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The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  2,118 ratings  ·  418 reviews
From an award-winning, “meticulously observant” (The New Yorker) writer comes a powerful and moving account of how refugee teenagers at a Denver public high school learn English and become Americans.

The Newcomers follows the lives of twenty-two immigrant teenagers throughout the course of the 2015-2016 school year as they land at South High School in Denver, Colorado, in a
Kindle Edition, 417 pages
Published November 14th 2017 by Scribner
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Kristy Miller
On my daily commute I pass a beautiful, old high school. This is Denver South. Denver South High School is the magnet school for teenagers in the Denver Public School System who have limited or no English skills. This book takes place from August 2015 through the fall semester of 2016, and follows Mr. Williams, and his Newcomer Class. Over the first year 22 teenagers will find themselves in Mr. William's classroom. Almost all of them are refugees or asylum seekers. Many have experienced trauma t ...more
Dec 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-teaching
As a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, both in the US and elsewhere, I found this excellent book hit close to home and was also a complete pleasure to read. There was a lot of nodding my head in recognition at the types of students in Mr. Williams’ Newcomers English and the bureaucratic and cultural struggles they and their families were going through as the election of Donald Trump went from joke to awful possibility to appalling reality.

I think the big problem this book might have is a
The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom is a remarkable and meticulous study and observation of twenty-two refugee students as they come together when they are enrolled in English Language Acquisition classes at Denver South High School, serving as a magnet school in the Denver metropolitan area. Helen Thorpe follows these immigrant students for a period of one year as they acclimate to their new surroundings. Ms. Thorpe undertook this project in 2015 amidst ...more
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In “The Newcomers,” Helen Thorpe continues the remarkable and compassionate in-depth reporting present in her two previous books, “Just Like Us” and “Soldier Girls.” “The Newcomers” follows a group of teenage refugees at a Denver high school as they learn English, adapt to American culture, and build entirely new lives for themselves. These refugees are fleeing famine, persecution, war, and other horrific situations. Thorpe attends class with them for an entire school year and is drawn into thei ...more
Jennifer Louden
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While the scope of the story at times overwhelmed the writing and there was too much repetition of the classroom activity, this book still blew me away. To spend a year with these refugee kids, to experience the challenges of their lives, was life changing. I wish every member of Congress was required to spend a week in this classroom and in this school.
Jen Alexander
Dec 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’m literally gasp-crying as quiet as I can on this Metro North train as this beautiful book comes to a close. That surprised me.

I've had the book for a few weeks now, reading a chapter here and there as I could, finding myself thinking about the people I was meeting within its pages. Like Thorpe's other books, there's a lot here to unpack, and I learned about what America is like for a newcomer, the realities of refugee policy before and after Trump, and where most refugees come from (hint: it
Amber Garabrandt
In Denver Colorado there is a special group of classes, ELA classes, given to the kids of new refugees.   Teens from all over the world, newly resettled into America from across the globe, come together to learn English, and get caught up in school- some of which have been out for some time.  Thorpe joined the class for a year, getting to know the teachers and students while also researching what each of these families went through before coming to America, and what they dealt with after
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Helen Thorpe is an excellent writer of journalistic nonfiction, and always picks great topics for books, which is why I’ve read all of them. Unfortunately, the quality of her books seems to me inversely proportional to how much she features herself in them, and The Newcomers falls on the wrong end of that scale. But this book has an even more basic problem, in which Thorpe appears to have committed herself early to a particular premise and clung to it even as it proved increasingly infeasible an ...more
Aug 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
3.75 stars from me on this timely refugee book, well written, but could have been a bit shorter/edited in my opinion and I admit that non-fiction is harder for me to read.

