The Selection Committee has decided: The First-Year Experience common read for the 2015-2016 school year is “Etched in Sand” by Regina Calcaterra. This New York Times best seller follows the true story of five siblings that have dealt with violence, abandonment, and a fear of the system that was put in place to protect them.
Whether it was a severe beating for simply breaking a glass or five weeks straight without adult supervision, the children go through traumas that no one should ever have to experience, and they stick together through it all.
The committee believes the book’s impact will stretch far beyond the classroom and first-year students.
FYE instructor, Marissa King, is most excited about this book because “in addition to her success as a lawyer and a writer, Calcaterra is actively advocating for foster children. It’s exciting to see all the ways she is giving back to her community.”
King has a reputation of recommending books for her students to read, and this book is no different. She wants her students to understand how they can make differences in big and small ways alike, and this book serves as one of those many learnings.
As freshman committee member, Caleb Shrock-Hurst, points out, “Etched in Sand” “provides a haunting view of the underbelly of society, of the people that the government cannot help without hurting.”
He added, “Etched in Sand” may be a memoir, but it reads like a novel and teaches like a parable.”
This story won’t be influential to only those freshman students required to read it. This moving narrative can remind all who read it of the humanity that each person has.
Along with the importance small acts can make, much of “Etched in Sand“’s power lies in reminding us that people come with stories, and sophomore committee member Maria Diener clarifies that sometimes these “stories are complicated and messy.”
She also wants students to be “aware that this book addresses situations of abuse and neglect that some students on campus will have probably experienced similar situations or feelings.”
While the story is powerful, for some it may be too much. And as a campus, there needs to be a way to support those students.
Freshman committee member, Karli Rodriguez, focused on the hopeful aspect of the story, saying that she has “gained a sense of confidence in believing that regardless of who [she is, she] can accomplish anything in spite of hardships.”
And the hardships are abundant in “Etched in Sand.” The siblings risk physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their mother rather than get separated from each other by the foster care system. Teachers that questioned a little too much about the bruises got the typical “I fell down the stairs” response in an effort to throw them off the truth. The kids would say their mom had five jobs just to make the landlord stop asking where she was for weeks on end.
Throughout their lives they found that it was best to lie in order to stick together. They also learned that a simple act of kindness could change everything. Whether it was the bag of groceries from the landlord, who hadn’t gotten paid in months, or the teacher that emphasized education as the only true way to get out of the dire situation, Regina and her siblings were able to make it one day at a time.
While the book doesn’t have a picture-perfect happy ending, Regina’s success in law school and beyond serves as proof of the impact that the little things can have, and the hope that can come from horrible situations. This book may be difficult to read for some, but the rewards are great. The book tends to lean more towards an appeal for the social sciences, but it isn’t connected with one specific major. It addresses what we as individuals can do to make a difference, regardless of our career paths.
Don’t forget to mark October 5 on your calendar. Hesston College has the privilege of hosting author Regina Calcaterra who will be speaking at 7:30 p.m. Come hear her share about her current work as an advocate for children in foster care.