The all-school read provides the entire Blair community, from students to faculty and staff, an opportunity to engage with a single work of literature. The tradition, started in 2017, offers students the chance to interact with up-and-coming authors and thinkers, and it allows the entire community to have a collective conversation about important issues. Past all-school read titles include Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, an autobiography detailing “The Daily Show” host’s funny and harrowing childhood in aparthied South Africa, and Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi’s historical fiction account of slavery in 18th-century Ghana.
This year’s all-school read committee, composed of 10 Blair students and their faculty advisor, English teacher Molly Hoyer, selected The Boy with Two Hearts by Hamed Amiri. A memoir about hope and perseverance, the book describes the author’s family of five and their trials with the Taliban. Amiri follows them in their flight from Herat, Afghanistan, across the globe, detailing the obstacles the refugees encounter on their journey to safety. The book is comparable to last year’s Born a Crime, Ms. Hoyer says, in that, “Both stories...bring global perspectives to the Blair community, raising issues with which countries around the globe are reckoning: the legacies of imperialism, racial and ethnic divides, immigration and asylum.”
Having flagged the book as a stand-out in an early round, Lily Starrs ’21 is excited about the committee’s selection. “When this title came up for discussion,” Lily recalls, “every student who read it was emphatic that it would be an excellent candidate for this year’s all-school read. From its gripping first chapter to its emotional depiction of a family overcoming countless obstacles to save one another, Amiri's book has something to pique every reader’s interest.” Lily notes that one of the aspects that drew her to Amiri’s novel is the new perspective it gave her on the refugee experience. “Immigration and refugee issues are prominent topics of political conversation in America today, and seeing this issue from the refugee point of view was eye-opening,” Lily claims.
Ms. Hoyer hopes that readers will take away other lessons as well. “Blair students will learn more about Afghani culture and life under the Taliban, a name with which almost everyone is familiar, but few young people currently understand,” she says.
The process for selecting the all-school read title has evolved since the tradition’s inception. This year, students read several titles each, rated them, then wrote about what they learned. “The four readers of The Boy with Two Hearts learned a lot, which is a significant part of what brought the book to the final,” explains Ms. Hoyer. At the last stage of selection, English department chair Jim Moore read all three finalists and then narrowed it down to the winner based on the entire committee’s discussion. Among this year’s top contenders, Amiri’s memoir stood out to Mr. Moore. “This book is going to go beyond the English department and will be applicable to curricula beyond English,” he says.
While students on the committee can sometimes feel pressure to select a title that will be well-liked by the Blair community, Lily is confident with this selection. “I’m not worried about this one,” she says. “Every chapter ends with a cliffhanger.”