Sunday, October 23, 2016

Book Review: Spare Parts

Spare Parts
Genre: Non Fiction
Joshua Davis
You might like this book if you want a different perspective on issues and problems facing immigrants, if you like underdog stories, and inspiring stories about not giving up when the odds are long. 
I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Will Damron. 

We read this for my lunch book group, and wow, was it a timely read. It's the story of 4 kids from a poor, mostly Hispanic Arizona high school and how they came to win a national robotics contest, beating out a little college you may have heard of called MIT. For me though, it was about much more. I am reminded of a quote from Anne Fadiman, author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, another book I love about cross-cultural difficulties in America:  

"Yes, it is about an epileptic Hmong toddler, but it is also about many other things. . . I started pulling on a slender thread, the thread that was Lia Lee, the small sick child . . . I pulled on the thread and the thread became a string and the string became a rope, and then I tugged really hard on the rope and I discovered that it was attached to the entire universe."

It is, at its center,  the compelling story of the 4 young men and their teachers, and the process by which they manage to create a working underwater robot. The narrative of their creativity is told crisply and journalistically (this was originally a story in WIRED Magazine), as is the story of all they had to overcome. Woven throughout every part of the journey, and the part that impacted me most, are the individual lives and experiences of the participants and their struggles to make their way in America. The author did a really good job of pulling that slender thread that was a robotics club at a high school and finding the whole universe of trying to understand immigration, cultural isolation, poverty, opportunity, equality, education, and every other important social issue in America.

The book goes beyond the robotics contest and continues to tell the story of the lives of these young men, and to examine the Hollywood version of the story. Predictably, the movie ends on a high note, but the real story is much more complicated, simply because of where these boys were born. 

I highly recommend this one. Yes, it's non-fiction, but as they say, you can't make this stuff up. I found myself by turns cheering (like the jumping-up-and-down-in-my-kitchen kind of cheering), weeping, and becoming angry. I am thinking a lot about what I believe should be done to continue to have a strong America, but one that uses that strength to carry out one of the values that is dearest to me: to lift up the hands that hang down and strengthen the feeble knees that cross our borders. It's not an easy thing to figure out, and I fully recognize that, but I do wish things were better. I am reminded that I can do things here in my little world, and I will continue to do that, and hopefully send out a few good ripples. It's one of the things we all can do. 

ps. The movie is okay, with a few of the best bits of the story, and a good cast ( I adore Jamie Lee Curtis in it) , but it is so sanitized, simplified and romanticized as to have very little of the same depth and impact as the book. Just in case you're interested. 

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