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Refugee High: Coming of Age in America

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For a century, Chicago's Roger C. Sullivan High School has been a landing place for migrants. In recent years, it boasts one of the highest proportions of immigrant and refugee students in the country. In 2017 around half its student population hailed from another country, with students from thirty-five different countries speaking more than thirty-eight different language For a century, Chicago's Roger C. Sullivan High School has been a landing place for migrants. In recent years, it boasts one of the highest proportions of immigrant and refugee students in the country. In 2017 around half its student population hailed from another country, with students from thirty-five different countries speaking more than thirty-eight different languages. Refugee High is a chronicle of the 2017-8 school year at Sullivan High, a time when anti-immigrant rhetoric was at its height in the White House. Even as we follow teachers and administrators grappling with the everyday challenges facing many urban schools, we witness the complicated circumstances and unique education needs of refugee and immigrant children.


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For a century, Chicago's Roger C. Sullivan High School has been a landing place for migrants. In recent years, it boasts one of the highest proportions of immigrant and refugee students in the country. In 2017 around half its student population hailed from another country, with students from thirty-five different countries speaking more than thirty-eight different language For a century, Chicago's Roger C. Sullivan High School has been a landing place for migrants. In recent years, it boasts one of the highest proportions of immigrant and refugee students in the country. In 2017 around half its student population hailed from another country, with students from thirty-five different countries speaking more than thirty-eight different languages. Refugee High is a chronicle of the 2017-8 school year at Sullivan High, a time when anti-immigrant rhetoric was at its height in the White House. Even as we follow teachers and administrators grappling with the everyday challenges facing many urban schools, we witness the complicated circumstances and unique education needs of refugee and immigrant children.

30 review for Refugee High: Coming of Age in America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petra X is hopeful about regaining some sight

    The 'mission statement' of the book is "No matter what shape America takes in the coming years, Sullivan will continue to carry forward this country's long tradition of welcoming newcomers. The story of Sullivan High School reflects a better America, one that offers sanctuary and second chances to those who need them most." Coming after reading the much-slated on GR but much-defended by white authors and the traditional media, Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me by Kate Clanchy, I was wond The 'mission statement' of the book is "No matter what shape America takes in the coming years, Sullivan will continue to carry forward this country's long tradition of welcoming newcomers. The story of Sullivan High School reflects a better America, one that offers sanctuary and second chances to those who need them most." Coming after reading the much-slated on GR but much-defended by white authors and the traditional media, Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me by Kate Clanchy, I was wondering if the author would be able to avoid descriptions of children that by being stereotypical and sometimes out-and-out insulting (view spoiler)[(fat, working class teeth, ASD people live in another land, that sort of thing) (hide spoiler)] and still bring them to life? The author did! There weren't any stereotypical descriptions at all. When the author felt the need to describe a child physically, it was individualised and not kind of a racist shorthand. (view spoiler)[This is not to say Clanchy was an out-and-out racist, being unconsciously bigoted is not the same thing. This is also not to excuse her lying, cheating and bullying when she gets accused of it. She said she wasn't 'a good person' in one her faux apologies. Too right. (hide spoiler)] One thing I had never realised was that immigrants, legal and illegal into the US, are a business. The school was paid per immigrant, and when under Trump they couldn't keep up the figures they had to appeal elsewhere for the money. Who have thought it! Sullivan High School is in Chicago. 55% of the students are identified as American-born (and this is not broken down into black, white, what religion, or anything else), the other 45% are from 38 countries speaking 35 languages. 89 of the students out of a school population of 641 were refugees. The others were immigrants, legal and undocumented. The book tells the stories of these children and their families Mariah from Iraq Alejandro from Guatemala, who is as-yet undocumented (his case comes up this August 2021 so I'm hoping it goes well for him!), Belenge from the Congo, who grew up in a long-term refugee camp in Tanzania, Shahina from Myanmar and her friend Aisha also Burmese. Shahina does not want an arranged (read forced) marriage, Nassim, Abdul Karim and Samir all from Syria And the staff of the High school directly concerned with their education and social well-being. They live in poverty, they work to support their families, here and to send back money and to pay back families who have had their sons rejected in marriage. Integration is more key to a good life in America than it is in the UK where there are enclaves of immigrants who do not want to assimilate. The school does all it can to teach the children how they can integrate into main-stream America whilst also, through communal feasts and talking about their important cultural and religious days, encouraging them to celebrate their own cultures. Of the highest importance is graduation. That diploma is the foundation of a whole world of success in the US. The stories are told month-by-month in the school year. At the beginning of it, a boy is shot in some kind of gang connection. Some of the students, immature and unknowing of America, see gangs as something desirable, after this incident they don't. The most harrowing of the stories was of Shahina whose mother marries off her daughters whether they consent or not. Shahina escapes, quite literally from her fiance's house by threatening to kill herself, her mother doesn't want her back - she must threaten her with the police before she will let her in. She does resume going back to school, doesn't want to wear hijab, sees a future for herself where she will make her own decisions and her own money and marriage doesn't figure. But first she owes the fiance's family $2,000 or so they say and working and going to school is too much for her, so she drops out. But - good news - she returns the following year. Alejandro has seen terrible violence in Guatemala and has fled on his own to join his father who is legal. He has to leave his mother in very poor circumstances. They can only speak when she has enough money to put data on her phone. He thinks of her all the time, she parents him over the phone, and he wants to look after her. But first he must become legal and his immigration hearing is put off time and time again. The author, who writes eloquently (can I say that?) is of immigrant stock herself. Her grandparents and great-grandparents, Russian Jews like mine, (view spoiler)[but mine went to Wales (hide spoiler)] came to the US at the turn of the 20th century. And there is a parallel with our times. In 1920, 1/3rd the population of Chicago was foreign-born but then the American-born population (meaning White Christian) turned against immigrants particularly those they deemed undesirable. Who White Christians find undesirable changes with the times, at the moment it is Muslims and Latin Americans, back then it was Italians and Jews. This hardening of attitude to those coming from terrible circumstances (the Jews) or wanting to better themselves with greater opportunities (the Italians) "culminated in the Immigration Act of 1924 (a/k/a the Johnson-Reed Act) which effectively barred immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe". That wasn't repealed until 1965. The 21st century is a time when people want to live where they feel they can get what they want in life best, or have any kind of life at all. It takes a long time to get refugee status mostly, some people - economic migrants - are probably never going to qualify, others just don't want to wait to start their new life and so they come to all the desirable countries with or without papers. This does present problems especially to those who are not well-off and whose taxes are going to support them instead of services that need more funding. And also to those whose communities are disrupted by people who do not want to assimilate in any way and may even quite overtly despise them. I write this cognisant that my family were refugees and immigrants between 1880 and 1934, without money, language and of a different culture. Nothing so far has been done to address these problems and find a solution. Instead it's the old ways and they aren't working. A new model of immigration and settlement is what is needed, a solution to be able to integrate 'them' into 'us' that works. Then we can sing, really really loudly, 'the more we are together the happier we will be'. This isn't really a proper review of the book. I could write 'review to come' but it isn't going to happen. It does deserve a proper one though. This was the author's first book, it starts on a high. I look forward to her next and subsequent ones. Notes on reading (view spoiler)[ After I read the first 50 pages of this book, i realised that it was diametrically the opposite of Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me which was full of stereotypical racist descriptions because to the author Clanchy, these children were 'other', not like her, not really quite as British as her at all. The school wants these children, some refugees whose family have been in camps in Africa for 15 or more years, some immigrants, not all legal, to be able to finish high school and learn to integrate into American society. The school is the 'melting pot' of America. It might sound like the book is a bit worthy, but so far, it is a very good read. Interesting and informative. (hide spoiler)]

