Little Chicago

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Little Chicago opens in the office of Children’s Services, where 11-year-old Blacky Brown is being interviewed by a social worker trying to determine what has happened to him. His emotions are blocked at first, but then he reveals that he has been sexually abused by his mother’s boyfriend, and is released into his mother’s custody. Thus begins an alternately harrowing and hopeful story of a brave boy’s attempts to come to grips with a grim reality. Blacky is helped at first by a classmate, Mary Jane, who has ...
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Little Chicago

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Little Chicago opens in the office of Children’s Services, where 11-year-old Blacky Brown is being interviewed by a social worker trying to determine what has happened to him. His emotions are blocked at first, but then he reveals that he has been sexually abused by his mother’s boyfriend, and is released into his mother’s custody. Thus begins an alternately harrowing and hopeful story of a brave boy’s attempts to come to grips with a grim reality. Blacky is helped at first by a classmate, Mary Jane, who has also been ostracized, and then by the gun that he buys easily from his sister’s boyfriend. Little Chicago is an unblinking look at the world of a child who has been neglected and abused. It portrays head-on the indifference and hostility of classmates, teachers, and even Blacky’s mother, once these people learn his “secret.” Like Sura in The Buffalo Tree and Whensday in The Copper Elephant, Blacky is one of Adam Rapp’s mesmerizing voices, more so because it is a voice so rarely heard.

