems closer to home: he wants his pretty, hardworking mother to see the softer side of his beloved teacher, Reuben St. Clair, a scarred Vietnam veteran who seems to come alive only when he’s in front of his class.

In the end, Pay It Forward is the story of seemingly ordinary people made extraordinary by the faith of a child—a story so powerful it has inspired people around the world to follow its example in their own lives. Anyone who has ever despaired of one person’s ability to effect change will rejoice in this novel’s triumphant message of hope.
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 288 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743203890 | 
  • March 2000
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Pay It Forward includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Trevor McKinney was not an exceptional student. In fact, as the child of a single mom who worked two jobs and battled alcoholism, he had more strikes against him than most of his classmates when it came to succeeding in school or in life. He was never going to change the world, or achieve anything close to that. But things aren’t always what they seem. An ordinary social studies extra-credit assignment provided the inspiration for Trevor to unleash the seeds of hope and compassion that had taken root in his heart, and nothing was ever the same again. Pay It Forward is the compelling story of one boy’s journey to hang on to hope for change in the world, against all odds.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. What was your favorite part of Pay It Forward? Describe.

2. If you were a student in Reuben St. Clair’s class, how would you have responded to him in light of his physical appearance? How did you feel about Trevor’s response to him? What do you think Trevor saw? Why do you think children ofte see more

Articles About This Book


Posted on Off the Shelf

Posted by Catherine Ryan Hyde

When I began seriously pursuing writing (around 1991) I was told that my novels were literary and “little.” I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, except that it seemed to portend that they would remain little known. Somehow I broke out of that...

More Books from this Author

The internationally bestselling book that inspired the Pay It Forward movement is now available in a middle grade edition.Pay It Forward is a moving, uplifting novel about Trevor McKinney, a twelve-year-old boy in a small California town who accepts his teacher’s challenge to earn extra credit by coming up with a plan to change the world. Trevor’s idea is simple: do a good deed for three people, and instead of asking them to return the favor, ask them to “pay it forward”...

About the Author

Catherine Ryan Hyde
Photograph © Charlotte Alexander

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of twenty-five books, which include Where We Belong, When You Were Older, Walk Me Home, When I Found You, Don’t Let Me Go, The Language of Hoofbeats, and Take Me With You, among others. More than fifty of her short stories have been published in various literary magazines. Following the success of Pay It Forward, Catherine founded the Pay It Forward Foundation and served as president until 2009. She lives in California with her dog, Ella, and their cat, Jordan. To learn more about the foundation and other forthcoming books, visit