Regional book review: Helen Thorpe’s new book, “The Newcomers,” is masterful

The Newcomers, by Helen Thorpe (Scribner, November 2017)

ScribnerThe Newcomers, by Helen Thorpe (Scribner, November 2017)

Toward the end of “The Newcomers,” an extraordinary book about a group of immigrant children at Denver’s South High School who are struggling to learn the language and customs in America, author Helen Thorpe tells of her visit to the Congo. There she meets Stivin, the cousin of Methusella, a Congolese boy Thorpe met at South.

She thinks Stivin will by pleased by how well Methusella is doing. Instead, when Thorp shows Stivin pictures of his cousin in America, the boy’s face turns hard. “Tell him to work hard and send me money for a school uniform!” he tells Thorpe bitterly.

Writes Thorpe: “Stivin was almost certain to become one of those children the world was going to leave behind. I believe I caused him real heartbreak, showing him pictures of all that he was missing. Stivin came to stand in my mind for all the children who had not been chosen, all the children who would spend their days collecting firewood and filling yellow jerricans with water.”

Yet for the “chosen” — teenage newcomers like Methusella — life in America is anything but easy. Many cannot speak the language and therefore cannot communicate. They live in poverty, supported by government and charitable aid programs. The students spend hours each day just getting to school and are sometimes harassed and told to go back to where they came from. A few want to do just that.

Most, however, work hard to become Americans — to learn English, complete high school, and find good jobs. It’s a difficult task, and they wouldn’t make it if not for their dedicated teachers. One such instructor is Eddie Williams, an English Language Acquisition teacher at South, which educates most of Denver’s teenage refugees. A third …read more

Source:: The Denver Post

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