The Newcomers

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 14 Nov 2017

Member Reviews

I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for my unbiased opinion.

In The Newcomers, Helen Thorpe follows the lives of several immigrants who attend the beginners' English-language acquisition class at South High School in Denver during the 2015-2016 school year.  The students come from all over the world, speaking a variety of languages, escaping war, famine, and various other circumstances.  Thorpe mostly follows their progress at in Mr. Williams's ELA class but also meets with the students' parents to learn about the situation they fled and how their assimilation is going.

This book made me remember what I loved about teaching.  As a former teacher, I tend to remember the bad experiences that made me get out of the profession.  Mr. Williams is the type of teacher every student deserves to have.  I think it is great that Denver has a magnet school for English-language learners.  The students in this book help put faces to the refugee crisis going on in the world.  I wish this book could be required reading for those who set immigration policies and those who work with immigrants at any point in their resettlement process.
Was this review helpful?
On my daily commute I pass a beautiful, old high school. This is Denver South. Denver South High School is the magnet school for teenagers in the Denver Public School System who have limited or no English skills. This book takes place from August 2015 through the fall semester of 2016, and follows Mr. Williams, and his Newcomer Class. Over the first year 22 teenagers will find themselves in Mr. William's classroom. Almost all of them are refugees or asylum seekers. Many have experienced trauma that most people will never experience in their lifetime. Over the next year and a half these children will struggle to learn English as they learn a new city and transportation system, adjust to a new culture, and try to overcome their difficult pasts. All of this is set against the rise of Donald Trump.

I will be proselytizing for this book for a long, long time. I thought about these kids every morning and every evening as I passed their school. I thought about them when the Trump administration revoked the protected status of Salvadoran asylum seekers (two of the children are from El Salvador). I thought about them as the POS masquerading as the human President of the United States called many places "shit hole" countries. I thought about them tonight as the government shut down over Dreamers and the damn wall. The rage was physical at times. There were tears, and grinding of teeth. If I could hit every person in government over the head with this book until they read it I would. As it turns out, the more advanced students read another book that I think every member of Congress should read, Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. 

So read this book. Don't make me hit you over the head with i
Was this review helpful?
Let me preface this by saying that I also teach English to speakers of other languages. I should also say that I'm writing this review several months after finishing the book. 

The Newcomers was okay, but it didn't teach me anything new. It seemed more like a performative way to *prove* refugees "aren't all bad." The book exploits the children's trauma and is constantly highlighting their otherness ("oh that's so different from what I'm used to" is a pretty common thread). At the same time, Thorpe tries hard to say the kids are "just like us."  It's paradoxical but  Thorpe somehow manages to emphasize both their differences and their sameness. 

Thorpe ties the children's stories to her own Irish-American upbringing about half a century ago, but her struggles-- though valid-- are incomparable to what these children face. She came to the US already knowing English, and she came at such a young age that the US is the only country she really knows. The brief discussion of how Irish immigrants were treated was fairly interesting, I guess. I'm not saying one struggle is harder than the other, they're just very different situations. I wish the author had talked less about herself and focused more on Mr. Williams and the children. 

I appreciate that Thorpe took the time to talk to the children directly, and did not force anyone to participate. I also appreciate that she tried to integrate herself into the classroom and the children's lives, providing assistance when needed and when possible. Some of the children's struggles are simply the struggles of people in poverty in the US, some of their struggles are specific to their backgrounds. 

After reading The Newcomers, I was annoyed Thorpe chose this particular image as the cover. The girl (I can't remember her name anymore) only wore her hair covered for a short period of time, so it seems misleading to display this picture of her. Considering the comments Trump was making about Muslims at the time of publishing, it seems like she used the image for shock value. She effectively confirmed what many Americans (not just islamophobes, trust me) already believe: Muslims come from other countries (i.e. they are not and cannot be American) and if they cover their hair, it must be because they haven't adjusted to American culture yet. The girl's story, and her reason for wearing, then removing her scarf if interesting, but it's not the main idea of the book. I would have preferred a cover image with the children in the background placed front and center. 

