Ron Suskind

A Hope In The Unseen

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A Hope In The Unseen Summary

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The biographical novel A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League is journalist Ron Suskind’s first book and was released in 1998. It is the story of the years bridging the end of high school and the beginning of college in the life of Cedric Jennings. Cedric attended inner city Washington D.C.’s Ballou High School and went on to Brown University in Rhode Island. In addition to the effects of a struggling inner city school on his life, Cedric deals with poverty and surviving day to day as his single mother works but falls short of being able to pay for their needs, and with holding on to his dream of one day being able to attend an Ivy League college. The book has its roots in a Pulitzer Prize winning two-part series in the Wall Street Journal.

Cedric is different from most of his fellow students at Ballou. He is a serious student with aspirations. For this he is teased and threatened by others. In his junior year, he is accepted into a summer engineering program for minority students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is excited about this opportunity which he views as the potential start of a new chapter in his life. However, once he begins the program, he realizes that the inferior education he has received at Ballou, as well as his socioeconomic background has him at a distinct disadvantage compared with the others in the program. He is further disillusioned when a faculty director at MIT tells him that he would not be accepted to attend college there. Turning down opportunities to attend better schools than Ballou for his senior year, Cedric returns to Ballou.

Ready to forget about the dreams he had for his future, Cedric finds out that Brown University has programs that welcome minority students. He applies for early admission and is confident that he will be accepted. When he gains admission, his mother expresses her fear that he might sacrifice his identity as he proceeds through life. During his senior year in high school, Cedric has an opportunity to meet with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He also is awarded several scholarships and can afford to attend Brown while some of his classmates, who also have good grades, cannot go to their dream schools due to financial limitations. This creates more animosity toward Cedric. In a speech at high school graduation, Cedric takes the opportunity to address the students who were against him during their years in school. He refers to them as “dreambusters.”

Upon arriving at Brown, Cedric is aware that his background has left him less prepared for what lies ahead than his classmates. His roommate, Rob Burton, and he are different and have periodic disagreements. For his first semester, Cedric decides to take his classes on a pass/fail basis and attempts to take as many as he can that cover subjects that he has some familiarity with. He makes a couple of friends in Zayd Dohrn, whose parents are known figures in counterculture, and Chiniqua Milligan, who is the only other African American in his dormitory. For the most part though, Cedric keeps to himself. When his mother, Barbara, and his half-sister, Neddy, visit on Parents’ Weekend, they feel the difficulty of fitting in with the more well-to-do families around them.

Back in Washington for winter break, Cedric attends Alumni Day at Ballou. His attitude toward his former school has softened somewhat from what it had been when he graduated. He gets together with his friend, LaTisha, from Ballou, and they begin to discover how much they have changed in just a few months. Cedric finds that he has grown to be more comfortable at Brown than at home in Washington. He vows to avoid playing it safe as he had done first semester and to challenge himself more. During the next semester, Cedric grows apart from and then reconnects with Zayd. He establishes a relationship with his roommate, Rob, when Cedric’s mother suggests that finding a way to get along with him is a test from God. Cedric, as part of an education course, observes classes at a junior high school where he is angered when a teacher announces that he knows which students will die after leaving the school. He has his ups and downs in various courses during the semester and has a date with Chiniqua. On the date, they attend a party at an all-black dorm. Cedric realizes that he had, up to that point, always avoided the dorm for fear of only associating with those of his own ethnic background.

At semester’s end, Cedric returns to Washington to find his mother suffering from both mental and physical ailments. They are being evicted from their apartment, and the United States Marshall has arrived to begin the process of removing them. A minister from Scripture Cathedral arrives at the last minute to help save them from eviction, but Cedric is angry and does not speak with his mother. He visits the Lorton Correctional Institution where his long absent father is imprisoned and achieves peace with him. After a month, Cedric reconciles with his mother and tells her she can rely on him in the same way she had always been there for him.

An epilogue finds Cedric in his junior year at Brown. He has a girlfriend and is a member of the basketball team. Rob and Zayd are still among his friends. Cedric finds himself thinking about all of the changes in his life.