First-Year Read

The First-Year Read Program creates an instant sense of community among students entering our College by offering a number of shared intellectual and social experiences through a common read.

All incoming first-year students will read the chosen book over the summer. During fall orientation, students meet in small groups led by volunteers from the Hood community to discuss the book’s main themes and important issues raised. First-year students are then required to write an essay about the book.

Special activities related to the theme of the book, such as talks, movies and panel discussions, are offered during the fall, and all students, faculty and staff are encouraged to participate. The program culminates with the author’s visit to the campus in mid-October, when first-year students will have an opportunity to meet with this special guest during the day and attend a public lecture and book signing later that evening.

Our First-Year Read selection is Mercies in Disguise: A Story of Hope, a Family’s Genetic Destiny, and the Science That Rescued Them by Gina Kolata.

It tells the true story of a family who must confront a rare inherited neurological disease that is brutally killing them. Interweaving science, medical ethics, and human drama, Kolata follows the Baxleys as the disease’s cause comes to light. Although there is no cure, scientists devise a blood test that can reveal who carries the fatal gene for those who want to know. The author brings the choice to life in Amanda Baxley’s emotional decision to take the test. The dilemmas she faces once she learns the results make clear the terrible meaning of this incurable disease.

First-Year Student Involvement

Students will receive a copy of the book and read it over the summer. Incoming first-year students then will meet in small groups during fall orientation to discuss the themes, issues and conflicts that are raised by Mercies in Disguise. Specially trained Hood faculty, staff, and students co-facilitate these discussions. Afterwards, students write an essay about the book as their first college assignment, which will be assessed by their First-Year Seminar professors.

All Hood students are invited to attend First-Year Read special activities scheduled during the fall semester and to weigh in with their opinions about the book on Facebook. The program culminates with Kolata’s visit to our campus on Oct. 24, when students will have a special opportunity to meet with the author during the day. Later that evening at 6 p.m., Kolata will give a public lecture followed by a book signing in Hodson Auditorium, Rosenstock Hall. We encourage parents to attend these evening events!

The selection for the fall 2017 First-Year Read is Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.

Using stories about members of seven generations from the 18th century to the present, Gyasi explores the history and legacy of colonialism and slavery in Africa and the United States. Homegoing won the 2016 National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize for the best debut book and the 2017 PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Novel.

The selection for the fall 2016 First-Year Read is Positive: Surviving My Bullies, Finding Hope, and Living to Change the World by Paige Rawl with Ali Benjamin.

Providing a valuable insight into the anti-bullying movement, Rawl recounts her experiences living with HIV from birth and the catastrophic consequences of confiding her HIV status to her best friend in middle school. Almost instantly the word spread and Rawl faced years of being ostracized and victimized by her peers, while cries for help were ignored by the school administration. When the bullying became unbearable, she contemplated suicide. Rawl regained control of her life by taking action and fighting cruelty with compassion. Today she is a college student majoring in entrepreneurship and business, a Red Cross HIV/AIDS educator and publicly advocates for an end to bullying.

The selection for the fall 2015 First-Year Read program is Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream by Joshua Davis. 

Spare Parts recounts the surprising saga of four undocumented Latino teenagers living in an impoverished neighborhood in Phoenix. With little more than scavenged parts, they built the winning entry of a 2004 national underwater robotics contest sponsored by NASA and the US Navy. Their competition was stiff—they were the only high school team who entered the top division of the contest. The young students faced tough opposition from elite college teams, including a group from MIT supported by a $10,000 grant from Exxon Mobil. Paradoxically, even with this inspiring win in a government-sponsored contest, Davis documents the almost impossible struggle for these “best and brightest” to move beyond their illegal status for a place in the American Dream. 

Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream was named one of the best new books of 2014 by both Amazon and the BBC. The film Spare Parts starring George Lopez, Carlos Peña, Marisa Tomei and Jamie Lee Curtis was released by Lionsgate in January 2015.

The selection for the fall 2014 First-Year Read program is A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School by Carlotta Walls LaNier with Lisa Frazier Page. 

