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A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League

3.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,303 Ratings  ·  380 Reviews
It is 1993, and Cedric Jennings is a bright and ferociously determined honor student at Ballou, a high school in one of Washington D.C.’s most dangerous neighborhoods, where the dropout rate is well into double digits and just 80 students out of more than 1,350 boast an average of B or better. At Ballou, Cedric has almost no friends. He eats lunch in a classroom most days, ...more
Paperback, 373 pages
Published May 4th 1999 by Broadway Books (first published 1998)
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3rd out of 7 books — 8 voters
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The five stars go equally to Ron Suskind the author and Cedric Jennings, the hero of the book. As any other review will tell you it is a story about a boy from the ghetto who somehow managed to learn something in his gang-infested high school (think Gangsta's Paradise) and made it to one of the Ivy League universities.

If you think this is some sort of Chicken Soup for the White Liberal Soul then you couldn't be more wrong. Basically the conclusion is: shit is bad, real bad. The challenges that
Christine Luong
Mar 15, 2009 Christine Luong rated it really liked it
This was one of the last books I read before I moved away from Washington, D.C. It's signed by the author with a nice little note. I was working for a teacher's union and volunteering at an elementary school in Northeast D.C. and this book really hit home. Everything Ron Suskind wrote about Cedric Jennings I saw first-hand with some of the students I worked with. It really got me thinking about the failures of affirmative action and how much further we need to go to ensure that all children have ...more
Marian Deegan
Aug 29, 2014 Marian Deegan rated it liked it
The true story of an inner city boy followed by Suskind as he studied his way into an Ivy League school. My discriminating friend Jill recommended this book; it was my first of 2004. I told her afterward that it was a gift to have my "book voyage" of 2004 launched with such a powerfully affecting read. Here I am...marveling at the skill and meticulous care with which Suskind approached this project. There are layers of issues integrated between these book covers. It may be the clearest view I've ...more
Mar 20, 2014 Jen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
As a disclaimer: I read this book for a diversity in education class, which may have impacted how I read it.

In general, I could certainly tell that it was written by a journalist, rather than a novelist; it read very much like a very long article. This doesn't mean that the writing was bad, but it was certainly more expository than I would expect from a book. There was a lot of telling, rather than showing, since the author was working to present what the characters were thinking without misrepr
Aug 30, 2013 Cheryl rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Cheryl by: Friends of the Library
Incredible is the word that keeps coming to mind.
The incredible power of a mother who genuinely believed in her son, and the son who believed his mother. Not this helicopter nonsense that passes for belief but a real belief that results in consistent discipline and selfless sacrifice.
The incredible power of real faith when faced with difficult circumstances. Not "I'll say it till it happens" but the real kind of faith that moves mountains.
The incredible power of the right kind of help at th
Jan 27, 2009 Destiny rated it really liked it
A Hope in the Unseen
Ron Suskind
Broadway Books
ISBN 0-7679-0126-6

Do you know who you are? Do you know what you want to accomplish in life? In this book Cedric Jennings struggles with answering those two questions. He is an African American struggling with finding his identity. His determination pushes him forward and his determination and hard worked pushed him to become a student at Brown University, an Ivy League school. Cedric’s friends, the few that he has, tells him that he is not fit
Aug 07, 2008 Joe rated it liked it
Recommended to Joe by: Glenn Lewis
Shelves: non-fiction
It's almost hard to believe that Suskind tailed this student for four years and still had time to eat, sleep and keep a job. I was actually incredibly skeptical, given the level of omniscience in the narrative, but I felt a lot better after I read the book's acknowledgments.

Even so, to write this book, the vast majority of scenes had to be reconstructed. I remain a bit skeptical because people invariably act for the camera, if not the reporter, and embellish when they recount any formative or si
Oct 11, 2012 Knitme23 rated it really liked it
Just finished rereading A Hope in the Unseen in advance of discussing it with my AP students, and I am blown away by its quality and depth. Several students have already told me how much they're enjoying it--though maybe that's because our last read was Hamlet!--and I am hoping the discussion will be excellent.

The story of Cedric's journey from the inner city of DC to the lawns of Brown University is a fascinating one on many levels, and the book is worth reading even tho it takes place in the
May 08, 2009 Jelinas rated it really liked it
Growing up in Long Beach, I thought I had a good grasp of the challenges of ghetto life. Turns out I had no idea how challenging it is to fight the odds when no one wants to help you.

