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.