The 2015–16 Life of the Mind book will be The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez.
It’s a fictional tale about two immigrant families—one from Mexico and one from Panama—who come to America in search of better lives. The title comes from something one of the characters says: “We’re the unknown Americans … the ones no one even wants to know, because they’ve been told they’re supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we’re not that bad, maybe even that we’re a lot like them.”
The Book of the Unknown Americans is the third book by Henríquez, of Chicago, whose father came to the United States from Panama in the 1970s. It was one of the New York Times‘ 100 Notable Books of 2014, one of Amazon’s Top 10 Books of 2014, and one of O Magazine‘s fifteen Must-Read Books of 2014.
Now in its thirteenth year, Life of the Mind is part of First-Year Studies 100, a zero-credit, pass-fail class that gives students their first taste of college studies and requires them to complete online lessons on topics including alcohol awareness, financial literacy, plagiarism, technology, civility, and succeeding at UT.
Freshmen are asked to read the book and complete a written response before arriving on campus. Plans are under way to have the author speak during Welcome Week.
The book was chosen by a committee of faculty, students, and staff led by Ruth Darling, assistant provost for student success, and Jason Mastrogiovanni, director of first-year studies. Although they considered a variety of nonfiction and fiction works, they chose The Book of the Unknown Americans because it aligns nicely with current civility and global initiatives.