This is a well-written chronicle of Cedric Jennings' journey from inner-city kid to Ivy League graduate. It was moving, it was gritty -- it was real.
Joan Countryman
Nov 23, 2008 Joan Countryman rated it it was amazing
Very well written, with remarkably (still) new insights about race, class, and education. I was surprised and pleased to find this book so compelling.
Erin Isgett
May 14, 2015 Erin Isgett rated it really liked it
This was my other "looks interesting" pick from a display table at the library to fill time in between requested books being available. I read Suskind's book "Life, Animated" that he wrote about his autistic son, and he referenced his work on "A Hope in the Unseen." I found myself quickly invested in Cedric's life and the choices, opportunities, and struggles that he faced. Even though this book described a time from 20 years ago, I feel that it accurately depicts the reality that so many studen ...more
May 02, 2009 Allison rated it it was amazing
Shelves: public-library
This NPR "You must read this" piece is why I picked up thie book:

An excerpt from the above story summarizes how I felt about the book:
Suskind manages to avoid the icky paternalism that privileged white journalists can easily display toward the poor and minorities. He knows better than to treat Cedric as a specimen; rather, he makes sure that we all become him. The book is nonfiction, yet packs the emotional wallop of a great epic novel. And though there's
Tracy Cooper
May 14, 2016 Tracy Cooper rated it it was amazing
A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind is an interesting narrative that made me think a lot about the incredible struggle of balancing different worlds academically, socially, and culturally within oneself, and the various crossroads one encounters journeying through life.

Ron Suskind's personal observations and analysis of Cedric's struggles growing up in one of the most dismal inner cities and schools highlights the inequality of education and social isolation that Cedric is only aware when he mo
Sep 12, 2014 Amy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I read this as a TA for the LAR (freshman seminar) class, and I absolutely loved it.

I find myself getting closer to Cedric every page I turned because in some aspects I could relate to him, even though there were certainly aspects I couldn't have. He pushed against limitations, those set by the people and the environment around him and even went beyond what i think he thought he was ever capable of doing. He had many setbacks, but he never let that stop him, and what incredible courage and heart
Aug 17, 2010 Veronica rated it liked it
A tale of an inner city young man as he travels from his bottom of the barrel DC high school to Brown. The book is known as one that challenges the reader on the issue of affirmative action. It does. More specifically it challenges the idea of "letting in lesser students" into an environment like Brown. But there is also a sub-theme about how girls are doing better than boys. Oh, yes, the so-called boys crisis is in here too. But it's framed in a much better way that I've seen before because it ...more
Kim Godard
Oct 02, 2010 Kim Godard rated it it was amazing
How do you reach a star? You keep your eyes on it, turning neither to the right nor left, and just continue until you get there. Suskind opens the world of an inner city young man who does just that. Whether by nature or nurture, Cedric Jennings had the determination to hope that his life would not end the way it began. The book allows you to see how the real world is from Cedric's viewpoint while grazing topics such as university affirmative action quotas. Whatever side you're on, you can't hel ...more
Shannon McKee
May 15, 2015 Shannon McKee rated it really liked it

The nonfiction book, A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind is the story of a young African American boy’s journey through high school and his first year of college. Cedric, the protagonist, works hard during his high school career, making it to the top of his class, and eventually goes on to an Ivy League school. This book tells the story of an inner city kid and his struggles to make it out into a better life.

This eye opening story offered insight into the mind of an inner-city kid focused on his
Feb 08, 2016 Jeff rated it really liked it
Inspiring story of a boy growing up in a very disadvantaged neighborhood, but overcoming long odds to attend Brown University. Suskind addresses the difficulty he had in trying to remain a detached reporter in this remarkable story; I feel like his admission of the difficulty lends more credence to the tale by letting the reader know that it was impossible for him to reamin completely neutral to Cedric's struggles.

The book is powerful because it illuminates the obstacles that far too many of our
Rachel Bergman
Dec 22, 2014 Rachel Bergman rated it it was amazing
The inspiring journey of Cedric Jennings earns a five-star rating for the obvious "you can do anything you set your mind to" message. Cedric's tragic home-life is difficult to read at times, for it makes you feel selfish with everything you possess and take for granted. Cedric lives in a rougher part of Washington D.C. and studies at one of the worst schools in the district. This, however, does not keep him from striving for greatness. Jennings is the shining star in his mother's world because h ...more
May 31, 2009 Gina rated it liked it
Three stars isn't enough for this book, but it's not quite a four either (especially after reading THE HELP, which was absolutely fantastic).

