A deeply moving fusion of personal discovery and political manifesto, Reading with Patrick tells of Michelle Kuo's years teaching in the Mississippi Delta and her resulting awakening. Having been raised in the Midwest the child of ambitious, upper-middle class Taiwanese immigrants and educated at Harvard, the poverty, cultural deprivation, and racism Kuo encountered in that sliver of eastern Arkansas constituted a revelation. She writes insightfully and informatively abut every aspect of her experience, from her consequent depression to the history of the Delta, to the administrative challenges of the schools. At the center of it all, though, is young Patrick, her brightest and most promising pupil, whose innate literacy she carefully nurtures during her two-year stint. When she lears just before receiving her law degree that Patrick has been convicted of murder, Kuo is compelled to return and to determine where she went wrong. By teasing out the details of the crime and its prosecution over a course of visits and letters, Kuo reveals a startling, elemental portrait of mass incarceration. This is a truly astonishing memoir. I was hooked from the first page, read it in a weekend, and was an instant evangelist. Read this book.
— From Becky
A memoir of race, inequality, and the power of literature told through the life-changing friendship between an idealistic young teacher and her gifted student, jailed for murder in the Mississippi Delta
"Reading with Patrick could be the most affecting book you'll read this year."--The Christian Science Monitor "Powerful."--The Seattle Times "Tender."--O: The Oprah Magazine
Recently graduated from Harvard University, Michelle Kuo arrived in the rural town of Helena, Arkansas, as a Teach for America volunteer, bursting with optimism and drive. But she soon encountered the jarring realities of life in one of the poorest counties in America, still disabled by the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. In this stirring memoir, Kuo, the child of Taiwanese immigrants, shares the story of her complicated but rewarding mentorship of one student, Patrick Browning, and his remarkable literary and personal awakening.
Convinced she can make a difference in the lives of her teenaged students, Michelle Kuo puts her heart into her work, using quiet reading time and guided writing to foster a sense of self in students left behind by a broken school system. Though Michelle loses some students to truancy and even gun violence, she is inspired by some such as Patrick. Fifteen and in the eighth grade, Patrick begins to thrive under Michelle's exacting attention. However, after two years of teaching, Michelle feels pressure from her parents and the draw of opportunities outside the Delta and leaves Arkansas to attend law school.
Then, on the eve of her law-school graduation, Michelle learns that Patrick has been jailed for murder. Feeling that she left the Delta prematurely and determined to fix her mistake, Michelle returns to Helena and resumes Patrick's education--even as he sits in a jail cell awaiting trial. Every day for the next seven months they pore over classic novels, poems, and works of history. Little by little, Patrick grows into a confident, expressive writer and a dedicated reader galvanized by the works of Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Walt Whitman, W. S. Merwin, and others. In her time reading with Patrick, Michelle is herself transformed, contending with the legacy of racism and the questions of what constitutes a "good" life and what the privileged owe to those with bleaker prospects.