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The New Kids by Brooke Hauser (thoughts)

September 21, 2011

You might have noticed I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for refugee and immigrant issues. Whether it’s a sprawling novel or hard-hitting nonfiction or elegant short story collection or fascinating memoir, it’s difficult for me to resist a book with such a topic. I also quite enjoy nonfiction books centered around education, teaching or learning, whatever age level, they always tempt me! So you can imagine how how irresistable I found The New Kids by Brooke Hauser when I came across it on Netgalley: Hauser is a journalist who spent a year studying a high school in Brooklyn that only accepts recent immigrants/refugees who aren’t yet proficient in English, getting to know the students and their stories. And the moment my request was approved, I loaded it up on Athie and read it straight through!

On the nonfiction scale, I would rate this as closer to ‘intellectual candy’ than ‘heavy hitting’: it’s smart, and Hauser does quite a bit of research into the background of a few students (and she seems to have corroborated what they told her, rather than accepting it at face value, as befits a journalist), but ultimately it’s an extended, engaging ‘human interest’ story. I mean this in a good way: I think Hauser set out to draw readers in and make them empathise with the students and the wide range of dilemmas they face, and she achieved her goal admirably! There are big issues touched on, as one might imagine, but Hauser keeps her scope tight, on the teachers and students. Are you going to see a in-depth analysis of US migration policy or how conflicts around the world affect human migration? No. But you will get to know actual teenagers whose lives are shaped by these forces, to get a peek into their current lives and the past that brought them to New York, to empathise with their sorrows and celebrate with their triumphs. I believe it’s what Kim would call narrative nonfiction, and thus would be a great choice for those who don’t usually read nonfic, as well as being a nice treat for us addicts when we need a break from the heavier stuff. ;) So I’d highly recommend this to a variety of readers: if it sounds at all intriguing to you, pick it up! I bet once you start, you won’t be able to put it down.

Suggested Companion Reads

  • Among Schoolchildren by Tracy Kidder (I almost didn’t link to my post, because it’s from when I was a baby blogger, and makes me cringe. Anyway, if you’re in the mood for another ‘in a teacher’s shoes’ narrative, here’s your fix! It follows the schoolyear in one fifth grade classroom.)
  • Once Upon a Quinceanera by Julia Alvarez (An investigate nonfiction book that looks at the lives of teenage Latina girls in the US, from various immigrant communities, and is framed around quinceanera celebrations-for those who didn’t go to high school for Texas, these are gala fifteenth birthday parties.)
  • Hunger by Lan Samantha Chang (A novella and short story collection centered around Chinese immigrants in New York City and their children.)
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10 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2011 6:55 am

    Very interesting! My brother in laws family moved here several years ago from Mexico and his little brother is now headed into high school. This might be sort of timely for me.

  2. September 21, 2011 7:35 am

    I’m very fond of (fiction or nonfiction) immigrant kid reading. Oh, and Among Schoolchildren! My favorite Tracy Kidder book. So nice that I read it twice.

  3. September 21, 2011 8:39 am

    Wonderful recommendation. I will definitely head to Netgalley and check it out. Sounds like an interesting read for teenagers as well, so hopefully mine will like it.

  4. September 21, 2011 10:16 am

    This sounds like a book I would love. I know going to school in a foreign language isn’t easy because my son did it for 2 years.

  5. September 21, 2011 2:11 pm

    Nice review! Good to know what it is and what it isn’t :-) I often find that narrative non-fiction brings issues home much more effectively than the heavier stuff. Of course you need both – the issues and the policy are important as well – but reading about real people and their lives can be really rewarding.

  6. September 21, 2011 8:47 pm

    This one sounds so good! I love narrative nonfiction about topics like this, it helps humanize the issues for me.

  7. September 22, 2011 2:47 am

    I am fascinated by books about teaching, and so many are designed specifically for classroom teachers, it can be hard to find interesting ones for a general reader. I’m currently in a novel about a teacher at middle school and it is shaping up into one of the best reads of the year – Ms Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum. It has immense charm. Your review is very intriguing, Eva, I’ll keep an eye out for this one, too.

  8. September 23, 2011 8:25 pm

    This sounds like a fabulous read! I love reading about immigration and narrative nonfiction is my favorite kind of nonfiction, so I’m going to try and get my hands on this book!

  9. September 25, 2011 10:02 am

    Hmmm sounds like a really great book that I’d really enjoy. I marvel at your ability to find such great books on NetGalley. I never do. And when I do, I forget to read them ;) heh

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  1. Off the Stacks: ‘The New Kids’ by Brooke Hauser

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