Valeria Luiselli and book cover to Tell Me How It Ends
Photo by Diego Berruecos

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VCU Common Book 2018

Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions” (Coffee House Press), a 2017 book by Valeria Luiselli that explores the plight of undocumented children facing deportation from the United States, has been selected as Virginia Commonwealth University’s 2018 Common Book.

“Tell Me How It Ends” is structured around the 40 questions on the intake questionnaire given to migrant children as they are taken into custody and that will determine whether they are given legal status. Luiselli, a novelist, essayist and volunteer interpreter for undocumented migrant children in New York, provides readers with a close look at the young migrants’ journey and their difficulties navigating the immigration system.

“‘Tell Me How It Ends’ explores a timely and important issue — one that brings our collective attention to the often less-visible issues of immigration status that impact some of the students in our own VCU community and beyond,” said Shelli Fowler, Ph.D., interim dean of University College and director of the VCU Common Book Program. “More broadly, it is a text that asks us to wrestle with the history of U.S. borders, migration journeys and immigration status, and the shifting landscape of access to the ‘American dream’ in an era of increasing nativism and xenophobia — all complex and difficult issues with no easy solutions.”

As VCU’s Common Book, “Tell Me How It Ends” will be distributed to all incoming first-year students at New Student Orientation to welcome them to the intellectual culture of VCU. The Common Book Program, a universitywide initiative led by University College, is intended to create an opportunity to explore complex social issues through an interdisciplinary lens.

Luiselli will visit VCU in November and give a lecture that will be free and open to the public.

"Tell Me How It Ends" is structured around the 40 questions on the intake questionnaire given to migrant children as they are taken into custody. (Courtesy photo)

A committee of faculty, staff, students and administrators chose “Tell Me How It Ends” for its timeliness, relevance and powerful narrative, Fowler said.

“The Common Book Selection Committee was excited about the issues it raised, and the student committee members were especially eager to select this text because of its relevance to the Latinx and Dreamers communities at VCU and in Richmond,” she said.

Melida Bueno, a sophomore majoring in English in the College of Humanities and Sciences, served on the selection committee. “Tell Me How It Ends,” she said, does a “very good job of humanizing a hot topic that many people have an uneducated opinion on.

“Even as someone who comes from a family of immigrants, I was not aware of the specific tribulations that come with coming into the United States illegally,” Bueno said. “‘Tell Me How It Ends’ is going to be perfect as Virginia Commonwealth University's Common Book because the discussion of immigration reform and immigration rights is vital to discuss now before it is too late.”

The Common Book Program is a signature program in University College. This year, University College is partnering with the Graduate School and the International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship (I2CRP) program of the School of Medicine to distribute a complimentary copy of “Tell Me How It Ends” to all first-year students, new graduate students and I2CRP participants.

Colleagues from the Division of Community Engagement, the Spanish Language Program in the School of World Studies and the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences are collaborating with University College faculty in the Department of Focused Inquiry to foster additional partnerships with the Richmond City Justice Center, as well as with members of the Latinx community.

It is a text that asks us to wrestle with the history of U.S. borders, migration journeys and immigration status, and the shifting landscape of access to the ‘American dream’ in an era of increasing nativism and xenophobia.

The entire VCU community is encouraged to read “Tell Me How It Ends.” The book will be the focus of a series of public events and experiential-learning opportunities throughout the fall semester prior to Luiselli’s visit in November.

Copies will be available to be checked out at James Branch Cabell Library and Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences. Copies also will be available for purchase at campus Barnes & Noble bookstores and other local book shops, including Chop Suey Books in Carytown.

The selection of “Tell Me How It Ends” is the latest in a series of VCU Common Books that engage with complex social issues with no easy solution. While the program does not tell students “what” to think, it does encourage interdisciplinary problem-solving that informs “how” we think about complex issues, Fowler said.

Last year’s Common Book was “Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic” by journalist Sam Quinones. In 2016, the Common Book was “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” a 2014 memoir by lawyer and Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson that focused on criminal justice reform and the pursuit of true justice and mercy.

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