The Newcomers

Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom

The Newcomers

From an award-winning, “meticulously observant” (The New Yorker) writer comes a powerful and moving account of how refugee teenagers at a Denver 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, in an English Language Acquisition class created specifically for them. Speaking no English, unfamiliar with American culture, their stories are poignant and remarkable as they face the enormous challenge of adapting. 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.

This is a story of transformation. At the center of The Newcomers is Mr. Williams, the dedicated and endlessly resourceful teacher of South’s very beginner English Language Acquisition class. 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.

As the students blossom in his care, the book becomes funny, poignant, and uplifting. The story shows us the refugee crisis as a whole, but also provides a galvanizing example of how refugee families are given the chance to start over and exhibit extraordinary resilience. This story also shows how all of us can respond in a moral fashion to a troubled world by doing good on a human scale. Readers are changed and see the world through different eyes after reading this book.

With the US at a political crossroads around questions of immigration, multiculturalism, and America’s role on the global stage, Helen Thorpe presents a fresh and nuanced perspective. The Newcomers is a transformative take on these timely, important issues.

More Books from this Author

Soldier Girls
Just Like Us

About the Author

Helen Thorpe
Photo Credit: Marea Evans

Helen Thorpe

Helen Thorpe was born in London and grew up in New Jersey. Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, New York magazine, The New Yorker, Slate, and Harper’s Bazaar. Her radio stories have aired on This American Life and Sound Print. She is the author of Just Like Us, Soldier Girls, and The Newcomers and lives in Denver.

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