Jessica Tan, a 17-year-old girl from China, arrived in New York in the hopes of reuniting with her father after seven years of waiting. But what she found was hostility and rejection by her stepmother. Determined to succeed, she rented a room in Chinatown and started her journey in an international high school in Brooklyn. Navigating a new world alone with little family support, she held herself together and won a full scholarship to study business and engineering at Drexel University only a year after her arrival in the new country.
Tan is one of the characters portrayed in Brooke Hauser’s book, The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens. The author chronicled a year at International High School in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, a small school for more than 400 students from 45 countries who speak 28 languages. Inside the school is a world full of teenage drama as these young people begin their journey of becoming Americans.
Tan’s schoolmates, Mohamed from Sierra Leone, Yasmeen from Yemen, Ngawang from Tibet and Chit Su from Burma, all faced enormous difficulties in their personal lives and defied the odds to overcome hurdles faced by newcomers to this country. The book took an intimate look at these teenagers’ lives as they persevered and pursued their American dreams. It is an inspirational book that provides a well-balanced narrative of humanity, full of sad moments as well as uplifting spirit.
Through the lives of these remarkable students, Hauser touches on issues surrounding education and immigrants, such as the English Language Learner program, sex education, the Dream Act and clashes between students’ heritage and their new American values. The issues she raised are both current and thought-provoking, and highlighted some of the biggest challenges in American society today.
The New Kids is a wonderful piece of narrative journalism that is at times light-hearted and thoroughly compelling. Hauser is a diligent reporter who is sensitive about her subjects and illustrates them with vivid descriptions. At the end of the book, you could not help but root for these kids and hope to read a sequel about their continued development and journey when they are no longer the new kids.