Every year the nonprofit writing center 826michigan publishes a book written by local students. Their Young Authors Book Project’s 2020 release, Because No One Else Could Do It, is a surprising collection of short stories and images made by Ypsilanti Community High School photography and English as a Second Language students. Half traditional memoir and half photo journal, the book brings together everything from pictures of empty muffin wrappers to paragraphs about immigration and how it feels to be called a refugee.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” says 826michigan Family Engagement Associate David Hutcheson, who guided the students through the book-making process. Hutcheson, who’d already worked with many of the same students on previous projects, started visiting YCHS once a week in the fall of 2019. The process began with what Hutcheson describes as “discrete writing exercises”—some of which are included at the end of Because No One Else Could Do It. The students’ responses became the book. .

Some stories summarize events spanning years, while others are a deep dive into a single moment in time. The photographs include both staged and candid shots. Some stories even have a description of a photograph that doesn’t actually appear in the book, encouraging readers to imagine the scene for themselves.

Written pre-pandemic and published in the midst of it, the book reads as a sort of tribute to the normalcy of last year. 826michigan Education Director Catherine Calabro Cavin calls it a “snapshot of what used to be.” But “normal life” was never the same for everyone, with one student’s story about a family vacation placed side by side with another’s account of immigrating to a new country. As we look ahead to an uncertain future, Because No One Else Could Do It reminds us of just how many different types of “normal” exist within our own community.