Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, A Student and a Life-Changing Friendship. Michelle Kuo. Random House Publishing Group. July 2017. 320 pp. ISBN#: 9780812997316.
Michelle Kuo is the child of immigrant Chinese parents. Their expectations for their daughter are huge! Michelle, however, wants to accomplish something meaningful with her life and she’s not sure that fulfillment includes only a posh job with a similar salary and home with a well-known business firm. After graduating from Harvard University, Michelle puts decisions on hold and decides to become a Teach for America volunteer in Helena, Arkansas. This account is just as much about Michelle’s internal life as it is what happens in her new school where abilities are negligible and interest is phenomenally non-existent. Michelle describes the influences in her life that brought her to this moment. What is absent from the noble speeches of African-American leaders is the agonizing difficulty of working in areas where poverty, racism, and hopelessness are rampant.
Here, however, is the magic within this nonfiction account. Little by little, Michelle manages to show the students she cares and they begin to change in incremental ways. The changes proceed so slowly one wonders what kind of future these students will have. A year later students who were illiterate are beginning to read simple books and learn. Michelle takes these students into junior high novels and autobiographies that enable students to consider not just on a reading level but also about self-worth and possibilities they couldn’t envision before meeting Michelle Kuo.
Funding ends the program, and Michelle goes to law school. Upon graduating, she learns that one of her students, Patrick, has been arrested for murder. The rest of the account is about her taking up a teacher-student relationship with Patrick, teaching him to read, watching him change from a condemned prisoner to a free citizen who pursues hope on his own, all of it due to the patient, caring attention of Michelle. However, Michelle gives the credit for this transformation to the authors who penned the novels and nonfiction books she reads with Patrick. Readers fall in love with these authors anew as they observe how words and sentences casually read are perceived as life-changing revelations to be contemplated and venerated by the Patricks of this world.
This is a magnificent story, invaluable because of its poignancy and limitless possibilities evident on almost every page. This story is must reading for pessimists and optimists regarding the future of American youth! Outstanding!