Coming of Age in America
by Elly Fishman
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 10 Aug 2021 | Archive Date 15 Aug 2021
Lit Hub's Most Anticipated of 2021
A year in the life of a Chicago high school that has one of the highest proportions of refugees of any school in the nation
“A wondrous tapestry of stories, of young people looking for a home. With deep, immersive reporting, Elly Fishman pulls off a triumph of empathy. Their tales and their school speak to the best of who we are as a nation—and their struggles, their joys, their journeys will stay with you.” —Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here
Winner of the Studs and Ida Terkel Award
For a century, Chicago’s Roger C. Sullivan High School has been a home to immigrant and refugee students. In 2017, during the worst global refugee crisis in history, its immigrant population numbered close to three hundred—or nearly half the school—and many were refugees new to the country. These young people came from thirty-five different countries, speaking among themselves more than thirty-eight different languages.
For these refugee teens, life in Chicago is hardly easy. They have experienced the world at its worst and carry the trauma of the horrific violence they fled. In America, they face poverty, racism, and xenophobia, but they are still teenagers—flirting, dreaming, and working as they navigate their new life in America.
Refugee High is a riveting chronicle of the 2017–8 school year at Sullivan High, a time when anti-immigrant rhetoric was at its height in the White House. Even as we follow teachers and administrators grappling with the everyday challenges facing many urban schools, we witness the complicated circumstances and unique education needs of refugee and immigrant children: Alejandro may be deported just days before he is scheduled to graduate; Shahina narrowly escapes an arranged marriage; and Belenge encounters gang turf wars he doesn’t understand.
Equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring, Refugee High raises vital questions about the priorities and values of a public school and offers an eye-opening and captivating window into the present-day American immigration and education systems.
"A wondrous tapestry of stories, of young people looking for a home. With deep, immersive reporting, Elly Fishman pulls off a triumph of empathy. Their tales and their school speak to the best of who we are as a nation—and their struggles, their joys, their journeys will stay with you."
—Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here
"As the only refugee in an Oklahoma high school in the 1990s, I used to have fantasies like this: what if a school existed that represented the wider world, everyone displaced, everyone applying for the same papers, pockets of society not defined by ill-fitting American markers, but following the precise contours of my own continent, its many faiths and colors? Refugee High is the realization of that daydream, and a riveting real-life answer to those youthful mysteries. A deep dive into an experiment I’ve always wanted to witness, meticulously researched, lovingly written, and rich in revelation."
—Dina Nayeri, the author of The Ungrateful Refugee and Refuge
"Beautifully written, deeply reported, and bursting with humanity, Refugee High is a book you will read in a hurry and remember forever."
—Jonathan Eig, author of Ali: A Life and Luckiest Man
"Elly Fishman’s Refugee High takes readers inside one of the most remarkable schools in the country. Fishman brings to life the individual experiences of the school’s teenagers, teachers and administrators, their struggles and joys. Through these intimate accounts, Refugee High shows the widening conflicts—of a city, a nation and world—that concern us all."
—Ben Austen, author of High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing
"A riveting immersion into the world of Chicago’s Sullivan High School, where half the students are immigrants or refugees. Through the lives of four young people from different corners of the globe, Elly Fishman vividly portrays the perils and possibilities that confront those who come to the United States in search of a better life. No reader will be able to forget these students and the almost unimaginable hurdles they struggle to surmount, and no reader will forget the teachers who dedicate themselves to preventing the American Dream from becoming a betrayal."
—Drew Faust, President Emeritus, Harvard University
"Educators and general readers alike will find this vividly intimate work insightful."
"Fishman unearths the inner lives of her subjects with care and precision, and skillfully balances lighter moments (soccer games, TikTok dances) with harrowing turns of events. The result is a powerful portrait of resilience in the face of long odds."
Refugee High Book Launch- Seminary Coop, American Writers' Museum
August 10, 2021,
Please join us, Seminary Coop, and the American Writers' Museum for the launch of Refugee High: Coming of Age in America.
Register here: https://www.semcoop.com/event/elly-fishman-refugee-high
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 20 members
I enjoyed reading this book and getting to know the students of this high school. I would think that any teacher who works with refugees would benefit from reading it be it from recognition of issues and characters or to learn something new about how to work with these students. I couldn't help thinking that the book would make a marvelous movie, but then I'd return to the realization that these are real people with real lives... and how are we going to help them? Kudos to the teachers in this book. I felt that they went far beyond the call of duty and their passion for the work is inspirational. The book itself is easy to read and shed a lot of light on this generation of students. In that respect, it's a good read for any parent and would be fun to read in a parent/teen book club as well.
At equal turns a heartbreaking, hopeful, and all around important book. The stories of Sullivan High’s immigrant ELL students, their teachers, families, and communities shine a spotlight on and give a human face to the immigrants many Americans have been brainwashed into hating and being convinced of stealing from them. This book shows that nothing could be further from the truth. The sacrifices that were made first just to arrive in the US but then live, assimilating as best as possible day in and day out all while being teenagers? Again, a human face, heart, soul, hopes, and dreams are what should be looked at; not at their paperwork (or lack thereof). The teachers and administrators also show true heroism day in and day out but refusing to give up on their students. I was thankful for the epilogue, especially considering what a cluster the past 2 school years have been given the pandemic. Knowing that these students wouldn’t have their school based community and support system was particularly difficult. Alejandro’s story impacted me the most. I find myself wondering if his court date has been pushed back again, how many times, and when it is now. Recommended.