Books are cheaper than heroin, but they DO add up....

Amy, Carrie, Chanin and Sarah buy (and read and review) their own stuff. They've been known to shop around from dealer to dealer looking for the best price. If you're interested in slipping them something to try out, just contact us.

Friday, December 2, 2011

There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz

Have I mentioned that I love it when people recommend books for me to read?  My neighbor loaned me this one claiming it was one of her "go to" books.  She keeps it solely for the purpose of loaning it out to friends, meaning it has probably moved at least five times thanks to the Army.  If it's good enough to withstand a PCS (permanent change of station) purge (something we military spouses do regularly before we move), I had to give it a try.  I'm glad I did. 

Set in Chicago and centered around the lives of two brothers in the late 1980's/early 1990's,  "There are No Children Here" is a non-fiction piece (Don't act so shocked.  I read non-fiction...sometimes), and reports on the happenings in their lives for approximately two years.   That's it.  That's all it is.  But it is so much more.   

The brothers, Lafayette and Pharoah Rivers, live in the Henry Horner homes.   Erected in the 1950's by the Chicago Housing Authority, the Henry Horner homes brought hope and encouragement to thousands of lower income families on Chicago's south side.  By the time we meet the boys in 1985 however, hope and encouragement have turned to poverty and despair.  Unemployment is rampant among the occupants and so are drug use and gang violence.  The boys' mother, LaJoe, told the author, "There are no children here.  They've seen too much to be children."

The story isn't pretty.  The conditions in their two- bedroom apartment on the first floor of a 14-story high rise are despicable.   The plumbing doesn't work.  The heating and air-conditioning are unreliable.  Garbage overflows into the hallways.  The children spend hours on the floor in the kitchen to avoid the intermittent gunfire that takes place outside their living room window.  Oftentimes, their apartment is overflowing with relatives that need food or a place to sleep.  The boys' father regularly passes out drunk on the couch. 

It may sound odd that I found an instant connection to this book.   Theirs is a story of survival.  In the mid 1980's I was the same age as Lafayette and the only thing I had survived was a 24-hour road trip from Oklahoma to Montana in the back of a Chevy Celebrity.  (That trip was made all the more bearable thanks to my yellow Sony Walkman and Ghostbusters soundrack).  I certainly never had to worry about gunfire outside my house.  We had plumbing that worked and the trash was picked up every Monday.  But I know that I saw these boys.   I saw them every time my dad took me to a Chicago Bulls or White Sox game.  I saw them offering to "watch" cars while we went inside to the game, hoping to make a few bucks.  I saw them goofing around with their friends on the sidewalk.  I saw them then and used to say to myself, "I can't imagine living here."   

 By spending the better part of two years with the boys and their family, the author exposes us to the disturbing reality that is growing up on Chicago's west side.  I was amazed at how open the family was and  how every day was just "business as usual."  The boys may have attended a funeral of a classmate one day and then participated in a spelling bee the next.  Violence, drugs, gangs, school, work, hunger, exhaustion and love surrounded them, just not all at the same time.  I marveled at their resiliency.  The ending is neither tragic or shocking.  Actually, it's not even really an ending.  Their lives go on (I know because I googled them, hoping they hadn't succumbed to gangs or drugs).  Thanks to the generosity of the author and some other special people, they both went to college and as far as I can find, still live in Chicago.  That's it.  That's all there is for now.  But for them, it's so much more.

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