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    CW: gun violence, prejudice, racism Thank you to NetGalley and The New Press for an advanced electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! This nonfiction book visits the school with the highest refugee population in the USA, Chicago's Roger C. Sullivan High School, in 2017, a year that was heavily filled with anti-immigrant rhetoric. We follow the stories of multiple students and teachers, learning about their experiences and the present-day state of American immigration and ed CW: gun violence, prejudice, racism Thank you to NetGalley and The New Press for an advanced electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! This nonfiction book visits the school with the highest refugee population in the USA, Chicago's Roger C. Sullivan High School, in 2017, a year that was heavily filled with anti-immigrant rhetoric. We follow the stories of multiple students and teachers, learning about their experiences and the present-day state of American immigration and education systems. I found myself checking multiple times to make sure that this was actually nonfiction, because the storytelling was done so well. I have seen other reviews sharing that this book is heartbreaking, and I agree. I also found it interesting to read about how the teachers' approaches to teaching English language learners and inclusion methods were met with varying levels of resistance by students, showing that there really is no "one size fits all" in education, and reinforcing that students need teachers who can adapt and support them.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Heather Munao

    Full review in Booklist. Could perhaps be more complex, but the kids’ stories and Sullivan’s story are worth reading.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    I enjoyed reading this book and getting to know the students of this high school. I would think that any teacher who works with refugees would benefit from reading it be it from recognition of issues and characters or to learn something new about how to work with these students. I couldn't help thinking that the book would make a marvelous movie, but then I'd return to the realization that these are real people with real lives... and how are we going to help them? Kudos to the teachers in this b I enjoyed reading this book and getting to know the students of this high school. I would think that any teacher who works with refugees would benefit from reading it be it from recognition of issues and characters or to learn something new about how to work with these students. I couldn't help thinking that the book would make a marvelous movie, but then I'd return to the realization that these are real people with real lives... and how are we going to help them? Kudos to the teachers in this book. I felt that they went far beyond the call of duty and their passion for the work is inspirational. The book itself is easy to read and shed a lot of light on this generation of students. In that respect, it's a good read for any parent and would be fun to read in a parent/teen book club as well.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Asma

