The Indiana Humanities share why The Year We Left Home 
Was Chosen as One State / One Story: 

In Jean Thompson’s 2011 novel The Year We Left Home, Ryan, a main character, reflects, “But back home, I can look up and down just about any street and there’s people I’m either related to or I’ve known them all my life and my parents have known them and my grandparents knew their grandparents and there’s a comfort in that.  I miss it.  That’s all I’m saying.  Here [in the city], it’s like we’re not from anywhere.”


This spring, Indiana Humanities launched our newest thematic initiative, INseparable, which asks Hoosiers to consider what unites and divides us across urban, rural, and suburban lines.  Over the next two years, we will offer programs and grants that invite Indiana residents to explore ideas about urban, rural, and suburban America.  We are curious about the history of these terms and these spaces.  We also wonder to what extent there is a divide, or if these divisions are a matter of perception.


One State / One Story is a statewide program, which provides program support and funding to organizations to engage in conversations about a common text.  For our second One State / One Story, our goal was to select a book that spoke to the themes of INseparable.  We wanted a text that told stories of individuals crossing boundaries to encourage Hoosiers to think, read, and talk about how the futures of urban, rural, and suburban Hoosiers are linked, and what might be preventing us from working together.


Unsurprisingly, few contemporary novels address the urban/rural divide directly.  Often in literature, the urban is figured as the opposite of the rural, and vice versa.  Characters in novels escape from the busy, dirty, blighted city to idyllic, pastoral rural lands.  Alternatively, in other stories, farm kids leave stagnant, small towns and head to the bustling city, a symbol of progress and the American Dream.  William Cronon, in his groundbreaking work Nature’s Metropolis, suggests the dialectical, oppositional ways urban and rural are typically framed in literature: “At journey’s end stood a city that represented the geographical antithesis of the lands around it, and the historical prophecy of what America might become as it escaped its rural past.”

Surely, the reality of our experiences of urban and rural is more complicated than this.


Jean Thompson’s 2011 novel, The Year We Left Home, offers a more complex view of rural, urban, and suburban experiences in the American Midwest.  Beginning in Iowa in 1973, the novel follows the Erickson family through the many changes affecting American life at the end of the twentieth century.  From city rooftops to country farms, college campuses to small-town main streets, the characters in Thompson’s novel search for fulfillment and happiness in an ever-changing, often alienating country.  The story asks us to consider the enduring, uniting power of place –“why we choose or are forced to leave and when we decide to come home.”


The Year We Left Home, a New York Times Bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award, is a comprehensive, multivocal testament to the many ways we experience urban and rural spaces today.  The book evokes many questions important for us to consider, “How do we connect to place and what makes a “home?”  To what extent is the American Dream available to all citizens, and why are others turned away?  How did national and international policies and events like the Vietnam War, the 1980s Farm Crisis, or 9/11 affect communities and individuals?  How do we confront change and find the strength to persist?


We also think The Year We Left Home is a sterling example of the recent wave of literature by Midwestern authors about Midwestern experiences.  Some might say we are living through a new golden age of literature from the heartland, a provocative idea we hope to explore over the next two years with you.  (Get started by attending our panel with Cathy Day, Deborah E. Kennedy and Adrian Matejka about the state of Indiana literature today at IU’s upcoming Gran Falloon festival.)  


During 2020, we will consider these rich questions and ideas using The Year We Left Home as our starting point.  As we did with Frankenstein, we will offer a variety of resources and coordinate events across the state to get Hoosiers to think, read, and talk about our One State / One Story selection, in partnership with the Indiana State Library and Indiana Center for the Book.  Indiana Humanities will release a program guide in the fall of 2019 and open applications for Community Read ($750 + books and promotional materials) and Campus Read (up to $4,000) grants to support programs in 2020.  Additionally, an in-depth Weekend Retreat during the spring of 2020 will give readers the opportunity to dive deep into the book with scholars and others passionate about literature.  Read more about the programs available through One State / One Story.