Even though this book is non-fiction, it reads like fiction. It's fascinating to consider what Ivy-League college would be like as a minority student who came from a single-parent household where faith was the center of everything. Good writing by Suskind and enlightening overall.
Antonio Vigna
Sep 18, 2014 Antonio Vigna rated it really liked it
A Hope In The Unseen

Ron Suskind


Cedric Jennings

The main character, Cedric Jennings, goes the school at one of the worst and most dangerous schools in the Washington D.C. area but is the best student there. He is the only one in the school who gets an offer to a prestigious college, Brown University.

Throughout the book, Cedric realizes that he does not know what he is working for, and does not really know what the reward for all his hard work will be. This ties in with the title of the b
May 25, 2015 Rema rated it really liked it
As a close follower of the current education reform movement, there was an amazing amount of insight into the schools that America is trying to "fix" that no amount of money is going to help. There is in-depth insight into the deep cultural issues that will prevent any type of systematic education reform from succeeding. Even more interesting is the insight into the Ivy League's work to keep students from identifying as "Americans" and separating them into unique cultural and/or ethnic identitie ...more
Mar 05, 2014 Ricky rated it did not like it
To be blunt, this book is racist and judgmental. All of its high-and-mighty proclamations about how having ethnic student groups on campus is some kind of separatist compromise? The judgmental attitude towards young people of color wearing brand name clothing? The idea that an older white guy can accurately write a young black mans story? The idealization of an Ivy League education? The proclamation claiming that things shouldn't be so much about race, then the obsessive racialization of everyth ...more
Sep 18, 2008 Kathryn rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone, especially urban teachers, social workers, principals, etc.
Recommended to Kathryn by: my local library
Shelves: non-fiction
I enjoyed this book simply because it spoke of many of the experiences I had with my students or that my students did have in Philadelphia. I think it provides a small window into an urban students struggles. The book also opened a window into what college might be like for some of those students I had.
Jun 01, 2007 Christine rated it liked it
This was a nice book, but reading it left me wanting more. The author's treatment of Cedric's life is a bit shallow and there were many points when I wish that both his writing and his understanding of Cedric went a little more in depth.
Feb 02, 2009 Kate rated it it was amazing
I recently reread this excellent book. It offers a first person account of a young man's path from a broken inner city school to the ivy league. Well worth a read for anyone interested in issues of diversity and education.
Jan 02, 2009 Pierre rated it it was amazing
Wow. A really inspiring book about a kid who nearly all by himself goes from a forsaken inner-city high school in Southeast D.C. to Brown University. An amazing piece of journalism, with a ton of heart.
Feb 21, 2007 Qadira rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone!
just a really inspirational and eye-opening account of the obstacles faced by folks in the inner-city...a book that makes it more difficult to sweat the small stuff in life.
Denise Mamaril
Apr 05, 2014 Denise Mamaril rated it really liked it
I was interested to read this story of a kid coming out of the other end of the DC public school system. While my hackles were raised occasionally through some overly loaded wording choices, I think Suskind did a good job of capturing the divergent worlds that Cedric had to navigate in leaving Ballou and going to Brown. Worth a read, particularly for those of us who have experienced both worlds (maybe even more worth a read if you have only lived in one of those worlds). On a side note, it broke ...more
Sep 04, 2014 Anne rated it really liked it
Kudos to Ron Suskind for writing this book and even more kudos to Cedric Jennings for the inspiration he provided. I remember reading the WSJ essays years ago and had forgotten about this inner-city black student and his struggle to succeed in a less-than-stellar high school and his dreams of an Ivy League education. The book illustrates so profoundly that there is so much more to success than just learning the material presented in the classroom and I appreciated how the author showed Cedric's ...more
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Ron Suskind is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist and best-selling author. He was the senior national affairs writer for The Wall Street Journal from 1993 to 2000 and has published several books: A Hope in the Unseen, The Price of Loyalty, The One Percent Doctrine, The Way of the World, Confidence Men, and Life, Animated. He won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for his series ...more
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“Nonetheless, the fact remains; he had hope in a better world he could not yet see that overwhelmed the cries of "you can't" or "you won't" or "why bother." More than anything else, mastering that faith, on cue, is what separated him from his peers, and distinguishes him from so many people in these literal, sophisticated times. It has made all the difference.” 7 likes
“You are livin’,” she says in feigned exasperation. “You just don’t see what I see. You got something special. Something you got from your ma. It’s a thing. I mean, I wish I had it. It’s this thing where you know what it’s going to take, and then you get it done. You push yourself and you get there.” 4 likes
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