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Wanda's Book Reviews

I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles.  (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).

Random Family / Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx - Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

In her extraordinary bestseller, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc immerses readers in the intricacies of the ghetto, revealing the true sagas lurking behind the headlines of gangsta glamour, gold-drenched drug dealers, and street-corner society. Focusing on two romances - Jessica's dizzying infatuation with a hugely successful young heroin dealer, Boy George, and Coco's first love with Jessica's little brother, Cesar - Random Family is the story of young people trying to outrun their destinies. Jessica and Boy George ride the wild adventure between riches and ruin, while Coco and Cesar stick closer to the street, all four caught in a precarious dance between survival and death. Friends get murdered; the DEA and FBI investigate Boy George; Cesar becomes a fugitive; Jessica and Coco endure homelessness, betrayal, the heartbreaking separation of prison, and, throughout it all, the insidious damage of poverty.

Charting the tumultuous cycle of the generations - as girls become mothers, boys become criminals, and hope struggles against deprivation - LeBlanc slips behind the cold statistics and sensationalism and comes back with a riveting, haunting, and true story.

 

I guess that I’m not entirely sure what the author was trying to achieve with this book. There’s no introduction, there’s no conclusion--I don’t enough about her to know her motivations. To be charitable, it would seem that she is trying to show, through the lives of three main people, the ties that bind people into poverty, drugs, and crime.

I have no doubts about how difficult it is to escape poverty. When your parents are uneducated, violent, and poor, who can you look to for an example of how to get out of that situation? During this time, in this place, boys were fathers in their teens, dropped out of school, and could only earn money through drugs and other criminality. Girls are pregnant in their teens, dropped out of school, and can’t provide for themselves and their children on minimum wage jobs. Sexual abuse is common because children get left with people that can’t be trusted. Girls skip from one man to the next because they’ve watched their mothers do the same thing. No one has enough education to properly fill out government forms to obtain benefits or to budget what little money they have. Boys take advantage of their male status to have sex with as many girls as they can talk into it. Girls can’t afford birth control and view having children as a way to bind boys to them.

Add to these problems that being a generous, good person can work against you. How many times did these women feed people who were only “random family”? Someone connected to someone who was part of the family? When girls have children by 2 or 3 different men, all of their relatives somehow become part of the web of family and women like Coco feel badly about denying them food and/or housing. Yet she knows that it’s bad for her own children in the long run.

These people are in a virtually inescapable situation. Their only pleasures are food and sex and they indulge when they get a chance--who wouldn’t? But when all the food is gone and there are more babies on the way, once again their lives worsen.

It was depressing reading because I know that the same things are probably happening to the children and grandchildren of Jessica, George, and Coco. Reading this made me realize how incredibly fortunate I am to have been born into the family that I’m part of, into the communities that I’m part of, and to be a citizen of my country. The fact that the adults around me didn’t lecture me about how to live, they just lived it and let me watch & learn. I learned to work, to live within my means, to value education, to regulate my emotions, all those skills that are necessary to living well. 

I’d like to think the author meant this book as more than just downward social comparison, but I wish that she had addressed her purpose directly. What would have made things better? Are there programs that could actually assist people in these life circumstances? Ultimately, without this kind of analysis, I wonder why she wrote it?