This one has been on my radar for quite some time because Helen Thorpe is a local Denver author. It was recently picked by my local public radio station for their "book club" read. By the time my copy came in from the library, I missed the discussion, but still wanted to read this book. I'm going to hear the author speak next m
Dec 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education-books
The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom is a journalistic investigation that follows a group of students from being shy, noncommunicative newcomers to interactive, engaged, and mostly happy students. The study, conducted by well-known author Helen Thorpe, explores how difficult and harrowing life is for refugee students and the numerous challenges they face as they adapt to life in the United States. The inspiring book delves not only into student backgrounds ...more

I've often wondered what it would be like to move to the U.S. from a non-English speaking country and have to learn to survive here.  This is a book that answers those questions.  I think this should be required reading for anyone who wants to talk intelligently about the immigration debate in the U.S.  

The author spends 18 months with a group of teenagers who are in a Newcomers class in a Denver high school.  All of them are recent immigrants and have tested at the bottom level of English lang
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a wonderful testament to public education, committed teachers and the resiliency and determination of immigrant families! In a classroom at South High in Denver, Helen Thorpe has found a microcosm of the refugee crisis, and she gently uncovers it student by student. Without preaching, she shines her light at trouble spots around the world and at our collective record of letting their people down. The stories of these teens convey a triumph of the human spirit, even though it’s clear some of ...more
May 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Fear is the only true enemy, born of ignorance and the parent of anger and hate."--Edward Albert

If you want to know what it's like to teach ESL, read this book. Of course, my job is even more fun because I teach adults instead of teenagers. I especially love this book since it was written recently and not too far away (Denver), and the classroom has very similar demographics to mine. My students are at beginning/intermediate English levels, and so I don't usually get detailed information about
Sharon Orlopp
Helen Thorpe is one of my favorite authors because she completely immerses herself in the subject matter. Thorpe's book, Just Like Me, involved immersion in the lives of four high school students. The Newcomers involved Thorpe becoming a part of the classroom with students from throughout the world.

My mom attended South High School in Denver and the high school is across from the University of Denver, where I graduated.

Immigrants and refugees and the challenges they face is a topic that is near
Mar 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anyone with opinions on immigration or the movement of refugees should read this book; the humanity brought to life is so moving. It's very easy for Americans to just point fingers at the rest of the world and forget just how involved and responsible WE are for creating the very refugees we talk about refusing. I live about 20 minutes away from South High School and had no idea they did this kind of work. I am very proud to call Denver home, and hope we continue to be a city that welcomes "the o ...more
Dec 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As an employee of DPS and a former teacher of Newcomers, I felt that Thorpe did a fantastic job of telling the stories of these kids, while interweaving history, politics and pedagogy. She keeps it real, refrains from hysterics and exaggerations, and makes you feel like you are a member of the classroom community. It makes me want to go back to the classroom and work with Newcomers again.
Kate Jonuska
Dec 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This fascinating book puts you in the classroom of recently arrived teenage refugees at South High School in Denver and shows how that classroom is a microcosm for understanding conflicts around the world. Honestly, it's touching how kids are just kids, no matter what language they speak or traumas they endure, and every kid deserves a chance.
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was SO GOOD and eye-opening and well written and relevant and I want everyone I know to read it and love it too.
Jenny Shank
Mar 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such a wonderful, important, timely book. And I'm now following the high school track career of one of the featured kids.
Nov 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The author spoke at my workplace recently and the book became even more powerful and life changing; how does one get a book nominated for the Nobel or Pulitzer, because that is needed, please.

Please read this book.

This story needed to be written, and the narrative nonfiction style is one of my favorite, since it creates a story that feels immediate and reminds us what it means to be human. She has been devoting her time the past year or so with talking about the book, and while many of us who
An absolutely fascinating and absorbing look at a single classroom of refugee students at Denver South High School as they learn to navigate a new country, learning English, and forging connections with fellow refugees who speak a wide spectrum of languages with a background of horrifying life experiences. Thorpe gets to know each of these students and it's clear how much love she finds for sharing their struggles, as well as their triumphs.

