Review: Reading with Patrick

A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship
by Michelle Kuo

A memoir of race, inequality, and the power of literature told through the life-changing friendship between an idealistic young teacher and her gifted student, jailed for murder in the Mississippi Delta.

From page one, Michelle Kuo's extraordinary memoir, Reading with Patrick, pulled me into a journey from Arkansas to Harvard, and places in between. It challenged my assumptions about the label "murderer" and reinforced my own professional experience teaching at-risk students. Kuo's entertaining writing style and honesty fuel a deeper conversation about education, race, and justice in contemporary America.

In 2004, Michelle Kuo – American-born daughter of Taiwanese parents – sidesteps the siren call of corporate America. Armed with her Harvard degree and infinite idealism, she moves to Helena, Arkansas on assignment with Teach For America (see Beyond the Book.) "What I wanted to do was straightforward, immediate work in places that needed people," she says. Placed at a school called Stars – which has since closed – where incorrigible students were sidelined as a last resort, Kuo learns that merely showing up to school is their largest hurdle. She realizes that school cannot magically solve the enduring ills of the community: poverty, drugs, violence.


Torrey Douglass