    I received this e-book thanks to NetGalley and The New Press. Refugee High is a chronical of the school year 2017/2018 in Chicago's Sullivan High School, which contains one of the highest proportions of immigrant and refugee students in the US. In that year, there was students from thirty-five different countries, and thirty-eight languages were spoken inside the school. The author spent the entire school year following four students; Mariah, an Iraqi refugee, Alejandro, an asylum seeker from G I received this e-book thanks to NetGalley and The New Press. Refugee High is a chronical of the school year 2017/2018 in Chicago's Sullivan High School, which contains one of the highest proportions of immigrant and refugee students in the US. In that year, there was students from thirty-five different countries, and thirty-eight languages were spoken inside the school. The author spent the entire school year following four students; Mariah, an Iraqi refugee, Alejandro, an asylum seeker from Guatemala, Belenge, a Congolese refugee, and Shahina, a refugee from Myanmar. She shadowed each one of them inside and outside of school. And shared stories of other students from Syria, Congo, Burma,.. A story of violence, racism and fear. A hope of a better life but the struggle continue. There it comes Sullivan High and its administration and the programs they created to help this kids. The story of Tobias, Belenge's father in Congo and how he fled to a refugee camp in Tanzania was heartbroking, the arranged marriages of young Muslim girls (14-16 yo) were shocking, even unbelievable! Alejandro's story kept me wondering what happened to him!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    Every now and then I enjoy reading non-fiction, particularlt as it pertains to education (secondary or tertiary). Refugee High gives an interesting insight in the lives of a number of students and employees of Google Translate High School in Chicago. Of course, all students are struggling with their own issues (coming of age remains tough), but we also see an added layer of anxiety in trying to build a better life in a new place (which arguably isn't always better than the old one). Anxiety, fea Every now and then I enjoy reading non-fiction, particularlt as it pertains to education (secondary or tertiary). Refugee High gives an interesting insight in the lives of a number of students and employees of Google Translate High School in Chicago. Of course, all students are struggling with their own issues (coming of age remains tough), but we also see an added layer of anxiety in trying to build a better life in a new place (which arguably isn't always better than the old one). Anxiety, fear, past trauma and loss are very much at the forefront. While the topics in this book are very difficult indeed, I enjoyed reading it as it felt more like a collection of short stories than a non-fiction book presenting research. At the same time, the research and the background information and grounding is definitely there. I particularly enjoyed the background stories on some of the characters. A big thank you to NetGalley and The New Press for providing me with a digital ARC in return for an impartial review. All thoughts and comments are my own.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Christine Barth

    I really enjoyed the structure of this book, which had short chapters following 4 students at Sullivan High School in Chicago and a teacher and an administrator. Readers move through the school year with the students, discovering their struggles and challenges as they discover what it means to be an American. The author is certainly liberal, but it was less a politic diatribe, than an unveiling of immigrant stories and then tension between new immigrants and their parents. Also, a rather scary l I really enjoyed the structure of this book, which had short chapters following 4 students at Sullivan High School in Chicago and a teacher and an administrator. Readers move through the school year with the students, discovering their struggles and challenges as they discover what it means to be an American. The author is certainly liberal, but it was less a politic diatribe, than an unveiling of immigrant stories and then tension between new immigrants and their parents. Also, a rather scary look into a large public high school in a big city in the U.S. I appreciated that this wasn't an idealized look at immigrants or certain cultures, nor was it a villainizing one, but rather leads the reader to view life through another lens and think about big questions for themselves. Definitely had tears in my eyes in places. Similar to Outcasts United by Warren St. John.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gina Malanga

    Author Elly Fishman spent years a Sullivan High School in Chicago shadowing a select group of students and their families as they adjusted to life in America. All of the young men and women featured were recently moved to American as refugees from war torn countries, some I even had to google, and have come to American with hopes for better lives. What they find isn’t always better or easier and the clash of their cultural values and American values often causes problems in their home lives. Thr Author Elly Fishman spent years a Sullivan High School in Chicago shadowing a select group of students and their families as they adjusted to life in America. All of the young men and women featured were recently moved to American as refugees from war torn countries, some I even had to google, and have come to American with hopes for better lives. What they find isn’t always better or easier and the clash of their cultural values and American values often causes problems in their home lives. Through it all the educators and administrators at their high school they to provide them with what they will need to succeed. There are many successes, but also some heartbreaking loses which I know as a teacher can weight you down and make you feel hopeless. The writing in this book was excellent but it is the young people, whose resilience and hope is undeniable, that are the real stars.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kait Griffin

    I love learning the hows and whys of immigration stories and this book was no exception. While it did seem to start out a bit slow I became fully invested in the students’ histories and the struggles.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Maralee

    Fascinating look at refugees at Sullivan High School in Chicago. Fishman gives full portraits of some students, teachers, administrators and families. A compelling read that gave me deeper insight into the trauma past and present, the difficulties past and present, of those who flee their homelands in order to survive. I highly recommend this book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Martha Anne Toll

    Here's my review of this book for the Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outloo... Here's my review of this book for the Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outloo...

