The Newcomers

The Newcomers

Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in An American Classroom

Book - 2017
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"A delicate and heartbreaking mystery story...Thorpe's book is a reminder that in an era of nativism, some Americans are still breaking down walls and nurturing newcomers, the seeds of the great American experiment." -- The New York Times Book Review

"The teens we meet have endured things none of us can imagine...and [this book has] never been more crucial than at this moment." -- USA TODAY

"Helen Thorpe has taken policy and turned it into literature." --Malcolm Gladwell

From the award-winning, "meticulously observant" author of Soldier Girls and Just Like Us comes a powerful and moving account of how refugee teenagers at a public high school learn English and become Americans, in the care of a compassionate teacher.

The Newcomers follows the lives of twenty-two immigrant teenagers throughout the course of the 2015-2016 school year as they land at South High School in Denver, Colorado. These newcomers, from fourteen to nineteen years old, come from nations convulsed by drought or famine or war. Many come directly from refugee camps, after experiencing dire forms of cataclysm. Some arrive alone, having left or lost every other member of their original family.

At the center of their story is Mr. Williams, their dedicated and endlessly resourceful teacher of English Language Acquisition. If Mr. Williams does his job right, the newcomers will leave his class at the end of the school year with basic English skills and new confidence, their foundation for becoming Americans and finding a place in their new home. Ultimately, " The Newcomers reads more like an anthropologist's notebook than a work of reportage: Helen Thorpe not only observes, she chips in her two cents and participates. Like her, we're moved and agitated by this story of refugee teenagers...Donald Trump's gross slander of refugees and immigrants is countered on every page by the evidence of these students' lives and characters" ( Los Angeles Review of Books ).

With the US at a political crossroads around questions of immigration, multiculturalism, and America's role on the global stage, Thorpe presents a fresh and nuanced perspective. The Newcomers is "not only an intimate look at lives immigrant teens live, but it is a primer on the art and science of new language acquisition and a portrait of ongoing and emerging global horrors and the human fallout that arrives on our shores" ( USA TODAY).
Publisher: New York : Scribner, 2017
Edition: First Scribner hardcover edition
ISBN: 9781501159091
Branch Call Number: 373.182691 THORPE
Characteristics: xv, 396 pages ; 24 cm

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ArapahoeJulieH Oct 08, 2019

An intimate portrayal of the non-English speaking students in Denver’s South High School. Many of these students are refugees of trauma brought on by war, violence and displacement (DRC, El Salvador, Tajikistan, Mauritania, Mozambique, Burma, Eritrea, Iran, Bhutan Mexico and Iraq). Thrope reveals... Read More »

List - Colorado Authors
DaviesStaffPicks Feb 28, 2019

Colorado author Helen Thorpe follows twenty-two immigrant children ranging in age from fourteen to nineteen throughout their first year at South High in Denver and details the struggles they endure trying to adapt.

Twenty-two immigrant teens, many coming directly from refugee camps, enroll at Denver's South High. Thorpe follows them for a year as they learn English and gain confidence in navigating their new home.

Learn about global conflicts from the stories of refugee kids at South High School in Denver.

Comment
ArapahoeStaff8 Feb 22, 2018

A accurate and current look at teenagers who arrive in Denver as immigrants or refugees. They experience hardship in poverty, difficulties in lving in a new place, displacement from family - yet they are still high school teenagers. Written by the former wife of Governor Hickenlooper.


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ArapahoeJulieH Oct 08, 2019

An intimate portrayal of the non-English speaking students in Denver’s South High School. Many of these students are refugees of trauma brought on by war, violence and displacement (DRC, El Salvador, Tajikistan, Mauritania, Mozambique, Burma, Eritrea, Iran, Bhutan Mexico and Iraq). Thrope reveals a tenacity and resilience in these young people and their families. She also introduces us to the caring teachers (Mr. Williams!) who mentor them and the caseworkers, synagogues and churches, etc., who assist them in navigating this new landscape. A must read!

s
saweyer
Sep 20, 2019

from Ellie

m
marydave
Jul 10, 2018

Please read this book! It gives a vivid picture of the difficult lives of immigrant teens.

p
pterry25
Jun 16, 2018

A wonderful story. The teachers who give their all to work with refugees in the school system. Funny stories about the kids bonding. The Pep Rally story is a hoot. But it encapsulates much of what the newcomers face.

Great read.

s
sandraperkins
Apr 01, 2018

This is a fascinating book! The author spent a whole year (2016-7) observing and participating in a beginning English classroom in a large Denver high school that has many refugee and immigrant students. Then she wrote this book to tell the stories of the 22 students who were part of Mr. Williams's class during this school year. These 22 students came from countries all over the world, speaking a wide range of languages, but they all knew little or no English when they arrived. Mr. Williams is the gifted teacher who taught them English during that school year.

The refugee students had endured horrific events in their lives before arriving in this classroom. What they went through in their short lives before coming to the US is far more harrowing than anything most of us have ever had to face in many more years of life. Some saw family members murdered; some lived in huge refugee camps for years; some escaped war and worse with only the clothes on their backs. They all left everything they ever knew to come to a strange country where they did not know the language or the customs. And now they are here, in this US high school, and they have to learn English before their educations can proceed.

At the beginning of the year, the students are nearly mute, afraid to try to speak English, and the classroom is silent. The descriptions of what the teacher does to engage them and bring them out of their shells are priceless. We get to see how it all unfolds. By the end of the year, students have formed friendships and connections, and the classroom is not quiet any more! 

The author has been given permission to visit the homes and families of some of the students, so we learn a lot about what the adults in the families are going through as well. It is not easy to be a refugee in this country.

First, if you have believed the rhetoric about terrorists coming into the US as refugees, that is total BS. It takes YEARS to be admitted to the US as a refugee; only a tiny percentage are admitted (even before the current administration put up new barriers to refugees); there is a ton of vetting; there is no certainty that any particular person will be admitted, or how long it might take. It is laughable to think that a terrorist would choose that long, uncertain way to enter the US.

Second, the financial help given to refugees is minimal. They are encouraged to become financially self-sufficient ASAP. The jobs available to the adult refugees who do not speak English well are hard and pay little.

Third, how many of us have personally welcomed refugees to this country? The author loves the opportunity to get to know the families of these young students. The adults in the families have successes and failures (some tragic). The author notes that one family she is visiting has regular help from an evangelical Christian named Mark, who comes faithfully every week to see what kind of help the family needs, and then helps to provide it. The author notes that she and Mark probably have very different political views, but Mark is living his faith and "welcoming the stranger", while many liberals support refugees in concept (and maybe financially), but do not know any personally. That really hit home.

I found this book both enjoyable and inspiring. It is long (almost 400 pages), but it is well worth reading. As you read this book, I challenge you to put yourself in the shoes of these young students and their families. Could you do as well in their place? Could you leave everything you have ever known and start over (with nothing) in a completely different culture, learn a new language, find a new job, make a new home, find a new community, etc.? It sounds overwhelming to me.

ArapahoeStaff8 Feb 22, 2018

A accurate and current look at teenagers who arrive in Denver as immigrants or refugees. They experience hardship in poverty, difficulties in lving in a new place, displacement from family - yet they are still high school teenagers. Written by the former wife of Governor Hickenlooper.

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