Helen Thorpe was born in London to Irish parents. She is the author of three books, Just Like Us, Soldier Girls, and The Newcomers. Her books are works of narrative nonfiction that document in a human and intimate way the lives of immigrants, refugees, and veterans of foreign conflicts.
The Newcomers was described by The New York Times as “a delicate and heartbreaking mystery story” about 22 immigrant and refugee teenagers who share one classroom while learning English together. That newspaper went on to say, “Thorpe’s book is a reminder that in an era of nativism, some Americans are still breaking down walls and nurturing newcomers, the seeds of the great American experiment.”
Thorpe’s magazine journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Texas Monthly, Westword, Chalkbeat, and 5280. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
From an award-winning, “meticulously observant” writer comes a powerful and moving account of how refugee and immigrant teenagers at a public high school learn English and become Americans, in the care of a compassionate teacher. The Newcomers follows the lives of 22 immigrant teens throughout the course of the 2015-2016 school year as they land at South High School in Denver, Colorado, in a beginner-level English Language Acquisition class. Speaking no English, unfamiliar with American culture, they face the enormous challenge of adapting.
These newcomers, from fourteen to nineteen years old, come from nations beset by drought, famine, or war. Many come directly from refugee camps. Yet this is a story of transformation. At the center of The Newcomers is Mr. Williams, their dedicated and endlessly resourceful teacher. As the students blossom in his care, the book becomes funny, poignant, and uplifting. We see the refugee crisis at human scale, as well as the galvanizing example of how refugee families exhibit resilience when given the chance to start over. And we learn that all of us can respond in a moral fashion to a troubled globe by doing good at human scale. Readers see the world through different eyes after reading this book. It won the Colorado Book Award and was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.