An in-depth narrative of social science by a journalist immersed in an unusual Brooklyn high school.
In her first book, Hauser relates the remarkable sagas of immigrant students in a high school meant to teach English (and other skills) to recent immigrants. During her year of interacting with students attending International High School at Prospect Heights, the author counted students from at least 45 nations, speaking at least 28 languages other than English. In order to maintain narrative cohesion, Hauser focuses on just a few of those students: Mohamed from Sierra Leone, Yasmeen from Yemen, Ngawang from Tibet, Jessica from China, and Chit Su from Burma. Most of the students faced nearly unimaginable difficulties reaching the United States from their native lands. Once in New York, they found life perplexing, in part because they lacked English language skills, in some other instances because of poverty. The joke among the dedicated faculty is that prospective students must fail testing—especially English language proficiency—to obtain admission. Enrolling in the international high school might become the path to a comfortable life inside the United States, but negotiating the academic and social barriers while learning English promises daily peril. Hauser wisely does not limit herself to relying on the students as sources. She also becomes well acquainted with teachers, parents, siblings, guardians and social workers involved in the lives of the students. The author does her best throughout the narrative to determine which of the students will walk through open doors to the American Dream, and which will find the door slammed shut.
A well-balanced narrative of varied humanity, captured in their simultaneously glorious and worrisome diversity.