All in all, the book is worth the read simply because it provides another perspective of American life. It's also helpful for TESOL and ELA teachers, because they can glean some ideas from it. I would not, however, deem this book the end-all, be-all. It should be treated as one of many perspectives.
Was this review helpful?
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 speak more than ten different languages. Classroom dynamics, teaching strategies of gifted English Language Acquisition (ELA) teacher Mr. Williams, and the unique stories of the teens are revealed in chronological chapters that cycle through the 2015-16 school year.

An added bonus is a section when 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 Denver ELA class who once lived in a refugee camp. There are many twists and turns, triumphs and setbacks that the students (and school staff) experience during the year. Excellent storytelling and character development resonate throughout this page turning narrative.

THE NEWCOMERS offers a vivid and heart-felt human dimension to current hot-button issues: refugees, immigration, education, finding the American Dream, multilingual communities, teaching tolerance, post-war recovery. Highly recommended for all teachers and teachers-in-training. Should be required reading for all legislators at the local, state, and national level, especially those shaping immigration and education policies.
Was this review helpful?
I've always been fascinated by the story of refugees and what they've had to overcome to get to their new country of residence. This book follows twenty-two teenagers who have come from Mexico, South America, Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and are now in South High School in Denver, Colorado. One of the first faces they see in this school is Mr. Williams, an incredible teacher who helps these kids learn the English language and understand American culture, which is very different from what many of them are used to. 

Not only does this book delve into the process of the education they receive, from language as simple as introducing themselves in English, to being able to go grocery shopping and asking for assistance, but Helen Thorpe also goes into some of their homes, meets their families and learns their story - all while the politics of immigration and the safety of refugees is making headlines on the evening news.

This is an inspiring and eye-opening book that everyone could learn something from.

*ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
As a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, both in the US and elsewhere, I found this excellent book hit close to home and was also a complete pleasure to read. There was a lot of nodding my head in recognition at the types of students in Mr. Williams’ Newcomers English and the bureaucratic and cultural struggles they and their families were going through as the election of Donald Trump went from joke to awful possibility to appalling reality.

I think the big problem this book might have is a marketing one, to wit, people in the teaching business or the refugee-helping business may feel that reading an accurate portrayal, however worthy and well-done, of the stressful and trying job they do all day is the last thing they want to read when they get home. The people who need to read this -- the people who don’t know anything about refugees and, in their ignorance, fear them -- won’t, because most people don't read things that seriously challenge their preconceptions. Maybe it’s an act of unwarranted optimism to believe that a mere book can change the mind of those who feel that foreigners are somehow less than human, but it's important to live in hope.

At one point, the author crosses pass with an admirable Evangelical Christian who has taken it upon himself to aid, as a volunteer, newly arrived refugees, She writes:

    ...we did agree on one central thing: that to live in comfort in the developed world and ignore the suffering of strangers who had survived catastrophe on the parts of the globe was to turn away from one’s own humanity.

...which pretty much says it all.

(Probably Much Too) Complete Disclosure: Thanks to Scribner for providing a free advance egalley copy for review via NetGalley. After I received it, I found out that, although I have never met the author, she was maid of honor at the second wedding of my wife’s best friend from high school, and also a former girlfriend of the husband of my real estate agent. I am not making this up. Also, my wife’s best friend from high school berated me for being a cheapskate and not supporting the maid of honor at her second marriage by paying money for the book in some form.
Was this review helpful?
As a teacher in a diverse school setting, I was able to connect with the story right away.  We have students who are brilliant, yet because they arrive to our school speaking no English, they are sometimes placed in classes that are below their capabilities.  This book is one that several of our students will connect with and I can't wait to book talk this after winter break.
Was this review helpful?
An excellent and moving read - I've reviewed it in full on my blog, see the link below. Highly recommended.
Was this review helpful?
THE NEWCOMERS by Helen Thorpe is subtitled "finding refuge, friendship, and hope in an American classroom" and that makes this book very applicable for our high school students.  Of course, our Social Studies classes and others study the impact of natural disasters, of war, and of discrimination on refugees from countries like Syria and Myanmar, but those situations can seem far away and all too unreal to our students. Instead, Thorpe shares the stories of twenty-two students from Room 142 in Denver's South Side High School. The fact that the school year involved, 2015-16, is just prior to the presidential election makes these tales even more poignant and relatable due to their recency. 

