WESTERLY — Amy VanderWeele and Elissa Sweet took to Facebook last week to announce some big news: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha's "What the Eyes Don't See" has been chosen as the 2019 Reading Across Rhode Island book.
The book, an official selection of the New York Times Book Review for its "100 Notable Books of 2018" list, describes the author’s work as a pediatrician in Flint, Mich., to prove that children were being poisoned by lead in the city’s water.
The book, which has received rave reviews, was an "Oprah's Top Books of the Summer" and Amazon "Best Book of the Month" selection.
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse will serve as this year's Reading Across Rhode Island honorary chair.
Called a "crusading pediatrician," Hanna-Attisha has written a book that is a "powerful first-hand account of the Flint water crisis, the signature environmental disaster of our time, and a riveting narrative of personal advocacy," according to the book's publisher.
Sweet, the event and marketing director for Savoy Bookshop and Cafe and a member of the Reading Across Rhode Island Committee, and VanderWeele, manager of the South Providence Library and co-chair of Reading Across Rhode Island, each discussed the book and its importance in their own "selfie" videos on the social media platform.
"I am absolutely so excited about the book we have chosen for the 2019 read," said Sweet. "It is a memoir but it is also a book about corporate greed, environmental racism and the importance of the scientific method, which all might sound a little dry, but somehow this book reads like a thriller, a medical drama and a heartwarming family story all in one."
It is written by a doctor who loves her job, Sweet added. A doctor who feels a strong sense of duty to the people she serves.
"It made me furious and it made me hopeful," she added, "and I want everyone I know to read this book.”
"It's a book about immigration, a resilient community, about environmental social justice, about racial and economic equity," said VanderWeele. "It's book that made me furious about how we treat underserved communities."
It's also a story, she added "that heartened me, that inspired me, especially how the author jumped into a situation, knowing she could make a big difference, and I hope it does the same for you."
The 2019 program will begin with a kickoff event on Sunday, Jan. 27, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Pell Center at Salve Regina University, which hosts the Rhode Island Center for the Book. Readers are invited to join Reading Across Rhode Island Honorary Chairman Whitehouse and an expert panel led by Jim Ludes, vice president for public research and initiatives at Salve Regina, for an introduction to the book’s themes.
“As a voracious reader, I’m glad to join the Rhode Island Center for the Book to introduce the new Reading Across Rhode Island selection,” said Whitehouse. “'What the Eyes Don’t See' holds timely lessons from the tragedy in Flint, Michigan, about the importance of taking an active role in democracy, standing up for what you know is right, and fighting for environmental justice.”
Hanna-Attisha will visit Rhode Island on April 11 and 12. More information about her appearances in the state will be announced in February.
Tickets are $20 and include one paperback copy of the book. Light refreshments will be provided. For more information, contact Kate Lentz at email@example.com or Elissa Sweet at firstname.lastname@example.org.