Review: The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom

by Helen Thorpe (Scribner, 2017)

Journalist Helen Thorpe is the child of Irish immigrants to America, and writes with authority as well as compassion about young people who are recent arrivals to the United States. During a year spent shadowing in a classroom at Denver's South High, the author explores the lives and struggles of teens who have recently arrived to America speaking more than ten different mother-tongues. Classroom dynamics, strategies of a dedicated and talented English Language Acquisition (ELA) teacher (Mr. Williams), and unique stories of the teens are revealed in chronological chapters that cycle through the 2015-16 school year. In one section of the book, journalist Thorpe travels to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and reconnects with family members of Solomon and Methusela, two star students from the ELA class. There are many twists and turns, triumphs and setbacks that individual students (and school staff) experience during the year. Excellent storytelling and character development propel this suspenseful narrative.

The Newcomers offers insights and heart-felt human dimension to current hot-button issues: refugees, immigration, education, finding the American Dream, multicultural communities, teaching tolerance, post-war recovery. Highly recommended for all teachers, teachers-in-training, parent groups, and school administrators. Absolutely required reading for American legislators at the local, state, and national levels, especially those shaping immigration and education policies.

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Karen Lewis