All of these young people have come to America from Africa, Latin America and the Middle East with very limited English skills and their teacher, Mr. Williams, sets out to help them assimilate. In some ways, this is a coming of age story, but it also serves as a moral fable. Kirkus says reading THE NEWCOMERS will create "a wider, more sympathetic view of the world and its inhabitants - certainly something we need right now." Our students have previously read Kids of Kabul and asked for more – I am hoping that they will embrace and learn from this important book as well. THE NEWCOMERS received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. 

Here, too, is link to an author interview by Larry Ferlazzo for Ed Week: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/classroom_qa_with_larry_ferlazzo/2017/11/the_newcomers_an_interview_with_helen_thorpe.html
Was this review helpful?
In “The Newcomers,” Helen Thorpe continues the remarkable and compassionate in-depth reporting present in her two previous books, “Just Like Us” and “Soldier Girls.”  “The Newcomers” follows a group of teenage refugees at a Denver high school as they learn English, adapt to American culture, and build entirely new lives for themselves. These refugees are fleeing famine, persecution, war, and other horrific situations. Thorpe attends class with them for an entire school year and is drawn into their lives where she becomes both a friend and an advocate. 

As absorbing as well-plotted fiction while also being extremely enlightening about the timely subject of immigration, “The Newcomers” is a book I highly recommended to ALL readers. (Bonus points should be awarded to public policy makers and TV talking heads who take time to read this book.)

My review was posted on Goodreads on 11/24/17.
Was this review helpful?
Stunning! Helen Thorpe followed a group of young refugees through a year at South High School in Denver as they learned English and adapted to American culture. The tenacity of these teens and their families as well as the dedication of the teachers, interpreters, resettlement employees, and volunteers is inspiring and humbling.
Was this review helpful?
The Newcomers by Helen Thrope takes us into the lives and experiances of young refugees in a high school classroom dedtiticated to teaching them basic english. the students in room 142 are struggling to learn english and adust to their new enviornment. These students come from many countries across the globe such as Iran and the DRC. They speak languages ranging from Spanish to Arabic. We are given a glimpse into their struggles to fit in as well as the trauma they faced in their past. Helen Thrope has done a wonderful job of telling these students stories and showing us their struggles. This is a good book for today especially considering the climate towards refugees.
Was this review helpful?
I apologize but I did not have time to read this book before the publication date. No review
Was this review helpful?
Summary:
In Denver Colorado there is a special group of classes, ELA classes, given to the kids of new refugees.   Teens from all over the world, newly resettled into America from across the globe, come together to learn English, and get caught up in school- some of which have been out for some time.  Thorpe joined the class for a year, getting to know the teachers and students while also researching what each of these families went through before coming to America, and what they dealt with after.  This book takes place in 2015, around the time that Trump started his campaigning in earnest.  While families from Vietnam, Somalia, the DRC, El Salvador and many other areas were trying to acclimate to a very different life and learning how to move through a new society, racism is beginning to run rampant.  Students are worried- both the refugees and regular students.  It brings to light what each family went through, and how hard they work to become self reliant.
It also begs the question- what are we going to do?  Are we, as a country going to accept refugees- truly accept these people and work to help them?  Or do we close our boarders and our hearts?  Can we even make such a decision without knowing what they are going through- not just what they had to go through in their lives, but the trouble they have once here- learning English, getting jobs, racism and misunderstandings?
My thoughts:
I loved this book, but it broke me.  These are teens- children really- who have had their lives threatened.  Some had to hide from soldiers- or witnessed car bombs in their own neighborhood.  Some were born in refugee camps- one family went through the process of trying to get accepted for ten years.  We are talking about a 22 step vetting process in some instances.  So many of us, myself included, feel like we are knowledgeable about these issues- but I knew nothing about what these families went through- and very little about what help is available to refugees when they get here.  While the families stories were painful, and hard to handle; I found myself taking my time and pushing through.  I loved this book.  For me, this is a definite five star.  
The adult content scale is hard to be objective about here.  There is so much violence, so much pain, talk of (the threat of ) rape and death…. I would not feel comfortable giving this book to a teen.  Also, you have to think about the fact that in 2015, many of the refugees written about were teens- would I be ready for Juliet to read about someone her own age going through all this?  I don’t think I could, unless there was a lot of discussion time afterward.  I have to give this one an eight.  
I received an eARC of this book from Netgalley and Scribner Publishing for the price of an honest review.  Many thanks- I loved it so much that I preordered a hard-copy from Amazon and will receive it Tuesday.
The book comes out 11-14-17…. I cannot stress the importance of this book at this time, when refugees are so numerous, and their acceptance into new countries so uncertain.
Was this review helpful?
The Newcomers is an engrossing and important read.  Thorpe spent a year in a Newcomers’ ELA class in Denver, and relates the experiences of a range of young refugees who began a new life in America just as Donald Trump was coming to power.  