We are excited to read, think, and talk with you about The Year We Left Home during 2020.  If you would like to get updates when programs and events are announced, sign up for our newsletter below.


About INseparable

Whether due to real or perceived differences, Americans see each other differently depending on whether they live in rural, suburban, or urban communities.  The conclusion drawn from the near-constant polling, media commentary, and academic analysis of the past two years is that America is culturally divided by its geography.  In 2019 and 2020, Indiana Humanities invites Hoosiers to dig into these divides, exploring how Hoosiers relate to each other across boundaries and considering what it will take to indeed be inseparable, in all the ways that matter.

Posted In: INseparable


Families Can Read-Alike With These Titles


Please share a reading experience with your children.  These books have similarities with the adult selection of The Year We Left Home.

Reading for Young Children


Dear Primo: Una Carta Para Ti  by Duncan Tonatiuh (in Spanish)

Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin by Duncan Tonatiuh (in English)

City Mouse, Country Mouse by Maggie Rudy

The Greentail Mouse by Leo Lionni

City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems

City Witch, Country Switch by Wendy Wax

Iris and Walter by Elissa Haden Guest

Everything is Different at Nonna’s House by Caron Lee Cohen

Country Kid, City Kid by Julie Cummins

City Chicken by Arthur Dorros

One Moon, Two Cats by Laura Godwin Tall

Tall City, Wide Country by Seymour Chwast

Toad in Town by Linda Talley

Danitra Brown Leaves Town by Nikki Grimes

Two Rainbows by Sophie Masson


Reading for Middle School and Young Adults


A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

The Ghost’s Grave by Peg Kehret

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

Lizard Love by Wendy Townsend

The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Freidman

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Flush by Carl Hiaasen

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

The Next to Last Mistake by Amalie Jahn


About the Author Jean Thompson


Jean Thompson is a novelist and short story writer.  Her works include the novels A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl, She Poured Out Her Heart, The Humanity Project, The Year We Left Home, City Boy, Wide Blue Yonder, The Woman Driver, and My Wisdom.  Thompson’s short story collections include The Witch and Other Tales Re-Told, Do Not Deny Me, Throw Like a Girl, Who Do You Love (a National Book Award finalist), Little Face and Other Stories, and The Gasoline Wars. 


Thompson’s short fiction has been published in magazines and journals, including the New Yorker, and anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize. Thompson has been the recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, among other accolades, and has taught creative writing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Reed College, Northwestern University, and other colleges and universities. She lives in Urbana, Illinois. 


The Year We Left Home Summary:  Stretching from the early 1970s in the Iowa farmlands to suburban Chicago and across the map of contemporary America, The Year We Left Home follows the Erickson siblings as they confront prosperity and heartbreak, setbacks and triumphs, and seek their place in a country whose only constant seems to be breathtaking change. Ambitious and richly told, this is a vivid and moving meditation on our continual pursuit of happiness and an incisive exploration of the national character.  (Simon and Schuster)


What if everyone in Kosciusko County read the same book at the same time?...
Members of the community would find new friends and neighbors with whom to share a good book and stimulating discussions.
The goals of the Community Book Read are to:
  • Cultivate a love of reading and to promote a sense of community.
  • Illustrate many of the 40 Developmental Assets® as defined by the Search Institute.
  • Encourage reading for pleasure and promote the love of literature.
  • Provide an educational and community activity for residents of Kosciusko County.
  • Increase literacy awareness in Kosciusko County.


This year over 100 copies of The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson are provided to the residents of Kosciusko County. 
The books are located in yellow bins at each of the six public libraries in the county and at the Kosciusko Literacy Services office.  
Residents may take a copy to read, give the book to a friend to read, or return it to a bin. Residents may share their thoughts at a book discussion or special event.  
Look for the bins beginning once the libraries reopen.  Each public library in the county is hosting a bin.