Summer Reading

In order to prepare the Sacred Heart University class of 2020 for the start of their college careers and for the academic realities of college life, we are announcing our Freshman Summer Reading Assignment. This year, we have chosen a text that offers challenge, excitement, hardship, and, certainly, food for thought. Please read the text with care, enjoy and think about it, and be prepared to discuss it with classmates and professors when you arrive to begin the fall semester. Be sure to bring the book with you in August.

Our text is Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (available at the Sacred Heart University Bookstore).

Our author introduces us to life as it is lived in a Mumbai slum, an existence that stands in the shadow of the affluent community that flourishes right beside it. The contrast is stark and revealing. We are asked to look behind the gleaming facades of modernity and into a world of poverty, disappointment, and suffering. In this world, we find our fellow human beings, striving to better their lives and retain the hope we all need to embrace our futures. Fittingly that world includes a wall that serves as both an actual and symbolic barrier between the two adjoining but startling different worlds. Boo’s text widens all of our views of the world as we begin the journey of exploration that is college. We hope this book offers some insight, hope, and guidance. 

Critics have praised Boo’s book. Junot Diaz in the New York Times calls it “a book of intelligence and humanity” explaining that “the language is extraordinary; the portraits indelible; and then there are those lines at the end that just about freeze your heart.” Critic Steve Giegerich describes it as “exquisite in every detail.” Jessica Gell in the Chicago Tribune calls Boo’s book “a richly detailed tapestry of tragedy and triumph...with an attention to detail that reads like fiction while in possession of the urgent humanity of non-fiction. Finally, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc tells us simply: “There are books that change the way you feel and see; this is one of them.”

Please enjoy the text and consider its potential impact on our lives both as students and as human beings. We also offer our optional Freshman Summer Reading Essay Contest that you will find described in detail below. 

Since this reading is your first “college assignment” at Sacred Heart University, we ask you to approach it as a college student would—be thorough and thoughtful, use your time wisely, and don’t make this just a “last minute” task. If you have questions about the reading, the Essay Contest, or  anything else, feel free to contact Michael Bozzone, Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, at

Freshman Summer Reading Essay Contest

We are pleased to announce our fifth annual Freshman Summer Reading Essay Contest, open to all members of the Sacred Heart University class of 2020. The general topic of the essay, as you might expect, is our Summer Reading, Behind the Beautiful Forevers. In the upcoming months, you will hear the voices of many of our faculty members as they discuss the text, but the discussion stands incomplete without the most important voice of all—your voice, the many and varied voices of the men and women who are the Sacred Heart University class of 2020. 

  • We will be awarding four prizes, and the winners’ names will be announced at the start of the fall 2016 semester.
    • First Prize: $500 to the SHU Bookstore
    • Second Prize: $300 to the SHU Bookstore
    • Two Honorable Mention Prizes: $100 each to the SHU Bookstore
  • The length of the essay should be 750-1,000 words typed/double-spaced

  • Entries must be submitted via email as attached Word Documents to

  • All entries must be received by August 15, 2016
  • The first page of your essay (no cover pages) should have your fullname in the upper left corner and a title centered over the text. Each page should have your last name and the page number in the upper right corner (e.g., Smith-2).

Please use this prompt as a guide as you write. We are not, however, asking simply for answers to the questions in the prompt; instead we are looking for a coherent, intelligent, and logically organized essay that stems from your reading of Boo’s text and adds to our understanding of its importance.


As you enter college and after reflecting on your reading of Behind the Beautiful Forevers, what can you learn from this book that might be significant as you begin this new chapter in your life? From reading the text and considering the issues and complexities Boo presents, how might it offer us some guidance and enlightenment as we embark on our own personal journeys? What do you consider most important about what appears here? What do you feel we can take from her honest and revealing account of her experience in Mumbai? How might this text offer direction to our lives?

The deadline is August 15, 2016.

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