A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School is Carlotta Walls LaNier’s memoir of one of the most famous and significant civil rights battles for equal education in the United States. Fourteen-year old Carlotta Walls was the youngest of the Little Rock Nine who enrolled in the racially segregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Resistance to integration in Arkansas was so great that President Eisenhower had to send U.S. troops to protect the nine black students from the angry white mobs that followed them to school on their first days. This was just the beginning of LaNier’s traumatic journey. During her time at Central High, she endured daily harassment and ostracizing from white students and the mysterious bombing of her family's home. Her moving eyewitness account of history in the making and her reflections on the legacy of the Little Rock Nine underscores the heavy burdens and great importance of her fight for social justice.

LaNier and the other members of the Little Rock Nine received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. A U.S. postage stamp (December 2005) and commemorative silver dollar (2007) also were made in their honor.

The selection for the fall 2013 First-Year Read program is A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah. 

In the more than 50 conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them.

What does war look like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Journalists have profiled child soldiers, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But it is rare to find a first-person account from someone who endured this hell and survived.

In A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Beah, now 32 years old, tells a powerfully gripping story: At the age of 12, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By 13, the government army had commandeered him, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. At 16, he was removed from fighting by UNICEF, and through the help of the staff at his rehabilitation center, he learned how to forgive himself, to regain his humanity and, finally, to heal.

Author Ishmael Beah was born in Sierra Leone in 1980. He moved to the United States in 1998 and finished his last two years of high school at the United Nations International School in New York. In 2004 he graduated from Oberlin College with a bachelor's degree in political science. He is a member of the Human Rights Watch Children's Rights Division Advisory Committee and has spoken before the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities (CETO) at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, and many other NGO panels on children affected by the war. His work has appeared in VespertinePress and LIT magazine. He lives in New York City.

The First-Year Read selection for the class of 2016 is Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie Chang. Over the past decade the U.S. media has written extensively about scandalous working conditions in Chinese mega-factories that produce American products. Less examined are the reasons why Chinese workers pursue these factory jobs and why they stay. In Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, Chang goes beyond the headlines to discover the personalities and aspirations of dozens of young women in their teens and early 20s who are employed in mega-factories—the predominant demographic of the millions seeking work in booming new cities that have sprung up in China. 

Chang, an American of Chinese descent and a former Beijing correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, spent three years living in the runaway industrial city of Dongguan in order to carefully examine the lives of young women who work on assembly lines. Without minimizing the physical trials of the 12-hour shifts, enforced overtime, meager wages, overcrowded living conditions and other hardships, Chang uncovers the lure of factory work for her subjects in its seductive promise of money, adventure, opportunity and social liberation. These enticements have caused an estimated 130 million Chinese to become migrant workers in today’s economic market.

Chang skillfully interweaves numerous profiles of “factory girls” into her book to make clear the differences and similarities between past Chinese migrations—including her own family’s—and this newest phenomenon. She especially focuses on the hopes and dreams of two teenagers, Min and Chunming, to supply the “why” behind the huge “floating population” that has inundated industrial cities in China since the 1970s, an overall movement that is estimated to be the largest migration in human history.

Factory Girls was named a New York Times Notable Book and recognized as one of the best books of the year by The Washington PostThe Christian Science MonitorThe San Francisco ChronicleThe Seattle TimesTime and BusinessWeek. It also received the PEN USA Literary Award for Research Nonfiction and the Asian American Literary Award for nonfiction.

The First-Year Read selection for the 2011 fall semester is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. 

Set in Afghanistan, A Thousand Splendid Suns recounts the experiences and emotions of two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila, whose lives become entangled with the history of recent wars in their country. 

In reading this book, students were confronted with the political and social challenges the main characters experienced in their daily lives. They learned about the consequences of war and the struggles of being a woman without legal rights; they were introduced to the viewpoint of those who adhere to the Muslim faith and the dreams of those who sought a national identity defined by Afghanistan’s unique cultural heritage.