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Previous Literature Selections

2014 - Frankenstein by Mary Shelley


Frankenstein, a classic work of science fiction, often brings to mind Boris Karloff’s character in the 1931 film, or the green-tinged monster masks worn for Halloween. The book, however, always surprises those who think they know the story. It is a thought-provoking tale that examines education, knowledge, society, and, ultimately, what it means to be human.

“Frankenstein, an instant bestseller and an important ancestor of both the horror and science fiction genres, not only tells a terrifying story, but also raises profound, disturbing questions about the very nature of life and the place of humankind within the cosmos: What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we have to each other? How far can we go in tampering with Nature? In our age, filled with news of organ donation, genetic engineering, and bio-terrorism, these questions are more relevant than ever.” -www.goodreads.com

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2013 - The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer


The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind "is the immensely engaging and inspiring true account of an enterprising African teenager who constructed a windmill from scraps to create electricity for his entire community. William Kamkwamba shares the remarkable story of his youth in Malawi, Africa--a nation crippled by intense poverty, famine, and the AIDS plague--and how, with tenacity and imagination, he built a better life for himself, his family, and his village. The poignant and uplifting story of Kamkwamba's inspiration and personal triumph, co-written with Bryan Mealer, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind "has already won ringing praise from former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore as well as Paolo Coelho, internationally bestselling author of The Alchemist." -Goodreads.com

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2012 - The Beast in the Garden by David Baron


"When residents of Boulder, Colorado, suddenly began to see mountain lions in their backyards, it became clear that the cats had returned after decades of bounty hunting had driven them far from human settlement. In a riveting environmental tale that has received huge national attention, journalist David Baron traces the history of the mountain lion and chronicles one town's tragic effort to coexist with its new neighbors. As thought-provoking as it is harrowing, The Beast in the Garden is a tale of nature corrupted, the clash between civilization and wildness, and the artificiality of the modern American landscape. It is, ultimately, a book about the future of our nation, where suburban sprawl and wildlife-protection laws are pushing people and wild animals into uncomfortable, sometimes deadly proximity." -www.goodreads.com

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2011 - Zeitoun by Dave Eggers


Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun run a house-painting business in New Orleans. In August of 2005, as Hurricane Katrina approaches, Kathy evacuates with their four young children, leaving Zeitoun to watch over the business. In the days following the storm he travels the city by canoe, feeding abandoned animals and helping elderly neighbors. Then, on September 6th, police officers armed with M-16's arrest Zeitoun in his home. Told with eloquence and compassion, Zeitoun is a riveting account of one family's unthinkable struggle with forces beyond wind and water.

"Zeitoun offers a transformative experience to anyone open to it, for the simple reasons that it is not heavy-handed propaganda, not eat-your-peas social analysis, but an adventure story, a tale of suffering and redemption, almost biblical in its simplicity, the trials of a good man who believes in God and happens to have a canoe. Anyone who cares about America, where it is going and where it almost went, before it caught itself, will want to read this thrilling, heartbreaking, wonderful book." Neil Steinberg, Chicago Sun-Times

The university and local community will find much to discuss from the book. There are strong themes about identity and perspective, how we see ourselves and others, how our impressions of another can affect his or her identity, and how our identity can change over time. There are many examples of how humans behave during times of extreme duress and how ones values can be tested. The committee believes that particularly the first-year students will relate to these themes in their own lives and as they transition to their new academic environment.

More information:
Zeitoun Foundation

2010 - Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference by Warren St. John

Elva Treviño Hart

St. John, A New York Times reporter, brought Clarkston, GA, to national attention in 2007 with a series of articles about the changes in the small Southern town brought about by an influx of refugees from all over the world. This book comes out of those articles. It gives more details about the town and, most particularly, the three soccer teams composed of refugee boys (the Fugees) who were coached by Luma Mufleh, an American-educated Jordanian woman. The book is a sports story, a sociological study, a tale of global and local politics, and the story of a determined woman who became involved in the lives of her young charges. Keeping the boys in school and out of gangs, finding a place for them to practice, and helping their families survive in a new world all became part of her daily life..

Not merely about soccer, St. John's book teaches readers about the social and economic difficulties of adapting to a new culture and the challenges facing a town with a new and disparate population. Despite their cultural and religious differences and the difficulty of adaptation, the Fugees came together to play soccer..

