BIC Book Reviews: April 2015

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
one amazing thingWith the increasing diversity of America’s communities, it can be challenging to find a book that speaks to the experiences of all community members, regardless of age, gender, background, and ethnicity. There are some out there, and a terrific title that fits the bill is One Amazing Thing, by New York Times bestseller Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. When a natural disaster traps nine people of drastically different backgrounds, families, ages, and origins in a damaged building, they discover that telling their personal stories to each other brings them together as they hope and pray for rescue.

One Amazing Thing celebrates how the common human experiences of love, failure, and hope can cross any boundary or differences separating each of us. This page-turner of a novel also inspires heartfelt, thought-provoking discussions among readers of all ages. Furthermore, its focus on storytelling as a cohesive force encourages communities to share, listen to, and seek out the unique experiences of their own neighbors and community members. Themes such as prejudice, mental health awareness, cultural misunderstandings, disaster preparedness, community building, dreams, hopes, and relationships provide a wealth of tie-in program opportunities. One Amazing Thing brings dignity and value to the stories of each and every person, no matter how different, and teaches us to understand how each person enriches the community they join.

“Everyone has a story,” said Uma… “I don’t believe anyone can go through life without encountering at least one amazing thing.”

The Secret Side of Empty by  Maria Andreu
secret side of emptyInspired by the author’s own experiences, Maria Andreu’s novel, The Secret Side of Empty, explores the heavy emotional, mental, and relationship toll of being an illegal immigrant raised in the U.S. Coming of age is never easy, and MT, who is about to graduate from high school, must deal with the added burden of being American in all but legal status. What does it mean to be American? How do people cope¬¬—or not cope—with insufferable emotional burdens when they can’t seek help from friends, family members, and teachers in their community?

This compassionate story challenges readers, especially teens and college students, to consider the experiences of a young person who is very much like them, who could very well be their own neighbor or best friend, but is not a US citizen because they were brought illegally into the country as a child. The Secret Side of Empty tackles important topics such as alienation, the burden of keeping secrets, coming-of-age, domestic violence, mental health, and immigration. Readers come to a deeper understanding of how important one’s community is while sharing the experiences of someone who wants to be part of a community, but who might always be an outsider.

“I will always be a stranger everywhere. With my parents, I am too American. With Americans, I am a spectator with my nose pressed against their windowpanes, watching their weird rituals and rites of passage, never quite understanding them completely.”

Scratch Beginnings by Adam Shepard
ScratchBeginnings_Final Cover - hi resIs the American Dream dead? Adam Shepard challenged himself to build a successful, working-class life when starting homeless with $25 in his pocket. His story appeals to a wide range of readers: from teenagers worrying about what lies ahead, to college students planning for the future, and mature adults and senior citizens wondering how American values and economic opportunity have changed.
Scratch Beginnings raises timely questions about social mobility in our communities: what does it take to climb out of poverty? Is it possible to succeed financially in working-class jobs? Is it impossible to better your position in life if you start out at the bottom? Adam’s experiment touches on financial responsibility, grit, perseverance, and the examples of acquaintances who succeeded or failed at their own attempts. Adam’s experiences illuminate how poverty requires both individual and community solutions–and how the public institutions and programs he encountered along the way helped or hindered people in their quest to attain the American Dream.

“I recognized early on that everyone belongs there. For a moment lower, middle, and upper classes all blend into the same intellectual melting pot. Whether surfing the Internet or perusing the bookshelves, everyone can find something to do at the library.”

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