For more than ten years, journalist Adrian Nicole LeBlanc immersed herself in the lives of two teenage women from the Bronx: Jessica, a vibrant 19-year-old seductress, and Coco, a 14-year-old romantic. Following these two girls through the minefields of poverty, pregnancy, and prison, LeBlanc charts the human costs of inner-city life and misplaced aspirations, in a style reminiscent of James Agee and Walker Evans's classic Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
The sensuous detail makes reading about the lives of members of a loosely defined Bronx family through 10 years like watching Seurat add specks and daubs until crowds of Parisians rise living from his canvas and walk along the Seine.
This is the work of an extraordinary journalist who, despite 10 consuming years reporting on desperate prison visits, ill-conceived pregnancies, and the excruciating bureaucracies of welfare, never lost her appreciation for the ordinary. In her hand, the bewildering otherness of poverty disappears.
Politicians rail about welfare queens, crack babies and deadbeat dads, but what do they know about the real struggle it takes to survive being poor? Journalist LeBlanc spent some 10 years researching and interviewing one extended family-mother Lourdes, daughter Jessica, daughter-in-law Coco and all their boyfriends, children and in-laws-from the Bronx to Troy, N.Y., in and out of public housing, emergency rooms, prisons and courtrooms. LeBlanc's close listening produced this extraordinary book, a rare look at the world from the subjects' point of view. Readers learn that prison is just an extension of the neighborhood, a place most men enter and a rare few leave. They learn the realities of welfare: the myriad of misdemeanors that trigger reduction or termination of benefits, only compounding a desperate situation. They see teenaged drug dealers with incredible organizational and financial skills, 13-year-old girls having babies to keep their boyfriends interested, older women reminiscing about the "heavenly time" they spent in a public hospital's psychiatric ward and incarcerated men who find life's first peace and quiet in solitary confinement. More than anything, LeBlanc shows how demanding poverty is. Her prose is plain and unsentimental, blessedly jargon-free, and includidng street talk only when one of her subjects wants to "conversate." This fine work deserves attention from policy makers and general readers alike. (Feb.) Forecast: Readers who enjoy the work of Barbara Ehrenreich, Alex Kotlowitz, Jonathan Kozol, Susan Sheehan and other social world reporters will seek this out; it should receive wide review attention and will surely inspire policy debates. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
This is a slice-of-life chronicle of black and Puerto Rican teens in the South Bronx during the 1980s. Looking for excitement, prosperity, love, sex, connection, and family, they instead find drugs, abuse, babies, and prison-a continuation of the home life they had hoped to escape. There is a lot of interesting dialog in the local argot, but the chronicle is too busy to provide much analysis and understanding. Other books of the genre, such as Alex Kotlowitz's There Are No Children Here and Susan Sheehan's A Welfare Mother, have fewer characters and less activity and thereby create a more nuanced, sympathetic, and insightful portrait. LeBlanc is a magazine journalist who has reported extensively on adolescents, and an excerpt of this book previously appeared in The New Yorker. Recommended for sociology and urban affairs collections and some public libraries.-Janice Dunham, John Jay Coll. Lib., CUNY Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
An observant, gutsy journalist immerses herself in the lives of marginal Bronx residents.
Freelance writer LeBlanc wanted to understand a nearby culture different from her own, so she won permission to enter the lives of a Bronx family, and stayed more than ten years. Her story begins in the mid-1980s, as 16-year-old Jessica cruises Tremont Avenue, hoping to attract young men amid the drug trafficking and otherwise colorful street life on corner after corner. In the first of 39 densely populated chapters, newcomer LeBlanc introduces Jessica's extremely extended family, including her 32-year-old mother Lourdes; brother Robert, with whom Jessica shares a biological father; half-sister Elaine; half-brother Cesar; and Big Daddy, the 25-year-old meat-market butcher who fell in love with Lourdes after Jessica, the original object of his desire, introduced the couple. Boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, partners in crime, law-abiding friends, law-enforcement personnel, social workers, and merchants--all make cameo appearances, disappear, then sometimes reappear in dizzying fashion. LeBlanc’s narrative style, heavily reliant on novelistic techniques, is almost always gripping, although the storyline occasionally becomes confusing. Jessica’s never absent for long as the connecting character, but with so many supporting players in this real-life soap opera, a refresher on who’s who and who did what is often needed. Near the end, in 2001, as Jessica walks through the neighborhood, she is no longer a man magnet. She is many pounds heavier, self-conscious about her figure, but alive and doing better than just getting by, thanks to a security job in a bank. It is nowJessica's 16-year-old daughter Serena and Serena's friends who draw the attention of the men along the street. How will life turn out for Serena? LeBlanc has some thoughts that she works subtly into the narrative, but this is one saga the author can’t control.
Comparisons to Alex Kotlowitz's There Are No Children Here (1991) are inevitable and warranted.
Alex Kotlowitz author of There Are No Children Here A remarkable piece of reportage about a tucked-away corner of America... It's one compelling read.
Vogue A magnificent tour de force...An insider's narrative that grips from the start.
Janet Maslin The New York Times Mesmerizing...The artistry of this frank, enthralling book lies in the utter simplicity and careful, subtle selectivity with which LeBlanc plainly describes the determining events in what will now be unforgettable lives.
Newsweek Keenly observed, pitch-perfect...A dense, rich narrative that reads like a novel.
Los Angeles Times A nonfiction Middlemarch of the underclass...A new benchmark in the field of immersion journalism.