  12. 5 out of 5

    Audrey (Warped Shelves)

    2.5 stars This review is based on an ARC of Refugee High: Coming of Age in America which I received courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher (The New Press). As a homeschooled, Midwestern white girl I found this narrative quite fascinating. Refugee High tracks four refugee students at Chicago’s Roger C. Sullivan high school over one school year, detailing the hardships they struggle with not only at school but in their personal lives as well. Sad, yet hopeful, Elly Fishman opens readers' eyes to a 2.5 stars This review is based on an ARC of Refugee High: Coming of Age in America which I received courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher (The New Press). As a homeschooled, Midwestern white girl I found this narrative quite fascinating. Refugee High tracks four refugee students at Chicago’s Roger C. Sullivan high school over one school year, detailing the hardships they struggle with not only at school but in their personal lives as well. Sad, yet hopeful, Elly Fishman opens readers' eyes to a hardly-mentioned (but very prevalent) American high school experience. I liked the blend of voices from both staff and students at the school—this really aided in widening the perspective. I would have liked it if the switching of POV occurred more regularly or consistently. Sometimes I felt that I’d already forgotten one student’s backstory by the time we got back around to him or her. Otherwise, the timeline is very well executed. Refugee High is an inspiring and heartwarming book about the perseverance of young, uncertain refugees, and those who strive to welcome newcomers to The Great Melting Pot.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Audrey

    Sullivan High School, in the north side of Chicago, has a lot of refugee/immigrant student population. High school is hard enough as it is, let alone students who have ptsd, language barriers, poverty, and cultural misunderstandings. The staff at Sullivan rise to the occasion without judgment and the best of intentions. I do wish there were more insights into the students’ thoughts but I suspect there are so many reasons why the teachers’ perspectives were more in depth. I received an arc from t Sullivan High School, in the north side of Chicago, has a lot of refugee/immigrant student population. High school is hard enough as it is, let alone students who have ptsd, language barriers, poverty, and cultural misunderstandings. The staff at Sullivan rise to the occasion without judgment and the best of intentions. I do wish there were more insights into the students’ thoughts but I suspect there are so many reasons why the teachers’ perspectives were more in depth. I received an arc from the publisher but all opinions are my own.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Brianna Schubert

    This is a compelling, beautifully-written book about the immigrant and refugee students of Sullivan High school in Chicago and the challenges they face and the dreams they have over the course of a school year. It’s a fantastic piece of journalism and reminds me why I’ve chosen to go into that field — to use my voice to tell others’ stories. (I have been so fortunate to be able to work with Elly as she promotes this book. However, these words are completely my own.)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sheida

    Home was a notion scattered over time, and a place long faded. Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC of this book Refugee High is a somewhat non-fiction story set in an actual high school in Chicago which has a high proportion of immigrants and refugee students. The book highlights 4 of those students and a couple of the teachers and shapes itself around their stories, their backgrounds, and their struggles within this whole system. It's a well-written account of this interesting Home was a notion scattered over time, and a place long faded. Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC of this book Refugee High is a somewhat non-fiction story set in an actual high school in Chicago which has a high proportion of immigrants and refugee students. The book highlights 4 of those students and a couple of the teachers and shapes itself around their stories, their backgrounds, and their struggles within this whole system. It's a well-written account of this interesting setting and all these different characters and, for the most part, it's nice to read. It's easy, it's very detailed in a journalistic manner, and it feels real. It also highlights an important topic and gives voice to a type of refugee that I've not really come across much in this type of fiction or non-fiction. I do feel like there are faaaar too many characters and side-characters and not enough actual focus within the story though. I found myself often confused about who the POV character was, especially since the writer would often flip to side-characters within a main character's POV chapter and I felt like that really blurred the lines and also made it a bit difficult to fully relate and understand any of the characters as, as soon as you began to connect, the story would shift and focus on someone else within their narrative. Since the book also lacks a proper plot structure, it's a bit difficult to keep up with everything as there would be way too long between POV chapters and certain issues that were brought up in one chapter (things you wanted to see resolved) would then be completely forgotten when the book moved forward a month and chose to focus on someone else. All of these kind of made me unable to fully immerse myself in the story and to feel the satisfaction of a plot being resolved as ... everything was kind of left in the air. I understand that this is kind of non-fiction of course but, even in non-fiction, there needs to be a resolution to some major topics (how does one character's court hearing go, for example?) I also have one kind of bizarre issue with the book and I'll try and see if I can explain it properly but ... basically, I felt like it was too "in the moment", it felt too much like a news report exactly explaining what is happening with its main value being in that it captures the time in which it is happening. Otherwise, the amount of pop culture references and talk of Snapchat and other very much time-specific types of media and lifestyle (books/artists that are famous now), often took me out of the story and, instead of giving it more depth and realism, made me aware of just how dated it's going to be in a couple of years. I'm not sure this counts as valid criticism though because maybe the point of the story was to document life in 2017-2018 but, I don't know, I just felt it was a bit too much at times. I'm having a bit of trouble deciding how to rate this book because, in my eyes, it's not yet a 4 star book but I also feel 3 stars is doing it a disservice (here's where half-stars come in @goodreads!). It's certainly well-written, well-researched, and it's focused on an important and fascinating topic, I'm just not sure it's utilized the best means of getting its point across. Let's stick with a 4 and say it's a 3.5 rounded up.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Amber Garabrandt

