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Publisher's Summary

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.

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 teenage 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.

Reading with Patrick is an inspirational story of friendship, a coming-of-age story of both a young teacher and a student, a deeply resonant meditation on education, race, and justice in the rural South, and a love letter to literature and its power to transcend social barriers.

©2017 Michelle Kuo (P)2017 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Penetrating, haunting... In all of the literature addressing education, race, poverty, and criminal justice, there has been nothing quite like Reading with Patrick." (James Forman Jr. and Arthur Evenchik, The Atlantic)

"Honest, thoughtful, and humane, Kuo's book is not only a testament to a remarkable friendship, but a must-read for anyone interested in social justice and race in America. Thoughtfully provocative reading." (Kirkus Reviews)

"This memoir of teaching literature in one of the poorest counties in America is a reminder of how literacy changes lives. Highly recommended." (Library Journal)

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What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Fantastic book with an upsetting reminder we have much to do

Michelle Kuo gives us personal a view into a frightening reality ... one that civil rights in America has not yet righted ... one we’d like to think didn’t exist. Haunting. Loved it. But it’s haunting me.

Strongly recommend this read.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

didn't love it; didn't hate it

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I might recommend the book, not the audible version.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

The narrator was my biggest problem. Her voice quality resonated with nasality and her delivery rate often had me on the out-of-control speeding train. Alas, I wanted to find out what happened in the end and I wanted to get there quickly, so I could discontinue hearing the nasal performance. However, reaching the end at the speed of light was not what I had in mind either...a rock and a hard place, to be sure!

If this book were a movie would you go see it?

no

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

a teacher's impact

Would you consider the audio edition of Reading with Patrick to be better than the print version?

I did not read the printed version

Who was your favorite character and why?

Patrick seemed real and his life experiences were like many young men in his situation. I don't know many other teachers that would have made the choices this teacher Kuo did.

What does Michelle Kuo bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

It was her story to tell and it was done with humbleness. Her voice added credence to the telling.

If you could give Reading with Patrick a new subtitle, what would it be?

Reciprocal impacts of student and teacher relationships(not a good title but tells the story)

Any additional comments?

It was important to have Kuo's story told in her own voice yet it was a difficult narration for me to connect with. I was slow to connect with the characters and the telling sometimes got in the way of the flow and connections for me. I am glad that I read it and look forward to discussions with others regarding the cultural and social implication of the story.