Exploring Underrepresented Identities in Summer Reading

In assigning readings for this past summer, Ms. Sen-Das said she sought to choose “compelling narratives that span the breadth of the human experience.” 

Second Formers were assigned The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. 

Third Formers The Song of Achilles by Madison Miller, Fourth Formers Kindred by Octavia Butler, Fifth Formers Homeland Elegies by Ayhad Akhtar, and Sixth Formers had the choice between Know My Name by Chanel Miller, The Scalpel and the Silver Bear by Lori Arviso Alvord and Elizabeth Cohen Van Pelt, and The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood by Richard Blanco.

The House on Mango Street consists of a series of vignettes about the life of a young Mexican-American girl, Esperanza, living in a crowded Latino neighborhood in Chicago. As she comes of age, Esperanza documents racial, sexual, and socio-economic challenges she faces within her community. 

The Song of Achilles describes the journey of Patroclus, the Prince of Phthia, who is exiled for manslaughter and then meets the Greek hero Achilles. The reader experiences their bonding journey together which takes a romantic turn. This story exemplifies the camaraderie between two partners against all odds. “You should put your differences aside for the good of others, or people you care about will suffer,” said Jack Ryan ’25. 

Kindred tells the tale of Dana, a young Black woman married to a white man, who time-travels to the antebellum South. Throughout these trips she learns the troubles of her ancestors and learns ways to adapt to new settings. Dana forms a special connection with the people in this past era and feels obliged to help her fellow Black people. Ryder Cavanaugh ’24 was especially impressed with how Kindred “links the struggles of a Black woman in modern society to that of an enslaved woman.”

Homeland Elegies, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Ayad Akhtar’s novel, concerns itself with the post-9/11 Muslim-American experience. Blending a fictional narrative with facts about his own life, Akhtar offers honest insights into the difficulties of pursuing the American Dream as a Pakistani-American. He touches on the polarizing perspectives his parents hold on Pakistan and America, and documents the coming-of-age of the narrator amidst this duality. 

Miller’s Know My Name, the lengthiest Sixth-Form read, is a harrowing memoir detailing her experience with being sexually assaulted at a Stanford fraternity party in 2015 and the aftermath of the situation. 

Another Sixth Form option, The Scalpel and the Silver Bear, is an autobiography in which Alvord, the first Navajo female surgeon, recounts her experience reconciling Western medicine with traditional healing methods as well as rising past sexist beliefs in her community and profession. 

The Prince of Los Cucuyos is a memoir about the childhood of Richard Blanco, the first Hispanic and openly gay inaugural poet in history. In his stories, Blanco explores his relationships with race, masculinity, sexuality, and culture within his Cuban-American community. Stanislas Robert 22 “appreciates Blanco’s discussion of his own cultural questioning and his conflicting feelings regarding assimilation” and added that it was a “captivating and eye-opening read.”