    When I didn’t fully understand something, or what someone goes through, I read. I find as many stories as I can to try to understand circumstances and views of others. Only through true understanding can we completely accept and help people after all, and, of course it stands to reason that misunderstandings breed fear and hate. To better understand what an immigrant might face, and why they would choose to leave home, I have read several books. I have been lucky and lived an easy, safe life; so When I didn’t fully understand something, or what someone goes through, I read. I find as many stories as I can to try to understand circumstances and views of others. Only through true understanding can we completely accept and help people after all, and, of course it stands to reason that misunderstandings breed fear and hate. To better understand what an immigrant might face, and why they would choose to leave home, I have read several books. I have been lucky and lived an easy, safe life; so I can’t imagine living in a refugee camp for the better part of my life with hundreds of others. Here, we have four different students, families with different pasts and dreams, that let us know them and their stories. I feel like this is really important. Once here, life isn’t simply magically better- they have to learn a whole new way of life, not just speech but markets, housing…. finding work, some are going to school for the first time. There are also those that have trouble letting go of the familiar, or who can’t figure out how to mesh their old and new. I found this book to be well written and gripping. I felt for these people- what they’d been through and the fears they still possessed. You don’t leave everything behind on a whim. It’s important to me, as an American, to see what trials someone who comes to the states “legally” goes through- the sometimes decade long wait to name just one. If my child was starving, sick, in danger or even not getting a good education I think that wait would drive me mad. Also, there is one young man that was an Asylum seeker- someone that comes to the boarder believing their life at risk and asks for aid. It was hard to see how he was treated like he had done wrong by coming for aid. Having his whole life on hold for court dates that keep being pushed back. What must it be like to be here for half a decade, and not know if you’ll be allowed to stay? Even if you know that returning to a home you miss desperately means death? You can’t read this book without wanting to change things. To cut through the insanity that makes immigration take so long and cost so much, to force them to see Asylum as what it is- a desperate plea for immediate help and mercy. For me, this book is a cry for change- change in the way we view immigration not just on a government level but in communities as well. I actually finished this book a few weeks ago and it haunts me. I loved it! For me this is a five star book. I was lucky enough to receive an eARC of this book from Netgalley and The New Press in exchange for an honest review. My thanks!

  17. 5 out of 5

    James (JD) Dittes

    The premise seems exotic: an inner-city high school with a high refugee population; an English as a Learned Language (ELL) program that goes beyond verb tenses and America-focused projects to home visits and a deep devotion to the kids it serves. But while the idea of a school where 38 languages are spoken, and where students step out of the countries found in last year's magazine headlines (Syria, Burma, Congo, and Guatemala, to name a few) may sound exotic, what Elly Fishman reveals is an all-t The premise seems exotic: an inner-city high school with a high refugee population; an English as a Learned Language (ELL) program that goes beyond verb tenses and America-focused projects to home visits and a deep devotion to the kids it serves. But while the idea of a school where 38 languages are spoken, and where students step out of the countries found in last year's magazine headlines (Syria, Burma, Congo, and Guatemala, to name a few) may sound exotic, what Elly Fishman reveals is an all-too-real portrait of America. In many ways, the students and families of Refugee High have traded the war zones and racial acrimony of their origin countries for a place in the United States where safety and comfort are not guaranteed. Fishman organizes Refugee High around the course of a school year, beginning in September and climaxing with graduation in June. Interspersed among events of the school year--traditions like Thanksgiving, school concerts, graduation--are profiles of several refugee students which look back on the conflicts that expelled them from their countries and brought them to the United States, as well as close looks at Sarah, the ELL program leader, and Chad, the principal of Sullivan High. The challenges the refugees face are all too American. Gun violence strikes close to one boy, and sends families in his community scrambling (once again) for a safer place to live. A Guatemalan boy balances homework and test dates with court dates to pursue his case for asylum. School officials face the loss of funding and faculty after years of building a program to integrate refugees, when the federal government cuts off the flow of refugees into the country. There are no LGBT students profiled in the book, but sexual identity is also a theme, as a couple of girls wrestle to free themselves from the constraints of conservative, Muslim cultures and (in one case) flee from an arranged marriage. Teenagers are teenagers. No matter where they come from, they will seek independent identities and wrestle with social expectations (from family as well as friends). Refugee High is a valuable insight into 21st-century America and American education. It is a portrait of both "the wretched refuse of [the world's conflict-ridden,] teeming shores...the homeless, tempest-tossed" and those teachers struggling against their own government to wrest open "the golden door" to them. Special thanks to New Press for providing me with an advanced copy of the book in exchange for a fair reading and review.

