At-Riskby Amina Gautier
In Amina Gautier’s Brooklyn, some kids make it and some kids don’t, but not in simple ways or for stereotypical reasons. Gautier’s stories explore the lives of young African Americans who might all be classified as “at-risk,” yet who encounter different opportunities and dangers in their particular neighborhoods and schools and who see… See more details below
In Amina Gautier’s Brooklyn, some kids make it and some kids don’t, but not in simple ways or for stereotypical reasons. Gautier’s stories explore the lives of young African Americans who might all be classified as “at-risk,” yet who encounter different opportunities and dangers in their particular neighborhoods and schools and who see life through the lens of different family experiences.
Gautier’s focus is on quiet daily moments, even in extraordinary lives; her characters do not stand as emblems of a subculture but live and breathe as people. In “The Ease of Living,” the young teen Jason is sent down south to spend the summer with his grandfather after witnessing the double murder of his two best friends, and he is not happy about it. A season of sneaking into as many movies as possible on one ticket or dunking girls at the pool promises to turn into a summer of shower chairs and the smell of Ben-Gay in the unimaginably backwoods town of Tallahassee. In “Pan Is Dead,” two half-siblings watch as the heroin-addicted father of the older one works his way back into their mother’s life; in “Dance for Me,” a girl on scholarship at a posh Manhattan school teaches white girls to dance in the bathroom in order to be invited to a party.
As teenagers in complicated circumstances, each of Gautier’s characters is pushed in many directions. To succeed may entail unforgiveable compromises, and to follow their desires may lead to catastrophe. Yet within these stories they exist and can be seen as they are, in the moment of choosing.
"In this wonderful collection Amina Gautier writes with exhilarating insight and confidence about the lives of teenagers who are indeed at risk from themselves, their families and their friends. These are urgent and important stories."—Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street and Eva Moves The Furniture
"In these always engaging stories, Amina Gautier reminds us that behind the disturbing headlines are vibrant young people whose lives matter immeasurably. Gautier employs unflinching honesty to capture those lives, and she does so with clarity, dignity and genuine insight. At-Risk will break your heart even as it leaves you full of hope. It is a truly lovely book."—David Haynes, author of The Full Matilda
"[P]art of what makes At-Risk immensely appealing is the sense that Gautier has captured facets of youth which transcend borders. . . . Despite its title, this is not a debut composed of rapid shocks and dangers, but a quieter accumulation of heartbreaking pressures. Another treasure in the University of Georgia Press' acclaimed series."—Karen Rigby, ForeWord
“It was no surprise to us that she won such a high-status award. . . . What is more notable is the quality of the stories, which also update the usual Flannery O’Connor winner’s content: citified, frisky, adventurous and redolent of social concerns. Gautier’s stories do not resemble anyone else’s, one reason why we are so proud to have published her.”—Notre Dame Reviews
“[T]he stories in At-Risk constitute a strong, promising performance and suggest that much more excellent work lies ahead. . . . Baxter, Sterling, and Gautier, in particular, write tales that are memorable precisely because they have an authentic texture that helps, in O’Connor’s formulation, make actual the mysterious position of our lives on earth.”—Greg Johnson, The Georgia Review
“Gautier is good at what she does. . . .Her true achievement is her capacity to tell stories of urgency, sensitivity and grace. Her characters are bearers of psychological complexity. . . .all familiar stories in their basic broad strokes, it is her fine sense of detail, her intimate knowledge of the quirks and foibles of her character, and her capacity to write lines with seemingly effortless grace, that make this such a pleasurable and enlightening read.”—Kwame Dawes, Prairie Schooner
“These stories have courage, a brutal honesty, and a layered insight that is hard to find. They will stay with you long after the stories are over.”— Richard Thomas, The Nervous Breakdown
"Ultimately, these aren’t stories that surprise us at the end, but rather ones that surprise us with how those ends are reached. . . . A thought-provoking read, At-Risk offers no easy solutions to the problems of inner city poverty and racial discrimination. In the end, we may not be able to love these children and teenagers enough to change their circumstances, but Gautier ensures that we will, in fact, love them."—Siân Griffiths, The Iowa Review
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT THE NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. Winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, At-risk (University of Georgia Press) by Amina Gautier is a heartbreaking, eye opening, and endearing collection of stories that focus on African-American children in turmoil. Fathers leave, or if they stay, fall apart—addictions and failure all around them. Mothers ignore, or distance themselves, pushing their own agendas. Brothers and sisters either die in the street or get out by whatever means is necessary. And somewhere in the shadows of these events sit the boys and girls who try to make sense of it all—and try to survive it, unscarred. When you are lost, ignored, and generally treated as less than worthwhile by society, your family, and your friends, how do you find yourself, how do you find a way to rise above it all? In the case of “Girl of Wisdom” you seek the attention of somebody, anybody, that will make you feel special. Melanie starts out joking with the neighborhood boys but tries to grow up fast by hopping in the car of a stranger and riding off with him. He’s a much older man, but she takes charge of the situation, in an effort to transform herself from a girl into a woman: “Melanie finds his bedroom on her own. She doesn’t wait for him to follow. She goes to it, undresses, peels back thin cotton sheets and climbs into his bed. What courtesy he shows when he turns his back to her while he undresses, before climbing in beside her. He doesn’t pounce on her the way a boy her own age would. His legs are wiry and strong against hers, his feet bony and cold. How gentle it is when he parts her legs, how silent when he enters her.” Even though we all lost our virginities in one way or another, this is still a difficult scene to watch. When she comes home later, she hopes that her mother, Bernice, will finally notice her and see the change, see how she is wise now—evolved. But she doesn’t. (For the rest of the review go to TNB).
This delightful short story collection gives clear insight into the situations that plague our youth. Each story is wonderfully different and totally unique. Gautier's style is most enjoyable and refreshing, especially her interesting subtleties throughout her collection. The writing is beautiful, simple and rhythmic all at the same time. I think it's really hard to write from the point of view of a child without making the kids seem too adult or too sentimental and cheesy. Yet, Gautier manages to this beautifully. The voices and linguistics are all youthful and characteristic of our inner city youths. Although the stories all are serious, plenty of them have small humorous touches. I especially like the way Gautier frames the collection by beginning and ending with the same characters, but how all the stories in the middle are different, as if all the other characters can live between the two possibilities. The stories focus on underprivileged or "at-risk" kids, but the book is not gloomy or depressing. This writer goes inside the heads of her characters and makes them all seem real. What I really appreciate about these stories is that they are all subtle and so well-written. Nothing is blatant and in your face. These stories don't overdo it and create stereotypical or pitiful characters. None of the kids come off as charity cases. It seems like the writer is saying that even though people are products of their environment, the kids also have to make their own choices and decisions. Wow, what a lovely book! I loved every story and hope there will be more to come from this author. If you are looking for thought provoking read, this is a book to buy.