More information:
Press Reviews
Meet the Fugees
Lesson Plan for Outcasts United

2009 - Barefoot Heart: Stories of a Migrant Child by Elva Trevino Hart

Barefoot Heart

Barefoot Heart is a vividly told autobiographical account of the life of a child growing up in a family of migrant farm workers. It brings to life the day-to-day existence of people facing the obstacles of working in the fields and raising a family in an environment that is frequently hostile to those who have little education and speak another language.

Assimilation brings its own problems, as the original culture is attenuated and the quality of family relationships is compromised, consequences that are not inevitable, but are rather a series of choices made along the way. Barefoot Heart is also the story of how the author overcame the disadvantages of this background and discovered her true talents and, in the process, found herself.

More information:
Download the Powerpoint Slide

2008 - A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

A Long Way Gone

Ishmael Beah was born in Sierra Leone on November 23, 1980. When he was eleven, Ishmael's life, along with the lives of millions of other Sierra Leoneans, was derailed by the outbreak of a brutal civil war. After his parents and two brothers were killed, Ishmael was recruited to fight as a child soldier. He was thirteen. He fought for over two years before he was removed from the army by UNICEF and placed in a rehabilitation home in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. After completing rehabilitation in late 1996, Ishmael won a competition to attend a conference at the United Nations to talk about the devastating effects of war on children in his country. It was there that he met his new mother, Laura Simms, a professional storyteller who lives in New York. Ishmael returned to Sierra Leone and continued speaking about his experiences to help bring international attention to the issue of child soldiering and war affected children.

More information:
The Book's Website

2007 - Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande


"In Complications, Dr. Gawande offers a raw view from the scalpel's edge, where science is ambiguous, information is limited, the stakes are high, yet decisions must be made. In dramatic and revealing stories of patients and doctors, he explores how deadly mistakes occur and why good surgeons go bad. He shows what happens when medicine comes up against the inexplicable. At once tough-minded and humane, Complications is nuanced and lucid, unafraid to confront the conflicts and uncertainties that lie at the heart of modern medicine, yet always alive to the possibilities of wisdom in humanity's heroic attempts at healing." Speakers Bureau

More information:
Interview with Dr. Gawande
Practicing Medicine: A Historical Glimpse at Utah and Beyond by USU Special Collections and Archives

2006 - Warriors Don't Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals

Warriors Don't Cry

"There is no putting Warriors Don't Cry down....In a plainly written story that reflects both the wisdom of the woman telling it almost 40 years after the fact and the crumbling innocence of the young woman who experienced it, Melba Beals gives us a history lesson, a civics lesson and as true a story of coming of age in America at a certain time and place as one could hope to find." -- Judith Paterson, Washington Post Book World

Background Resources
Facing the Color Line: Race and Ethnicity in Cache Valley, by USU Special Collections and Archives

2005 - When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

The Emporer was Divine

Julie Otsuka's commanding debut novel paints a portrait of the Japanese internment camps unlike any we have ever seen. With crystalline intensity and precision, Otsuka uses a single family to evoke the deracination-both physical and emotional-of a generation of Japanese-Americans. In five chapters, each flawlessly executed from a different point of view-the mother receiving the order to evacuate; the daughter on the long train ride to the camp; the son in the desert encampment; the family's return to their home; and the bitter release of the father after more than four years in captivity-she has created a small tour de force, a novel of unrelenting economy and suppressed emotion. Spare, intimate, arrestingly understated, When the Emperor Was Divine is a haunting evocation of a family in wartime and an unmistakably resonant lesson for our times.

More information:
Student thoughts on a visit to Topaz (power point download)
Topaz Japanese-American Relocation Center Digital Collection through USU Special Collections and Archives

2004 - A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind

A Hope in the Unseen

The true story of an inner-city black youth, Cedric Jennings, who defies the odds and is accepted to an ivy league university. Discover themes of transition, exploration, growth, defeat, and ultimate triumph with which any college student can identify.

More information on author and text

May Out West by May Swenson

May Out West

This collection of May Swenson's poems takes the west as its focus and field of vision. As the west was a place of inspiration to her, and of birth, the book gathers May's work about the region into a memorable and inspiring collection.