  18. 5 out of 5

    James (JD) Dittes

    The premise seems exotic: an inner-city high school with a high refugee population; an English as a Learned Language (ELL) program that goes beyond verb tenses and America-focused projects to home visits and a deep devotion to the kids it serves. But while the idea of a school where 38 languages are spoken, and where students step out of the countries found in last year's magazine headlines (Syria, Burma, Congo, and Guatemala, to name a few) may sound exotic, what Elly Fishman reveals is an all-t The premise seems exotic: an inner-city high school with a high refugee population; an English as a Learned Language (ELL) program that goes beyond verb tenses and America-focused projects to home visits and a deep devotion to the kids it serves. But while the idea of a school where 38 languages are spoken, and where students step out of the countries found in last year's magazine headlines (Syria, Burma, Congo, and Guatemala, to name a few) may sound exotic, what Elly Fishman reveals is an all-too-real portrait of America. In many ways, the students and families of Refugee High have traded the war zones and racial acrimony of their origin countries for a place in the United States where safety and comfort are not guaranteed. Fishman organizes Refugee High around the course of a school year, beginning in September and climaxing with graduation in June. Interspersed among events of the school year--traditions like Thanksgiving, school concerts, graduation--are profiles of several refugee students which look back on the conflicts that expelled them from their countries and brought them to the United States, as well as close looks at Sarah, the ELL program leader, and Chad, the principal of Sullivan High. The challenges the refugees face are all too American. Gun violence strikes close to one boy, and sends families in his community scrambling (once again) for a safer place to live. A Guatemalan boy balances homework and test dates with court dates to pursue his case for asylum. School officials face the loss of funding and faculty after years of building a program to integrate refugees, when the federal government cuts off the flow of refugees into the country. There are no LGBT students profiled in the book, but sexual identity is also a theme, as a couple of girls wrestle to free themselves from the constraints of conservative, Muslim cultures and (in one case) flee from an arranged marriage. Teenagers are teenagers. No matter where they come from, they will seek independent identities and wrestle with social expectations (from family as well as friends). Refugee High is a valuable insight into 21st-century America and American education. It is a portrait of both "the wretched refuse of [the world's conflict-ridden,] teeming shores...the homeless, tempest-tossed" and those teachers struggling against their own government to wrest open "the golden door" to them. Special thanks to New Press for providing me with an advanced copy of the book in exchange for a fair reading and review.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    I was a bit nervous to pick up this book given that it comes so close to home. I work in a school very similar to the Chicago high school depicted in this reporting. It's a school to welcome newcomers to our country, helping with the language, the introduction to the US school system, and the social and emotional pressures they feel every day. While the student and staff experiences shared here definitely reached through and gripped my emotions, I am happy to have read this. The journalist who wr I was a bit nervous to pick up this book given that it comes so close to home. I work in a school very similar to the Chicago high school depicted in this reporting. It's a school to welcome newcomers to our country, helping with the language, the introduction to the US school system, and the social and emotional pressures they feel every day. While the student and staff experiences shared here definitely reached through and gripped my emotions, I am happy to have read this. The journalist who wrote this book did long-term (3 years) and intensive interviews and observations at Sullivan in CPS. She particularly followed four students (all refugees or asylum seekers) and the director of the English language learner (ELL) program at the school, although the stories of many people overlap and interact throughout. Potential readers should go in expecting that this is a close and personal look at the experiences of a few people, not a broad discussion of trends and underlying questions. The author does briefly reflect on how political changes in power affect immigration policy and creates challenges for those who wish to enter our country and those already here. I love the way the stories shared here demonstrate the many feelings immigrant kids have about being here in the US, from the good to the bad. There are conflicting feelings about home, language stress and cultural clashes, and new friends and adventures to have. These teenagers are in some ways like any other while also harboring intense traumas and responsibilities unique to their journeys. From the teacher's side, I appreciated the way the book highlights how systems both help and hinder these kids and their families -- mostly hinder. Even for staff members passionate about providing needed supports and a safe space, funding stress can undermine the best plans and intentions. Also, the stories demonstrate how all the important relationships and personal growth built up at school aren't reflected in the data school districts and funding bodies care about. I appreciated being invited in to hear about these students, their families, and their school. This is a topic I wish everyone had more knowledge about, especially with such vitriol against refugees and immigrants occurring in the public sphere. I highly recommend this, especially if you're not overly familiar with refugee experiences in the US. Thanks to The New Press and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this advanced copy. It's out 8/10.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Brenda Fowler

    I was drawn into "Refugee High" on page one and was so captivated that I read it through in just two sittings. This is the story of one school year as lived by four refugee kids whose families fled terror, war, religious persecution and deprivation in Asia, Africa and South America. Of course, American high school is no cake walk either, and Fishman tells how these kids variously navigate Chicago gang violence, tight jeans and hijab styles, arranged marriages and ongoing uncertainties over the I was drawn into "Refugee High" on page one and was so captivated that I read it through in just two sittings. This is the story of one school year as lived by four refugee kids whose families fled terror, war, religious persecution and deprivation in Asia, Africa and South America. Of course, American high school is no cake walk either, and Fishman tells how these kids variously navigate Chicago gang violence, tight jeans and hijab styles, arranged marriages and ongoing uncertainties over the fates of family members left behind. Not to mention the English language. A lot of these kids are carrying around PTSD and Fishman describes the cool group of teachers, counselors and social workers who work tirelessly to support and guide the kids. What these kids have lived through is shocking and sad, but their resilience and that of their families is inspiring, as is the incredible devotion of the staff and principal at this amazing school. Fishman has a gift for weaving in humor and also for observing details in food, clothing and speech that really make the book a total pleasure to read. She not only clearly developed a rapport with the students she profiled but with their parents, as well, many of whom invited her to their homes and told her their stories and plied her with their native cuisine. Her reporting took her on shopping excursions with the kids, to Dunkin, and the courthouse and the police department. The effect of this really detailed reporting is that the kids seem to be in command of their stories and that, in my opinion, is a huge accomplishment and reveals a genuine empathy and understanding on the part of Fishman. Even if we think we already knew and cared enough about the new immigrants and refugees arriving in this country, this book nudges me to see a little bit more and to care more. Highly recommend.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Dinan

