Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Hope in the Unseen

For summer reading, all of our 9th graders will be reading Ron Suskind's A Hope in the Unseen, a non-fiction account of a black kid from a bad city high school in DC makes it to Brown University through hard work and faith. A big part of choosing the book was the fact that it's the State of Maryland's Book of the Year, meaning that I was able to secure some free copies for my students, as well as can expect visits from Cedric Jennings, the book's non-fictional protagonist, as well as his mother (an important figure in the book) as well as the author, Ron Suskind. I believe they will be speaking in the area throughout the year, as the state encourages everyone to read the book.

I've been reading the book on the train to DC, and have nearly finished it. I don't want to finish it, because the experience of reading it has been so joyful. It's one of those books that I'll probably remember forever, and I can't believe just how moved I've been by it. It's funny, sad, inspiring, and everything else. I see my students in Cedric Jennings, and see my own experience in college (we're exactly the same age, both graduating high school in 1995) as a strange parallel - albeit totally different, I had similar roommate squabbles with my very-different-background roommate, and similar questions about what path my life should follow - to Cedric's. I've also been strangely moved by the fact that the book takes place in Washington, at least most of it. In one intriguing passage, Suskind begins a passage with the description of a building that sounded vaguely familiar. I continued reading, and it turns out he was describing the Supreme Court, which is now a block away from where I'm working/studying, which I walk by every morning. Cedric visits Justice Thomas as a high school Senior and has an especially strange exchange with him.

I'll finish the book tomorrow, then figure out how I'm going to approach the text when the incoming 9th grade students come on August 6th. They should be finished with the text by then, and I'll have 60 minutes to spend with all of them at that point, in a session devoted just to that text, and I need to figure out exactly what I want to do with it. We'll see.

I'm really glad my librarian passed the book onto me.

The book's description (via Publisher's Weekly): YA-Cedric Jennings is the illegitimate son of an off-and-on drug dealer/ex-con and a hardworking, badly paid mother; it is her single-minded vision to have the boy escape the mean ghetto streets unscathed. Cedric has listened to her and is, as the book opens, an A student at a run-down, dispirited Washington, DC, high school, where he treads a thin line between being tagged a nerd and being beaten by gang leaders. Suskind, a Wall Street Journal reporter, follows the African-American youth through his last two years of high school and freshman year at Brown University. Inspirational sermons at a Pentecostal church, guidance from his mother, a love of black music and singing, and a refuge in the logic of math combine with the young man's determination and faith in the future to keep him focused on his goal of a topflight college education. Despite many low moments and setbacks, Jennings's story is one of triumph within both cultures, black and white, which together and separately put tremendous obstacles in his path out of the inner city. It is a privilege and an inspiration for readers to accompany Cedric on part of his long, difficult journey to maturity. His journey continues at this moment, since he is now a senior at Brown this fall. YAs of any background will be introduced to new worlds here.

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