An eleven-year-old boy tries to cope with being sexually abused, neglected, and treated cruelly at school.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rapp (The Copper Elephant; The Buffalo Tree) turns in his bleakest work yet with this abandon-all-hope story of an 11-year-old victim of sexual abuse and neglect. Blacky Brown, the narrator, is first met as he flees, naked, from the home of his mother's boyfriend in the middle of the night. Blacky does everything right: he asks his older sister for help (his single mother is at work), and when she and a friend take him to the hospital, he tells the social worker from Children's Services about the boyfriend's abuses. At school he reaches out to his best (and only) friend. But Rapp knocks out every apparent support. Blacky's mother wants to keep seeing her boyfriend and seems repulsed by Blacky; the social worker doesn't follow up; the erstwhile friend tells all the kids at school, who taunt him. When Blacky befriends the other school pariah, who encourages Blacky to resist the bullying, she becomes the victim of a prank so brutal that she is last seen unconscious, lying on a stretcher. After several more traumas, the conclusion leaves Blacky to a grim fate. The unrelenting darkness, which may seem brave or honest to teen readers, loses some of its authenticity in Blacky's delivery; although it generally reflects Blacky's na vet and slow-wittedness as well as his shock, it also contains metaphors and vocabulary that, more sophisticated than the messenger, reveal the hand of the author at work. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Little Chicago is a place in the deep woods. There, Blacky's friend and fellow skank, Mary Jane Paddington, tells him that if you follow a deer long enough, it just might lead you to paradise. "Maybe it would be really quiet there?" Blacky muses. "Maybe it would never get cold?" Blacky is not quite twelve when his mother's boyfriend sexually molests him. Although he tells his sister right away and is examined at the hospital, he receives little help. The adults around Blacky seem ineffectual, unconcerned, or in denial. Teachers are annoyed rather than concerned about his gradual withdrawal. His mother's paralyzing depression deepens. His best friend, in whom he confides, tells other classmates, who begin to taunt him. "I don't think he is at all interested in my life," Blacky says of his little brother Cheedle. Cheedle is not the only one. Readers hear Blacky's story through his own voice—articulate, humorous, believably early-adolescent. Intelligent and determined as Blacky is, the reader sees the inadequacy of his resources and his choices. It makes one's heart ache. When he decides to follow a deer into the woods, one hopes against hope that he will indeed find paradise. Rapp's books are never easy. Language and sexual situations are graphic throughout this novel. His characters suffer, usually alone. It is the honest recognition that young people can suffer, face really difficult questions, that makes his books valuable. Forget using them as bibliotherapy, however. There are no solutions here. 2002, Front Street, 176p,
— Kathleen Beck
Children's Literature
There are no happy endings for Blacky, a poor eleven-year-old living in Chicago's western suburbs. Although his sister Shay takes him to the hospital when he comes home naked, having walked through the woods alone after being abused by his mother's boyfriend, the Children's Services worker never follows up on his case. His mother refuses to dump the boyfriend and Shay moves out, leaving Blacky with only one friend. When his friend finds out that Blacky has been abused, the news is all over school and engenders more taunting and endless use of the word "skank." Truly abandoned, Blacky turns to the other ostracized member of his class, Mary Jane Paddigton. With her help he resists the bullies at school, which only serves to anger them further. He buys a gun from his sister's boyfriend, adding to his false sense of protection. Blacky never fully comes to terms with his abuse and taunting, refusing to concentrate on his problems. He accepts the blows of life bravely, but does not seek out anyone who can help him to a better existence. Rapp spares the reader from nothing, but these grisly details do not hide Blacky's incompleteness as a character. One minute he is wise and the next naïve, and the reader is well aware when the author loses his grip on Blacky's unsure voice. Despite this, older teens will still be interested in Little Chicago as a darker follow-up to television's E.R., Frank's America or Terry Trueman's Stuck in Neutral. 2002, Front Street Books,
— Carlie Kraft
From The Critics
In Little Chicago, author Adam Rapp explores what happens when a sexually abused eleven-yearold, by the name of Blacky Brown, is stripped of all hope and resources. Quite expectedly, young Blacky Brown turns to a world of street violence, as she quickly and surely descends into a madness after enduring a hostile and indifferent family life, and unspeakable torture and torment at school. Blacky's only solace is a budding romance with a fellow outcast, which ends unfortunately and predictably, with her being hurt and hospitalized by his victimization. Author Rapp paints a bleak picture of Blacky's world—sowing no hopeful seeds, or possible alternatives to this unyielding bleak world. Evocative prose and realistic dialogue make this book positively gripping, and appealing especially to reluctant readers. Teens will appreciate the unflinching honesty of Rapp's writing. This is a "problem novel" with somewhat coated didactic prescriptions for success. Rapp, though, cuts to the emotional core of his characters, leaving the reader with a strong emotional impact. Some threads of the story—especially about gun control and sexual abuse—warrant more narrative comment. Still, this book will no doubt find a place with Rapp's fans. 2002, Front Street Press, 255 pp.,
— Joshua James Keels
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Rapp's previous novels portray, with sensitivity and poignancy and in spare, lyrical language, a world that is brutal, cruel, ugly, and violent. This offering, however, is his bleakest yet. It opens as Blacky Brown is being interviewed by a social worker. The 11-year-old has been sexually abused by his mother's boyfriend. He does all the right things: asks his older sister for help, goes to the hospital, tells a social worker from Children's Services, and even confides in his only friend at school. All supports fail him. His mother wants to connect with her boyfriend, and she struggles with depression. The social worker never follows up after turning him over to his mother's care. His sister is either on drugs or away from home. Even his friend turns against him, telling other kids who taunt, tease, and cruelly abuse Blacky. He connects with another outcast at school; the last time readers see her, she is unconscious, with a broken pelvis, following a malicious prank at school. Blacky is increasingly neglected, dirty, and disturbed, yet no adult intervenes. He eventually gets a gun. Without enough money for the bullets, he performs, in a particularly squirm-inducing scene, a sexual act on the thug who is selling ammunition. Blacky's narration is heavily seasoned with slang and graphic expletives. Readers may be frustrated with the ambiguous ending; there is no real resolution, there are no answers. The boy walks off into the woods, following a deer that he hopes will lead him to paradise. The sense of hopelessness in this disturbing novel is almost physically painful.-Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Rapp's (The Copper Elephant, 1999, etc.) bleakest tragicomedy yet piles physical abuse, sexual abuse, and vicious peer harassment onto and into the head of a broken 11-year-old. Readers first meet Blacky Brown stumbling naked through the woods, having just been molested by Al Johnson, his mother's latest boyfriend. His own family, from which his cruel father has long departed, features a clinically depressed, eczema-ridden mother, drug- and alcohol-abusing big sister Shay, and, to throw everyone else's dysfunction into sharper relief, a genius-level little brother completely focused on keeping his head down. After it becomes clear that Al is just going to get a slap on the wrist from the authorities, Blacky makes the mistake of coming clean to a supposed friend, and becomes an instant outsider at school, subjected to significant gestures and murmurs of "skank" that escalate into attacks with red paint, and finally an after-school ambush. Blacky observes his own increasingly erratic thoughts and behavior (some of which, in another context, would be funny) with the same numb, present-tense detachment with which he describes, in precise detail, the violence done to him by Al and others. What allies he does manage to gather wind up either moving out or being taken away-leaving him alone with the gun he buys from an acquaintance of Shay's for a "hand-job" and loose change. In the end, Blacky uses the gun to frighten off his attackers, but then discards it as just another dead end, and is last seen charging off into the woods again, toward an ambiguous, perhaps short, future. Blacky's quixotic innocence survives it all, but Rapp has so stacked the odds against him that readers will wonderwhether that's going to be enough to carry him through. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781886910720
  • Publisher: Highlights Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,082,242
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.82 (w) x 8.44 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

Adam Rapp is an award-winning playwright whose plays (including Trueblinka and Blackfrost) have been presented in major cities all over the country. He lives in New York City.
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2007

    A reviewer

    it was pretty um....different. but not in a bad way. i dont really like Rapp's style of writing, but i think i liked this one. from teh beginning i really didn't know what to think. i didnt know whether i was sad, disgusted. maybe confused. but i actually think its worth the read. i couldnt keep my eyes off it. and after a while i realized that life isnt like a book. its like adam rapp wrote it. endings arent always happy. lifes don't flow in a reasonable series. adn thats why i liked this book. it was realistic in a almost scary way. and i think its worth your read. unless your immature [12 and under/ or just mentally 12 and under] and if your judgemental, because you have to understand the character NOT judge him.

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