    Sullivan High School, located on the North Side of Chicago has historically been a home and refuge to immigrant students. This book chronicles the 2017-2018 school year at the high school - a time when when there great fear in immigrant and refugee communities. Over half of the population of Sullivan is immigrants and we are fortunate to meet a varied cast of bright and interesting characters. They include Alejandro, who has fled gang violence in Guatemala City but may be deported, , Belenge a Co Sullivan High School, located on the North Side of Chicago has historically been a home and refuge to immigrant students. This book chronicles the 2017-2018 school year at the high school - a time when when there great fear in immigrant and refugee communities. Over half of the population of Sullivan is immigrants and we are fortunate to meet a varied cast of bright and interesting characters. They include Alejandro, who has fled gang violence in Guatemala City but may be deported, , Belenge a Congolese refugee who spent tumultuous time in a Tanzanian camp and faces gang issues in his neighborhood, and Shahina a refugee from Myanmar who has a fragile relationship with her parents as she embraces more and more US culture and avoids an imminent arranged marriage. As a teacher who works with ELL students I was immediately attracted to this book. I truly loved many aspects of the book and learning about the students. I have to say the teacher Sarah seemed inappropriate in her language many times and that detract from the story - my school is suburban and thus I try to keep an open mind regarding what these professionals think will work best with so many students suffering from past and current traumas. The descriptions and discussions could be facile at times, but the story is gripping and I will be sharing this book as a gift to many of my colleagues. It's fascinating to follow the journeys of so many diverse people in our country. Thank you @NetGalley and #NewPress for this ARC in exchange for a fair review.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cami Guarda

    “Refugee High: Coming of Age in America” takes the reader on a journey of harsh reality and tender moments that float through the halls of Chicago’s Roger C. Sullivan High, also called the “Google Translate school”, because more than half of the students there are refugees or immigrants from at least 30 different countries. Elly Fishman spent almost every day at Sullivan, and that should already tell you a lot about her strength as a reporter and writer who didn’t want to miss a minute of what w “Refugee High: Coming of Age in America” takes the reader on a journey of harsh reality and tender moments that float through the halls of Chicago’s Roger C. Sullivan High, also called the “Google Translate school”, because more than half of the students there are refugees or immigrants from at least 30 different countries. Elly Fishman spent almost every day at Sullivan, and that should already tell you a lot about her strength as a reporter and writer who didn’t want to miss a minute of what was going on inside the walls of this high school. She earned the trust of students and teachers with time, and was constantly reminding them that she was writing this book so that they were in control of what they wanted to share. The result is a heart-wrenching story of vulnerable kids and families that came to America in search of a better life they struggle to adjust to, while the Trump administration tries to make it as difficult for them as possible. I found that Fishman’s care for these students is effortlessly reflected through the pages as she takes time not only to provide a judgement-free background and context for them and their families, but also reveal how their culture shapes their lives. This is not a book you finish reading and stack in your shelf, ready to go about your day. These students, their families and Sullivan’s teachers stay with you days after you finish it. Which is exactly what I want a book to do.

  23. 5 out of 5

    T

    At equal turns a heartbreaking, hopeful, and all around important book. The stories of Sullivan High’s immigrant ELL students, their teachers, families, and communities shine a spotlight on and give a human face to the immigrants many Americans have been brainwashed into hating and being convinced of stealing from them. This book shows that nothing could be further from the truth. The sacrifices that were made first just to arrive in the US but then live, assimilating as best as possible day in At equal turns a heartbreaking, hopeful, and all around important book. The stories of Sullivan High’s immigrant ELL students, their teachers, families, and communities shine a spotlight on and give a human face to the immigrants many Americans have been brainwashed into hating and being convinced of stealing from them. This book shows that nothing could be further from the truth. The sacrifices that were made first just to arrive in the US but then live, assimilating as best as possible day in and day out all while being teenagers? Again, a human face, heart, soul, hopes, and dreams are what should be looked at; not at their paperwork (or lack thereof). The teachers and administrators also show true heroism day in and day out but refusing to give up on their students. I was thankful for the epilogue, especially considering what a cluster the past 2 school years have been given the pandemic. Knowing that these students wouldn’t have their school based community and support system was particularly difficult. Alejandro’s story impacted me the most. I find myself wondering if his court date has been pushed back again, how many times, and when it is now. Recommended. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free copy for review.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Will White

