Who are the newest arrivals on our shores seeking refuge, freedom and new lives away from war torn lands? Helen Thorpe’s new work of narrative non-fiction, The Newcomers, is a compelling and revealing look at newly arrived teens in the Newcomer Room at South High School here in Denver. She spent a year in the room and in her best book yet recounts their struggles to learn English, make friends, put their traumatic pasts behind them and find their way in America. Their stories, and those of their family and friends, are astounding and illuminating. The Newcomers is compassionate, insightful, and above all, full of joy and hope.
— Cathy, Tattered Cover
From the award-winning author of Soldier Girls and Just Like Us, an “extraordinary” (The Denver Post) account of refugee teenagers at a Denver public high school and their compassionate teacher and “a reminder that in an era of nativism, some Americans are still breaking down walls and nurturing the seeds of the great American experiment” (The New York Times Book Review).
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. 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.
At the center of their story is Mr. Williams, their dedicated and endlessly resourceful teacher of English Language Acquisition. 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. Ultimately, “The Newcomers reads more like an anthropologist’s notebook than a work of reportage: Helen Thorpe not only observes, she chips in her two cents and participates. Like her, we’re moved and agitated by this story of refugee teenagers…Donald Trump’s gross slander of refugees and immigrants is countered on every page by the evidence of these students’ lives and characters” (Los Angeles Review of Books).
With the US at a political crossroads around questions of immigration, multiculturalism, and America’s role on the global stage, Thorpe presents a fresh and nuanced perspective. The Newcomers is “not only an intimate look at lives immigrant teens live, but it is a primer on the art and science of new language acquisition and a portrait of ongoing and emerging global horrors and the human fallout that arrives on our shores” (USA TODAY).
About the Author
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.
“A delicate and heartbreaking mystery story...Thorpe’s book is a reminder that in an era of nativism, some Americans are still breaking down walls and nurturing newcomers, the seeds of the great American experiment.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Extraordinary. . . . The Newcomers puts a human face on the refugee question. The book is a journalistic triumph. Thorpe . . . pens a masterful book that lets readers see the humanity instead of the facts and figures and politics of the immigration debate.” —The Denver Post
“This book is not only an intimate look at lives immigrant teens live, but it is a primer on the art and science of new language acquisition and a portrait of ongoing and emerging global horrors and the human fallout that arrives on our shores… The teens we meet have endured things none of us can imagine…But we learn a great deal, and that’s never been more crucial than at this moment.” —USA Today
“Thorpe’s fascinating chronicle of a year in an English-acquisition class at a Denver high school provides a timely and much-needed perspective on the global refugee crisis.” —Los Angeles Times
“Thorpe provides a layered portrait of the students and explains the daunting refugee crisis in America and elsewhere . . . . [and] puts an agonizing human face on a vast global problem.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“An extensive, riveting account that presents the manifold challenges of the refugee crisis through the microcosm of one classroom.” —Booklist
“Few books could be more vital, in this particular moment or in any moment, than this book. Helen Thorpe writes expansively about one school, one classroom, one teacher, one group of students—students who hail from the most severe places in the world and come together at South High. Confused, troubled, bright, magnificent: they converge, ostensibly to learn English, learning so much more than a language—learning about us and about themselves, all the bad and all the good. You need to meet these young people. Once you do, everything you read or hear or say will be illuminated and changed.” —Jeff Hobbs, author of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace
“Helen Thorpe didn’t miss a detail during the year she spent watching twenty-two young refugees begin to learn how to speak English (difficult) and how to be American (even more difficult). No one with a pulse could fail to be moved by this beautifully reported book.” —Anne Fadiman, author of The Wine Lover's Daughter: A Memoir and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
“In this time of great anxiety, this splendid, humane, beautifully crafted book is a reminder of America’s proud, historic role as a beacon of hope to the world. And it is a terrific story.” —Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of No Ordinary Time, Team of Rivals, and The Bully Pulpit
“I loved this book. It brims with teenage life, with a sense of America being reborn, of new Americans being made. Cultures converge in a high school classroom where teenagers—with all the energy, earnestness, and embarrassment we expect, but also with trauma—learn English with the help of a teacher who appreciates all the ways it’s not easy. The Newcomers teaches us about parts of the world we can barely imagine and also takes us into their new American homes. Helen Thorpe, herself the child of immigrants, is a terrific writer and a steadfast character witness to these people so many of us fear.” —Ted Conover, author of Coyotes, Newjack, and Immersion