While Thorpe does reflect on political events, both in the US and around the world, she really focuses on the stories of individual students and the ways their experiences shed light on both the challenges of learning English and adapting to life in America.  

It would have been easy to depict the students and their families as heroic, brave survivors of war and victims of a US which becomes increasingly hostile to their presence, but Thorpe shows the very human weaknesses in each of her subjects, while becoming unashamedly fond of many of them.

I would love to know how some of the students are doing now - while Thorpe makes the scale of the challenge facing them clear, she also shows how much potential so many of them have, and the book is ultimately very hopeful.  I hope that many of the politicians who have the responsibility of passing legislation related to refugees and immigration take time to read The Newcomers.
Was this review helpful?
Should be required reading for all Americans - to understand what being "other' feels like and to dispel the myths of Fox News and the ICE raids. Absolutely stunning work.
Was this review helpful?
Story is written about a Denver, Colorado High School and focuses on the lives of 20+ refugee students who were enrolled in South High School’s newcomer class.    All escaping with or without their immediate families due to civil war, drought and famine.  Describes the difficulties many refugees bear in regards to language, customs, and culture.  The teacher for this class is the compassionate Eddie Williams. The students are from  Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.  The book also includes an insight into the home lives of the students and their families and all of their desperate needs including money, clothing, housing, and basic job training and integration into the US work force.   Very good Read.
Was this review helpful?
Back a long time ago, when I was in middle school, then, high school, I always wondered what it would be like to transfer to a school in another country.  I can only surmise that it must have felt incredibly lonely on a level which most of cannot fathom.  

This book is too much.  It has far too much information and far too much substance to take in, even in small bites.  For the sensate, there is only too much second-hand pain that one can handle.

I am not stating that the author, the high school instructor, Mr. Williams, nor anyone else involved with this program do not care.  I do not mean that, in any manner.  

I am only stating my own feelings.  

It's a lot.
Was this review helpful?
The book tells stories of teenage immigrants and refugees from very different backgrounds and how they are turning into American teenagers through studying in a Denver high school. The events in the book coincide with Trump's presidential campaign and election win, so the book shows us the atmosphere of both hope for a new life and fear of the future under Trump which is quite terrifying.
Was this review helpful?
Many educators wonder about the impact of their work. This book shows the importance of ESL education with compelling, up-front stories from refugees trying to adjust to America. Do check this one out for your classroom.
Was this review helpful?