READER’S GUIDE FOR THE NEWCOMERS
1. Why did the author choose to situate herself inside Room 142? What takes place in that classroom and in the United States over the course of the 2015-2016 school year?
2. The classroom is occupied by one teacher, a paraprofessional, a therapist, and twenty-two students, in addition to the author. Who were the main characters of the book, in your mind? Why did the author focus on those individuals? Who was your favorite character and why?
3. Which countries are represented in Room 142? Which countries in the world send the most refugees to the United States?
4. In addition to spending time inside the newcomer room at South High, the author also spends a lot of time visiting several families at home. What did you learn by being offered a view into the homes of these families?
5. What happened in Iraq, and in Syria, that resulted in Ebtisam and her three children arriving in the United States?
6. What happened in the Democratic Republic of Congo that resulted in Tchiza, Beya, and their nine children arriving in the United States?
7. The classroom also includes two students, Hsar Htoo and Kee Reh, whose families originally fled from Burma (Myanmar), although both of those boys were born inside refugee settlements in Thailand. What led their families to flee Burma?
8. Why are Lisbeth and Saúl in the United States? How did their journeys from El Salvador differ from the other students that the author focuses on? What does it mean to be an "unaccompanied minor" and what does it mean to seek "asylum" in the United States? What is the difference in legal terms between an immigrant, a refugee, and an asylum seeker?
9. How do the students in the classroom "map" the global refugee crisis as a whole, as the author says? Did the US play a role in these displacements?
10. How did your sense of the students change over time? What was it like for the students when they first arrived? How did they evolve?
11. Why did the author choose to put herself into the narrative? What purpose did that serve? As the author mentions, her family immigrated from Ireland. How did the author use her personal story in the narrative? Did she have feelings about the students and their families? How did the author manage the tension between trying to be a reliable observer and bearing witness to stories that moved her?
12. Why did Eddie Williams teach in an English Language Acquisition class? What kind of teacher was he? How did his background affect how he behaved in the classroom?
13. Did you have a favorite passage in the book? Which one, and why?
14. At one point, the author visits the Congolese family, and after some conversation, both the father and the interpreter turn to stare at her. The author says she felt as if they were thinking, ‘What are we supposed to do about the terrible innocence of Americans?’ What did she mean by that phrase? What do Americans not know?
15. How did this book leave you feeling about refugees? Should the United States accept more refugees for resettlement? How did the author handle the political backdrop, and did you feel she was fair-minded? Do you agree or disagree with current policies on refugee resettlement in the US?