Set against the backdrop of the 2016 presidential elect
An incredibly well-told narrative of the lives of teenage refugee students who have come from all parts of the world, speaking different languages, having experienced war, death, and various upheavals to land in the English language immersion class at South High School in Denver, CO. Thorpe embeds herself in the classroom and in their lives and narrates their struggles and triumphs against the background of the upcoming 2016 presidential election. As a high school teacher, I appreciate reading a ...more
Karen Ashmore
Feb 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The writing was Incredible. The stories of the young refugees were amazing. I serve on a scholarship committee of the Denver Foundation and I was pleasantly surprised to recognize some of the people profiled in the story were also recipients of scholarships I approved. The determination and tenacity of refugees is mind boggling. At the end of the book the author puzzled over why Trump would ban refugees fleeing war and who were some of the biggest defenders of American democracy, the opposite of ...more
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. I wish everyone would read it. Especially people who need a better understanding of refugees . Helen Thorpe provides a very thorough and well researched account of the students in Mr Williams' class.
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
I think this book should be on all high school students reading lists. The author follows the lives of several immigrant teenagers through their first year of high school in the U.S. ( happens to be in Denver)
It highlights the importance of teachers, refugee resettlement support systems and the patience and generosity we should all have towards those less fortunate than we are.
Jan 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. I chose it for the Goodreads Read Harder 2017 challenge (book with an immigration theme) because it was A. available as audiobook, and B. about a classroom. I'm so glad I read it. As the author - journalist writes about the academic struggles of these refugee children she outlines particular hardships they and their families face in their home countries, the refugee system, poverty, modern societal prejudice, and teenagers struggling to fin ...more
Sarabi Eventide
Let me preface this by saying that I also teach English to speakers of other languages. I should also say that I'm writing this review several months after finishing the book.

The Newcomers was okay, but it didn't teach me anything new. It seemed more like a performative way to *prove* refugees "aren't all bad." The book exploits the children's trauma and is constantly highlighting their otherness ("oh that's so different from what I'm used to" is a pretty common thread). At the same time, Thorp
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
During my 60+ years of reading, certain books have opened my heart and mind to an expanded and more knowledgeable view of the world...they literally changed my life. These nonfiction books include "A Fort of Nine Towers" by Qais Akbar Omar, "Among Schoolchildren" by Tracy Kidder, "Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America by Jonathan Kozol and "The Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts.

Joining this list today is "The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friend
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2019
There's no way I can give this important, touching, not-quite-perfect book fewer than five stars.

I fell in love with these students and their families and was deeply moved by their courage, humor, and heart. I admire and appreciate the teachers, translators, caseworkers, volunteers, etc. and Thorpe herself for their skilled and caring support of them. May the newcomers and their helpers succeed - and may their numbers increase.

recommended by Malcolm Gladwell.

Eddie Williams is an unsung hero. I spent a year inside his classroom, watching him teach English to kids who had just arrived in the US. He had 22 students who spoke 14 languages, and used 5 alphabets. Eddie was inspired by his mom, once an ELA student herself. #TheNewcomers
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Helen Thorpe is the author of four books, most recently FINDING MOTHERLAND. Malcolm Gladwell has said, "Helen Thorpe has taken policy and turned it into literature."

In FINDING MOTHERLAND, Thorpe shares a collection of linked essays about her own family and the stories of other immigrants in her neighborhood, including an undocumented mother whose son attends their shared public school. She writes

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“Meeting people whose life trajectories were so different from my own enlarged my way of thinking. Outside the school, arguments over refugees were raging, but the time I had spent inside the building showed me that those conversations were based on phantasms. People were debating their own fears. What I had witnessed taking place inside this school every day revealed the rhetoric for what it was: more propaganda than fact. Donald Trump appeared to believe his own assertions, but I hoped that in the years to come, more people would be able to recognize refugees for who they really were--simply the most vulnerable people on earth.” 3 likes
“If there was any part of the global crisis that the United States owned, it was the chaos that was unfolding in the Middle East. The United States had not played a direct role in the ethnic cleansing that had taken place in Southeast Asia, or the wars that had broken out across Africa. But the United States was directly responsible for the chain of events that led up to the destruction of Iraq and the related dissolution of Syria. If there were any refugees this country might have felt a moral obligation to accept, it would be people from some of the very countries listed in the ban.” 1 likes
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