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

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  2,961 ratings  ·  359 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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Best ALA Adult Notables
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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
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
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
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 3 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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
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
Marian Deegan
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
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
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
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
Kim Godard
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

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
Rachel Bergman
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
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
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
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
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 4 of 5 stars
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.
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.
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.
Denise Mamaril
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
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
This was a very interesting book. It chronicles the life of a young boy growing up in the projects of DC. He goes to one of the worst high schools in our country but manages to get everything he can out of that school. Thanks to a few very dedicated teachers who see his potential, he stays focused and graduates as valedictorian of his class. One math teacher, in particular, comes in early and stays late to work on higher level calculus with him. Despite his low SAT scores, he applies to Brown Un ...more
I picked this book up from the stairs of my parents' house. I think it was my brother's freshman English book, but I simply needed something to read on the plane ride back to Vegas.

I was at first mesmerized by the writing. It was descriptive! It was interesting! It sounded like an author had written it! Turns out, an author did write it. I have a snobbish aversion to reading memoirs by non-writers, so I was happy to realize Ron Suskind wrote the book about Cedric Jennings.

After the first few c
Cedric Jennings came from a tough background. His mother worked hard, but sometimes ends didn't quite meet. His father spent most of Cedric's childhood in government custody. Despite this, as well as the fact that he attended one of DC's worst high schools, he managed to make it all the way to Brown University. Of course, his journey from bottom of the country to the top was chronicled by the Washington Post.

Cedric's journey includes a wealthy, white roommate with whom he inevitably clashes, his
May 07, 2009 Anna rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Young Adults, AP Language Students
I love stories about resilience and overcoming obstacles of dysfunction in order to academically achieve. A Hope in the Unseen is a superior book about the trials and tribulations as well as tributes to individuals overcoming race and poverty in order to socially advance—Cedric Jennings graduates from a ghetto high school and attends Brown University on scholarship. Suskind's journalism more deeply extends the affirmative action discussion and probes to what extent does an elite institution (esp ...more
Eddie Akubude
This book written by the Pulitzer prize winning Ron Suskind is a piece of literary genius. About the struggles of Cedric Jennings through high school and his freshman year at prestigious Brown University.

This masterpiece was chosen as one of the best books of the year in 1998 by the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Washington Monthly, and Booklist. Cadric Jennings lives in a very tough neighborhood in Washington D.C. and goes to Ballou High School where only 80 out of the 1300 kids make hono
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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
More about Ron Suskind...
Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism

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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.” 5 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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