A friend gave me Reading with Patrick, a memoir by Michelle Kuo, a few months ago. I have been saving it for the “R” in the Alphabet Challenge a fellow blogger and I have taken on. Describing the “remarkable literary and political awakening” of Patrick Browning, Kuo’s student, the book makes the reader think about race and the lack of justice for a large portion of America’s population.
Kuo met Patrick when she was a volunteer with “Teach for America”( in 2004) in his home town, Helena, Arkansas, located in what was then one of the poorest counties in the U.S. She led Patrick through his journey of discovery as his high school English teacher. She “saw” him and saw his potential. The descriptions of their interactions and the building of their relationship were familiar to any teacher who has “been there” and cared. As Patrick grows in his understanding of poetry, the book becomes “a love letter to literature.” It is also a “riveting,” “inspiring testimony to the transformative power of reading.” What about this premise would not make my teacher’s heart go “pitty-pat”?
After going on to law school, Kuo returned to Helena to find that Patrick was in jail, serving an “undetermined” length of years for murder. Patrick describes the murder as “an accident,” and Kuo finds his case has been constantly mishandled, delayed, overlooked and tightly bound up in bureaucracy and red tape. While waiting for hearings and various delays, Kuo begins to teach Patrick again, only to find he had reverted to the pathetically poor reader he was when she first met him years ago. Visiting Patrick in jail as often as permitted for over seven months, Kuo helps Patrick make progress, both in his awareness of literature and of himself as well.
The story does not have a “happily-ever-after-ending,” but a satisfactory one, and the “read” was definitely worth investing my valuable reading time in. I highly recommend this book.