Penn State Berks Common Reading features 'A Girl Named Nina' by local author

Students beginning their studies at Penn State Berks received their first homework assignment well before they showed up on campus for the first day of classes. The assignment, part of the college’s Common Reading Program, was to read "A Girl Named Nina" by local author Norma Tamayo of Exeter Township, who will discuss her work at 12:15 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 18, in the Perkins Student Center Auditorium. This event is free and open to the public.

The idea behind the Berks Common Reading Program is to not only foster a love of reading, but also to build a greater sense of community and to have a shared experience with classmates and faculty members. When most students enter college, they generally do not know many people and feel disconnected. For the last 12 years, Penn State Berks has tried to remedy that situation with its Common Reading Program.

The selected reading is introduced to incoming first-year students during New Student Orientation and has been integrated into the First-Year Seminar courses. Several other areas of the college community have joined in this initiative by basing the orientation program, residence life activities, lecture series, and service opportunities on the book selection.

"A Girl Named Nina" received Honorable Mention for Best Young Adult Fiction Book – English at the 2014 International Latino Book Awards. Inspired by a true story, it paints a vivid portrait of life in 1960s Brooklyn. Nina grows up in a tenement with Puerto Rican parents who came to America seeking a better life. Her father adores and protects her, and her mother is nurturing in her own way, as she struggles with her own difficult past. Keenly aware of her surroundings from a very young age, Nina learns about the joys of childhood from a fourth-floor windowsill in her parents’ apartment. Still too young to play with children on the busy street below, she witnesses life from within the halls of her building — including physical and sexual abuse — but tells no one what she has seen. 

For Nina, the joys of coming of age are tempered with life’s many harsh realities: her parents’ separation, physical abuse, a friend’s drug use, her best friend’s murder, and the poverty that surrounds them all. Yet her spirit remains undaunted: Nina will not abandon her dream — her lifelong desire to become a doctor and rise above the hardships she has known so that she can help guide others to a brighter future.  

Norma Tamayo was born and raised in New York City. She is of Puerto Rican descent and is bilingual. As a transient child herself, Tamayo spent most of her childhood years living in apartment buildings in Brooklyn and later in New Jersey. She is a playwright, actor and registered nurse who has worked at the Reading Hospital for several years. She currently teaches the Health Medical Professions program at Reading Muhlenberg Career & Technology Center, where she works with high school students. Tamayo resides in Reading with her family.