    This book was simply phenomenal. A compelling read from start to finish that really puts you in the shoes of these valiant young people who are finding their way in America after being forced to leave their homelands due to circumstances beyond their control. Sullivan High becomes the space where these students can explore their new identities and form bonds, as a stark contrast to their home lives in which their parents often double down on revanchist cultural values and strictures in an attempt This book was simply phenomenal. A compelling read from start to finish that really puts you in the shoes of these valiant young people who are finding their way in America after being forced to leave their homelands due to circumstances beyond their control. Sullivan High becomes the space where these students can explore their new identities and form bonds, as a stark contrast to their home lives in which their parents often double down on revanchist cultural values and strictures in an attempt not to “lose” them. But of course, it's not as simple as that; the young people long for their lost homes as much as their parents do. And Chicago hardly proves to be the panacea that these families had hoped for when they resettled there; in many cases they confront some of the same problems they had in their homelands. Altogether, this is an affecting portrait of life in an immigrant community told vividly through the unique stories of several young people. It's easy to see refugees as an undifferentiated mass of the tired, poor, and hungry, but this book will make you realize that these are people with real lives, thoughts, and aspirations. Very highly recommended.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    3.5 stars This was an interesting account of refugee teens and their families in Chicago. I found this book depressing, which was probably the point. It was eye-opening; something many Americans do not think about. These kids come to the US as refugees having experienced horrible violence and poverty in their home countries. Now they are alienated, impoverished and struggling to learn English. They may be the objects of bullying or other violence. They are also trying to fit in with American kids 3.5 stars This was an interesting account of refugee teens and their families in Chicago. I found this book depressing, which was probably the point. It was eye-opening; something many Americans do not think about. These kids come to the US as refugees having experienced horrible violence and poverty in their home countries. Now they are alienated, impoverished and struggling to learn English. They may be the objects of bullying or other violence. They are also trying to fit in with American kids while their parents are pushing them toward their own cultural traditions, including arranged marriage at an early age. The book is well-written. These kids' stories come to life. I felt very sorry for these kids and wanted to help them, which is probably also the point. Most of the stories are heart breaking. Fortunately, the author throws in some positive examples which keeps the book from being too terribly overwhelming. I found the information about life in the native countries interesting. This book raises awareness of the situations faced by refugee children in the US. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tova

    Refugee High is a deeply empathetic and thoughtful representation of the tensions and the joys of an international high school community during the Trump era. It’s also a masterclass in long-form trauma-informed reporting. While political discourse treats immigrant lives like polarizing rhetorical tools, Fishman centers the humanity of the teenagers whose stories she features. Many Sullivan students, like any group of teens, are snapchat-addicted, playful, and ultimately, complex individuals (rel Refugee High is a deeply empathetic and thoughtful representation of the tensions and the joys of an international high school community during the Trump era. It’s also a masterclass in long-form trauma-informed reporting. While political discourse treats immigrant lives like polarizing rhetorical tools, Fishman centers the humanity of the teenagers whose stories she features. Many Sullivan students, like any group of teens, are snapchat-addicted, playful, and ultimately, complex individuals (relatable!). Many of the school's immigrant and refugee population have also experienced intense traumas. Years spent building connections with the staff and students at Sullivan High School allow Fishman to represent the nuances of the school's international community — with the courage to expose stories that need to be heard, and the ethical engagement to keep boundaries of safety or privacy intact. Refugee High is a recommended read for teachers, young people of all backgrounds, and especially those for whom immigration is a talking point but not a lived reality.

  27. 5 out of 5

    (a)lyss(a)

    I received a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This book dives into the lives of students and staff of Sullivan high school. I was hoping for more about the students and their experiences. Given that they're the actual refugees I wanted to understand more about their lives. I understand why there isn't more from their perspectives, but it was not what I was expecting. It felt more like a story about the staff and the hurdles the face than the lives of refugee s I received a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This book dives into the lives of students and staff of Sullivan high school. I was hoping for more about the students and their experiences. Given that they're the actual refugees I wanted to understand more about their lives. I understand why there isn't more from their perspectives, but it was not what I was expecting. It felt more like a story about the staff and the hurdles the face than the lives of refugee students. That being said it's an interesting read. We learn about the students and their lives and adjusting to American high school. There is a focus on gang activity and girls leaving school because of arranged marriages. It's a peak into Sullivan high school and what students experience.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Michael Hall

    I just finished my second reading of "Refugee High: Coming of Age in America" by Elly Fishman. This is a book every high school student, teacher, policy maker, and concerned citizen of the world should read. Fishman does a fantastic job presenting the harrowing challenges refugee families negotiate as they try to decipher life in the US. She permits the real world events of the students' lives and experiences to create a book-long sustained energy - All while avoiding the use of stereotypes or ex I just finished my second reading of "Refugee High: Coming of Age in America" by Elly Fishman. This is a book every high school student, teacher, policy maker, and concerned citizen of the world should read. Fishman does a fantastic job presenting the harrowing challenges refugee families negotiate as they try to decipher life in the US. She permits the real world events of the students' lives and experiences to create a book-long sustained energy - All while avoiding the use of stereotypes or exploitation. This painstakingly researched book/experience feels destined to become a classic. I can easily envision Refugee High being used in courses. Studs Terkel wold be proud.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Mayer

    Refugee High is deeply moving—these teenagers’ stories stay with you. Fishman handles difficult and complex subjects like race and violence with grace and empathy, while never losing sight of the humanity of her subjects. I’m sure I’ll read it again soon, and it will have an honored place on my shelf.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Chloe Grady

    Outstanding, must read nonfiction. Easy and captivating. Focuses on the students and teachers who try to make a better life in America and the challenges they have all faced. Also gives a true inside view of working in schools with a high ELL and low income population.

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