If you’d ever like a little variety in your reading, try Brooke Hauser’s first book, which is anything but boring. Based on the International High School at Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, Hauser takes a closer look at the lives of teenage immigrants who have come from different countries and speak a wide range of languages (at least 28). The school’s motto, “Opening Doors to the American Dream,” reflects the different reasons that students and their families came to America. Some of the students never even had a formal education.
The criteria to enter the high school are surprising. All the students have to fail the English language assessment and must have lived in the U.S. for less than four years. Throughout the book there are students who are constantly struggling to learn English, and the hallways are filled with “babble” from the diversity of languages that the school has.
There’s a nice mix of humor throughout the book such as when the students learned what prom was by watching movies like “Mean Girls,” which only made them more nervous. But along with the fun perks that come along with high school, there is also the harsh reality that some students do not reveal. One student, a Tibetan boy named Ngawang, traveled in a suitcase from Lhasa (the capital of Tibet) to the border of Nepal to escape from religious intolerance when he was 11. Years later, he became active in the Tibetan club, which clashed with the Chinese club for different political views. Just like any high school, there’s drama.
Overall the book is an easy read. The author writes in a way so that you can connect with the students, who despite coming from various backgrounds, are just like other teenagers. They deal with the same issues: where to sit at lunch, how to find their classes and finding down time. Yet their stories are unique and offer different perspectives to the lives of immigrant teenagers in America.