The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America's Dilemma

The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America's Dilemma

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by Alex Kotlowitz
     
 

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Alex Kotlowitz's There Are No Children Here was more than a bestseller; it was a national event. His beautifully narrated, heartbreaking nonfiction account of two black boys struggling to grow up in a Chicago public housing complex spent eight weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, was a made-for-television movie starring and produced by Oprah

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Overview

Alex Kotlowitz's There Are No Children Here was more than a bestseller; it was a national event. His beautifully narrated, heartbreaking nonfiction account of two black boys struggling to grow up in a Chicago public housing complex spent eight weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, was a made-for-television movie starring and produced by Oprah Winfrey, won many distinguished awards, and sparked a continuing national debate on the lives of inner-city children.

In The Other Side of the River, his eagerly awaited new book, Kotlowitz takes us to southern Michigan. Here, separated by the St. Joseph River, are two towns, St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. Geographically close, they are worlds apart, a living metaphor for America's racial divisions: St. Joseph is a prosperous lakeshore community and ninety-five percent white, while Benton Harbor is impoverished and ninety-two percent black. When the body of a black teenaged boy from Benton Harbor is found in the river, unhealed wounds and suspicions between the two towns' populations surface as well. The investigation into the young man's death becomes, inevitably, a screen on which each town projects their resentments and fears.

The Other Side of the River sensitively portrays the lives and hopes of the towns' citizens as they wrestle with this mystery—and reveals the attitudes and misperceptions that undermine race relations throughout America. In this gripping and ultimately profound book, Alex Kotlowitz proves why he is one of this country's foremost writers on the ever explosive issue of race.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"I was impressed and enthralled...This book has suspense and style, and the delight of real substance presented with grace...a work of great narrative power, superb reporting, and profound empathy—in other words, a joy."—Scott Turow

"A riveting portrait of a racially troubled America in the 1990's"—Publishers Weekly (starred)

"A vivid American microcosm, a telling tableau of the way we are."—The New York Times

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In southwestern Michigan, the towns of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor face each other across the St. Joseph River. The first is postcard picturesque and white; the second is a black ghetto with a reputation as dangerous. In May 1991, the body of a black teenage boy, Eric McGinnis of Benton Harbor, was found floating in the river after he had spent the evening in St. Joseph. Was it an accidental death? A murder? Had he been fleeing from a crime scene? Had he been dancing with a white girl at a local club? Was a black gang involved? Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here) spent some five years examining the death as well as the communities on both sides of the river, and the result is a disturbing, compulsively involving human and sociological study. It is an informal, almost chatty book seemingly as disorganized and as free-ranging as gossip itself. It detours to cover an earlier shooting of a black teenager by a white policeman in Benton Harbor, a jailhouse hanging in the 1930s that may have been a lynching, and a political squabble that ousted a controversial black school principal, and looks into histories of the local newspaper and of the river itself. The author also covers dating practices in both communities, including the rebellious "wiggers," white high-school girls who go out with blacks. There are interviews with segments of both communities that range from judges to teachers to police officers to drifters to kids looking for something to do on a Friday night. Kotlowitz tries to solve the mystery of the body in the river and indeed comes up with a number of possible solutions, some more probable than others. More important, he presents a riveting portrait of a racially troubled America in the 1990s.
VOYA - Edward Sullivan
Although separated by only a river, the two small Michigan towns of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor are worlds apart. St. Joseph, with an almost exclusively white population, is a prosperous lakeshore community. Neighboring Benton Harbor is almost exclusively black, utterly impoverished, and crime-ridden. When the body of Eric Mcginnis, a black teenage boy from Benton Harbor, is found in the river on the St. Joseph side, the racial tensions between the two towns surface and nearly explode. Kotlowitz proceeds on a painstakingly thorough investigation of this incident, but has no better success than law enforcement officials in solving the mystery. Was Mcginnis murdered because he was black? It could have been suicide. There is a great deal of speculation among the black and white communities, much of it influenced by their suspicions of one another. Kotlowitz tries to use this true story as a microcosm for race relations in the United States and suceeds to a limited extent, but the grand ambition is never fully realized. Too much digression is a significant flaw, as Kotlowitz offers in-depth psychological profiles of every person he interviews. These digressions serve only to bog the reader down in too many details not relevant to the main story. The slow pace of the narrative will frustrate all but the most tenacious young adult readers. Kotlowitz also tries to accomplish too much in this book. He tries to give his readers both an intriguing mystery and a complex study of race relations, but fails to deliver. Had he focused on just one angle, this would have been a great book. As it stands, however, The Other Side of the River is a work of great potential unrealized. Maps. Appendix. VOYA Codes: 2Q 1P S (Better editing or work by the author might have warranted a 3Q, No YA will read unless forced to for assignments, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
Library Journal
Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here) has produced another exemplary piece of investigative reportage that reveals the chasm between blacks and whites, rich and poor, in America. Two Michigan towns—predominately white, prosperous St. Joseph and predominantly black, poverty-stricken Benton Harbor—are separated by a river and years of mistrust, suspicion, and vastly differing life experiences. When the death of a black teenage boy found floating in the river remains unsolved, the polarized perceptions of blacks and whites toward the justice system are exposed. Kotlowitz's Herculean efforts to unravel the mystery is unsuccessful, but the telling of his pursuit of the truth is a compelling and suspense-filled story. And in the absence of definitive answers, the myths and perceptions created from the distinct historical experiences of the two communities become the truth that ultimately matters.
—Faye Powell, Portland State Univ. Lib., Ore.
School Library Journal
YA-An engrossing story of an unsolved crime that YAs will find both readable and fascinating. Although a murder mystery, this is really an in-depth examination of American attitudes toward race. The story is set in two small lake towns in Michigan that are separated by a narrow river and a wide range of conflicting opinions, fears, and emotions. A black teenager, Eric McGinnis, was found floating in the St. Joseph River in May 1991. When last seen, he was running down a street in the predominantly white town of St. Joseph. He had crossed the river that evening from 95% black Benton Harbor to attend a teen club with friends. Whatever happened afterward caused endless speculation on both sides of the river and old fears and assumptions surfaced. Many in Benton Harbor thought he had been pushed to his death by whites angered because was dating white girls. In St. Joseph, the Benton Harbor gangs were blamed. As the author investigated this multifaceted case, he looked at over 200 people and many different motives. The aspects of this baffling case are presented with sensitivity and impartiality, and while local atmosphere and nuances are accurate, these towns could be anywhere in America. A book that will make readers examine their own convictions about the troubling issue of race in our country.
—Catherine Noonan, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
New York Times Book Review
A Wall Street Journal reporter's historically placed investigation of a black teenager's death in Michigan scours up a cloud of facts and concludes in painful ambiguity.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385477215
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/28/1999
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
275,424
Product dimensions:
5.19(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.71(d)

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