Students review summer reading assignments



“Enrique’s Journey” by Sonia Nazario 

This year, one of the two summer reading book options for incoming freshman was called “Enrique’s Journey”. It is a powerful non-fiction book about the suffering of illegal immigrants. The book opens in Honduras, with a mother named Lourdes leaving behind her young children and setting off for America. She hopes that she will be able to get a job and provide enough money to prevent her children from growing up in extreme poverty.

Eleven years later, after a depressing childhood away from his mother, Enrique decides to go to America and find her, no matter what it takes. In clear and compelling writing, Sonia Nazario describes the brutal journey that he and countless other Central Americans endure in search of a better future. This journey involves riding on top of freight trains, which is dangerous in itself, not to mention the gangsters who rule the train tops and beat, rob, rape, and kill migrants. Enrique attempts this dangerous trek 8 times, getting robbed, severely beaten, and deported in the process, before he finally makes it to America, where life is not as great as he imagined. He manages to get a job and sends money back to his girlfriend, Maria Isabel, and their daughter, Jasmin, in Honduras, but soon turns to drugs and alcohol in order to cope with his disappointment.

He eventually saves enough money to bring Maria Isabel to the United States, and six months later they are able to hire a smuggler to bring Jasmin to join them.

Several years later, Enrique and several of his friends had been drinking and were found in a motel by Jacksonville police officers, who discovered that Enrique had an “outstanding order of arrest” for traffic violations.

He expects to stay in jail for a night; but when law enforcers discover he is an illegal immigrant, one night turns into several months.  He and his family live in constant fear of being deported. Thanks to a good lawyer, Enrique and his family receive Visas and are allowed to stay in the United States legally: but Nazario makes it very clear that most migrant families are not this lucky, and continue to be torn apart all the time.

The book gives the reader an eye-opening view into the harsh lives of these families. As students living in the capital city of the nation these migrants so desperately want to reach, it is important that we are aware of the trials they face, and is definitely a great option for a summer reading book.

“The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold

Imagine being 14 years old, forever. That’s the fate of Susie Salmon — yes, like the fish— the protagonist of Alice Sebold’s 2002 bestseller “The Lovely Bones.” But Susie is a 14-year-old in heaven, or some version of it, after she is murdered in a cornfield. She is the victim of a serial killer, a creepy loner neighbor who lures her into an underground playhouse. It was such an odd story from the very beginning that I couldn’t put the book down. “The Lovely Bones” is a story of grief, both on earth and in heaven, as Susie watches her family deal with the loss of their daughter and sister for years after her murder.

No spoilers here: the book begins with Susie telling the reader the date of her murder, and she narrates the novel from beyond. She describes her murder (but I’ll spare you the gory details), and you can almost feel her fear and regret as she realizes her fate once she falls into the murderer’s trap. That literary device will draw you into the story, because not only does Susie see everything her family and friends do after her murder, at times she participates in life back on earth. This thought is not exactly comforting, and the constant theme of death makes the book a tough read.

The Lovely Bones is not just Susie’s story. It is a very compelling novel about how a terrible event can affect various individuals differently, and illustrates how people deal with grief. This overarching theme, although heavy, is something that most people can relate to.

“The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls

The aptly titled “Glass Castle” suggests a life immersed in fragility, and the book itself also leaves readers feeling quite breakable. A memoir recounting the poverty-stricken life of author Jeannette Walls, “The Glass Castle” begins with Walls describing the unsettling sensation of seeing her homeless mother digging through a dumpster on a New York City street, while she herself shrinks silently in a taxi cab. The rest of the New York Times bestseller describes the circumstances leading up to this disconcerting encounter, showing us the life of a younger Walls who is quietly dragged from home to home as her eccentric mother and drunk father dodge their unpaid bills and messes that they refuse to clean up.

The memoir officially begins in a small town in Arizona, where Walls is rushed to the hospital at age three after an attempt to cook dinner for herself goes wrong and she is badly burned. In an attempt to evade the resulting medical bills, her father drags her out of the hospital before her recovery period has ended, and her life on the road follows. She and her siblings excel in the various schools they attend, a result of mainly self-teaching, with some help from their father, and they each learn to take care of themselves, and sometimes even for their parents when their father is on alcoholic binges and their mother checks-out into her own world as an aspiring artist.

Eventually, as the teenage years are dawning on Walls and the rest of her siblings, they settle down in Welch, West Virginia, where their grandparents reside. After living with their grandparents for only a short period of time, forced to listen to racist jargon and aggressive rhetoric, the Walls move into their own home. There, their squalor magnifies unthinkably. Forced to dig through garbage cans for scraps of food and frequently abused by the other children at school, the Walls family continues to spend the next several years in Welch in utter poverty.

Walls relates tales that range from heartbreaking to outright appalling, from her father smashing the piggy-bank that she and her older sister had been using to save money for an escape to New York City and using the money to buy more alcohol, to being groped by a homeless man who wanders into her constantly unlocked house as a nine-year-old in Phoenix.

Walls is constantly reminding the reader, through her own experiences, that things could be much worse. At times it is hard to remember that these memories are not just imaginative stories, or fictional tales meant to intrigue a reader, but an account of the actual hardships of children who have been taught to fend for themselves. This memoir is not a book for the faint-hearted, and will have readers itching to know what happens next. An irresistible story told in the raw words of a woman who has known true strife, “The Glass Castle” captures the consequences of addiction, human fallibility, and the innocence of childhood.