Why Teens Need Memoir: Left To Tell

I'm doing a chunk of school visits over these next couple of weeks, during which I mostly tell tales from my ancient past. I'm slowly coming to see that this generation of young people is starved for the stories of older survivors. They've been cheated. They've had no equivalent of the village gathering around a fire to recount fearsome accounts of fighting off lions. Most don't live near extended family, so they don't get to relax on front porches with icy glasses of lemonade to laugh with uncles or grandmothers recalling younger versions of themselves back in the day.

The film Freedom Writers beautifully depicts the power of memoir as urban teens separated by ethnic rivalries responded to Anne Frank's diary entries. That's why I want to recommend Left To Tell, Immaculee Ilibagiza's memoir of survival and devastation during the Rwandan holocaust in 1994. The power of this starkly honest story is that it doesn't leave the reader fearful and devastated. As Immaculee's tender, tough voice recounts her suffering, teens will realize that they, too, can confront and endure evil without succumbing to it.

In a culture where vengeance, violence, and suffering can devastate a high school or middle school community, and where lifestyles of self-indulgence and entitlement are flaunted and celebrated, teens need true stories of forgiveness, sacrifice, courage, and survival. Show your high schoolers the movie Hotel Rwanda. Get them a copy of Deogratias by J.P. Stassen. And let them read this story that Imaculee believes she was Left To Tell.


Jennifer said…
Thanks for the links and reviews. I've wondered about the movie Freedom Writers. I love memoir, myself.

About the "Dr. Oh, he's Korean," I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it really is the name. Maybe he's answered inquiries too many times, about "Dr. O.? O-what?" and he stays a step ahead of the game to say Dr. "Oh," he's Korean.

It is very sad that some people just don't seem to care--care to take the time to understand other cultures, and take time to change patterns of speech etc, because things have changed.

Last Saturday I posted a review of Freedom Walkers on my blog and asked about books or movies that have "enlightened" the readers about race matters. I only got one comment (and I usually get 4 or 5 at minimum on any given post). Do people just not care? Do they stray away from "sensitive race issues?"

Thanks for sparking a thought and letting me vent.
Liz B said…
I've put a hold on that & would also recommend Over A Thousand Hills I Walk With You. It's about a girl who was about 8 at the time of the Rwandan holocaust; all her family died; and she ends up being adopted by a German family. It's fiction, but was based on the real life experiences of the author's adopted daughter.