The Death Class: Book summary and reviews of The Death Class by Erika Hayasaki

The Death Class

A True Story About Life

by Erika Hayasaki

The Death Class by Erika Hayasaki X
The Death Class by Erika Hayasaki
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About this book

Book Summary

Why does a college course on death have a three-year waiting list?

When nurse Norma Bowe decided to teach a course on death at a college in New Jersey, she never expected it to be popular. But year after year students crowd into her classroom, and the reason is clear: Norma's "death class" is really about how to make the most of what poet Mary Oliver famously called our "one wild and precious life."

Under the guise of discussions about last wills and last breaths and visits to cemeteries and crematoriums, Norma teaches her students to find grace in one another. By following her over four years, award-winning journalist Erika Hayasaki shows how Norma steers four extraordinary students from their tormented families and neighborhoods toward happiness: she rescues one young woman from her suicidal mother, helps a young man manage his schizophrenic brother, and inspires another to leave his gang life behind. Through this unorthodox class on death, Norma helps kids who are barely hanging on to understand not only the value of their own lives, but also the secret of fulfillment: to throw yourself into helping others.

Hayasaki's expert reporting and literary prose bring Norma's wisdom out of the classroom, transforming it into an inspiring lesson for all. In the end, Norma's very own life - and how she lives it - is the lecture that sticks.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Hayasaki's studies of the suicidal and mentally ill seem clinical and unrelenting, and there is an unsettling prurience in these stories of emotional cataclysm; nevertheless, the book helps make possible necessary conversations about death." - Publishers Weekly

"At the end of every chapter, Hayasaki includes an assignment from Bowe's syllabus - e.g., write your own eulogy, pretend you are a ghost and record your observations, write a goodbye letter to someone or something lost. These assignments invite readers to consider the essential question of Bowe's course - and Hayasaki's book: How can we learn to celebrate life?" - Kirkus

"Year after year, Norma Bowe faces a waiting list of students wanting to get into her death class at a college in New Jersey. Beyond the probing about last wills and good-bye letters and class trips to mortuaries and cemeteries is the underlying truth that a good, long stare at death can trigger a deeper appreciation of life." - Booklist

"Who would want to take a class on death? Everyone, it turns out. Norma Bowe, the most popular professor on campus and instructor of 'Death in Perspective' at Kean University is an unsung hero of our day." - Ruth Davis Konigsberg, author of The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss

"The Death Class is at once puncturing and redemptive, sharing humanity's most painful, violent face while at the same time revealing a fierce optimism and stunning generosity." - Erica Brown, author of Happier Endings: A Meditation on Life and Death

"This is a beautiful book about courage - the courage to turn and face your own life and death, and the courage to make a difference in the lives of others." - Elizabeth Lesser, author of Broken Open and cofounder of the Omega Institute

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Reader Reviews

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Reyne M. Husky

The Death Class A True Story About Life by Erika Hayasaki
The title of this book “The Death Class” caught my eye as our family just experienced the passing of a loved one. I laughed, cried, and learned so much from this book! Thanks for taking me on your road trips and adventures. But most of all, for blessing my life!

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Author Information

Erika Hayasaki

Erika Hayasaki is an assistant professor in the Literary Journalism Department at the University of California, Irvine, an undergraduate degree program dedicated to teaching narrative journalism. She spent nearly a decade as a reporter covering breaking news and writing feature stories for the Los Angeles Times, where she was a staff metro reporter, education writer, and New York-based national correspondent. Read more at thedeathclass.com or follow her on Twitter @erikahayasaki.

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