It is a common misconception that most of the student body disregards the All-School Read, including Homegoing. Summer is a time when students should be able to ignore all obligations and relax without the agony of school, and a summer All-School Read assignment seems to infringe upon that leisure time. Not only did a majority of those polled read it, but a handful actually admitted to enjoying it.
The 2018 All-School Read was Homegoing by debut author Yaa Gyasi. The novel was selected by the newly-formed All School-Read Committee, made up of students and faculty.
Each chapter of Homegoing tells the story of a different descendant of Maame, an Asante woman. The book begins in the 18th century, focusing on Maame’s two daughters who never meet, and continues until modern day with the two separate lineages, with each chapter from a different character’s perspective.
77 students from the sophomore, junior, senior, and PG classes (20.7% of the student body), responded to The Oracle’s poll regarding their opinions of the All-School Read. The freshman class was not surveyed because they were not assigned the book over the summer. The majority– 58.4%– of the poll’s respondents reported that they read and finished Homegoing, while only 16.9% did not read any of it, and 24.7% read at least part of the novel.
Opinions on whether students enjoyed the book varied widely. Many respondents were neutral and there was nearly a balance between positive and negative ratings. The Oracle spoke to a number of students about the book. Avery Lehman ’21 answered, “I loved the book. It was one of the best books I read up to that point.” The different chapters and stories kept her excited, interested, and wanting more.
Whereas Homegoing is historical fiction, students expressed interest in being assigned a young adult novel or a mystery when asked what book they would actually finish as an All-School Read. Montana Carson ’20 was a member of last year’s All-School Read Committee, which selected Homegoing, admitted, “it’s not my kind of book.” Montana believed that one of the other options, Tangerine, a murder mystery by Christine Mangan, would have been a better fit for the whole school.
The All-School Read aims to put students in control of the conversation. Mr. Moore, the head of the Committee and chair of the English Department, shed light on its purpose in an interview with The Oracle. The lack of in-depth conversation about Homegoing in some English classes led many students to question the goal. Mr. Moore explained, though, that the objective is to put students in charge of literary discussions, rather than teachers. “We address the topics in the classes,” he remarked, “but we don’t cover [the book itself] a lot [there].” Instead, students, upperclassmen in particular, are encouraged to talk about it with their peers and teachers throughout the year.
Albert Ferrari ’20 thought that a common book was “a great way to bring the community together” because it gave students and faculty a shared experience that generated discussion in the school. In contrast, Oliver Tipton ’21 felt that the All-School Read should be “a book that everyone [wants] to read” and suggested that there be “a [schoolwide] vote on it instead of just the All-School Read Committee choosing it.” The discussions Andrew Brooks ’19 had about Homegoing occurred within his grade, not with the whole school. For this reason, he suggested “All-grade Reads.”
The goal of Blair Academy’s summer All-School Read is to provide a base for discussion that interests all age groups, bringing the community together.
(Copyright 2018 Emma Abbott, Abby Morris)