by Elly Fishman
The New Press
Lit Hub's Most Anticipated of 2021
A year in the life of a Chicago high school that has one of the highest proportions of refugees of any school in the nation
Winner of the Studs and Ida Terkel Award
For a century, Chicago's Roger C. Sullivan High School has been a home to immigrant and refugee students. In 2017, during the worst global refugee crisis in history, its immigrant population numbered close to three hundred--or nearly half the school--and many were refugees new to the country. These young people came from thirty-five different countries, speaking among themselves more than thirty-eight different languages.
For these refugee teens, life in Chicago is hardly easy. They have experienced the world at its worst and carry the trauma of the horrific violence they fled. In America, they face poverty, racism, and xenophobia, but they are still teenagers--flirting, dreaming, and working as they navigate their new life in America.
Refugee High is a riveting chronicle of the 2017-8 school year at Sullivan High, a time when anti-immigrant rhetoric was at its height in the White House. Even as we follow teachers and administrators grappling with the everyday challenges facing many urban schools, we witness the complicated circumstances and unique education needs of refugee and immigrant children: Alejandro may be deported just days before he is scheduled to graduate; Shahina narrowly escapes an arranged marriage; and Belenge encounters gang turf wars he doesn't understand.
Equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring, Refugee High raises vital questions about the priorities and values of a public school and offers an eye-opening and captivating window into the present-day American immigration and education systems.
"As the only refugee in an Oklahoma high school in the 1990s, I used to have fantasies like this: what if a school existed that represented the wider world, everyone displaced, everyone applying for the same papers, pockets of society not defined by ill-fitting American markers, but following the precise contours of my own continent, its many faiths and colors? Refugee High is the realization of that daydream, and a riveting real-life answer to those youthful mysteries. A deep dive into an experiment I've always wanted to witness, meticulously researched, lovingly written, and rich in revelation." --Dina Nayeri, the author of The Ungrateful Refugee and Refuge
"Beautifully written, deeply reported, and bursting with humanity, Refugee High is a book you will read in a hurry and remember forever." --Jonathan Eig, author of Ali: A Life and Luckiest Man
"A wondrous tapestry of stories, of young people looking for a home. With deep, immersive reporting, Elly Fishman pulls off a triumph of empathy. Their tales and their school speak to the best of who we are as a nation--and their struggles, their joys, their journeys will stay with you." --Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here
About the Author:
Elly Fishman worked as a senior editor and writer at Chicago magazine. Her features have won numerous awards including a City Regional Magazine Award for her article "Welcome to Refugee High," her first report on the students and faculty at Chicago's Roger C. Sullivan High School. Refugee High: Coming of Age in America (The New Press) is based on the article, and won the prestigious Studs and Ida Terkel Prize for a first book in the public interest. A Chicago native and graduate of the University of Chicago, Fishman currently lives in Milwaukee with her husband and their dog and teaches in the Journalism Department at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.