This was an eye-opening book. I found Kuo's story at turns heartening and frustrating — as an eager member of Teach for America, she offered hope for an impoverished, unruly group of last-chance students, but at the same time, she was so ill-equipped and naive it was dangerous. Often throughout the book, Kuo compares Patrick's plight to her own immigrant family's struggles, which I understand, but I think it made her tone-deaf to this particular urban crisis. I give Kuo tremendous credit for reconnecting with Patrick when she learned he was incarcerated, but I sometimes felt those months with him provided a beyond-reproach excuse for her own career indecision. Upon her return to the Delta, Kuo learns the harrowing fates of many in the class she taught, but does not seem concerned by her inability to make an impact with anyone but Patrick. What's more, at different points Kuo acknowledges huge gaps in their education, that provide few with the skills to reach beyond their circumstances. Obviously, this is not a situation that can be changed overnight, or with the limited attention span of a short-term volunteer teacher, but still.
I appreciate Kuo's devotion to Patrick, and the sacrifice it entailed. But parts of this story seemed more to me (and I hate how cynical I feel saying this) like they were intended to pad a resume or write a book. There were so many others in Patrick's class simply left behind, and I could not get that out of my head, how you could choose just one student to place all of your hope in, at the expense of the rest. But despite all my misgivings, I do believe that Kuo has provided a valuable window into an untenable situation — where the difference between the haves and the have nots is, in some cases, literally criminal.