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The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two…
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The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America's… (1998)

by Alex Kotlowitz

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It doesn't seem like the early 90s were that long ago, but it's somehow been 25 years since then. And in 1991, the mysterious death of a black teenager in small-town western Michigan inflamed the same kinds of tensions that surround race today. Alex Kotlowitz's The Other Side of the River examines the fallout of the drowning of 16 year-old Eric McGinnis on two towns, Saint Joseph and Benton Harbor, divided by race and class, and yes, a river.

If you're the type of person who needs their mysteries to be solved, don't read this book. We never do find out how Eric ended up in the water where he perished. He could have been walking and slipped. He could have tried to swim. He could have been chased and fallen in. He could have been pushed in. Trying to figure out exactly what happened bedevils Kotlowitz, as well as Jim Reeves, the detective assigned to the case. What they do know is that Eric, from mostly black Benton Harbor, came into overwhelming white Saint Joseph one evening to go to a teen dance club. He had recently had a short flirtation/relationship with a white girl. At some point in the night, he was busted stealing cash from a car and was briefly chased down the road by the furious owner. And a few days later, his body surfaced.

Kotlowitz pulls back and widens the frame to give us the context for the scene in which Eric's death occurs. He talks about the history of the two towns, how Benton Harbor was initially the big, prosperous one and Saint Joe was little more than a string of beach cottages...but, like in so many cities, white flight during the 60s drained it of capital. Despite being neighboring communities, the divides between St. Joe and Benton Harbor just got deeper and deeper as the years passed. The communities had already been roiled before Eric's death when a white police officer shot and killed a black teenager who he mistakenly believed was a dangerous suspect in a crime. So when Eric drowned and the St. Joe's police department, unused to handling potential homicides, made some tactical errors and failed to find any serious suspects, unease and suspicions between the communities flared back up.

The book is interesting enough, and well-written enough, but it doesn't really go anywhere. Kotlowitz clearly wants to get his readers to think about all sides of the issue (and by that I mean there's a definite sense that he knows most readers will be white and leads them through the struggles of the local black community so they understand why a drowned teenager was viewed with such suspicion), but he doesn't have anything especially insightful to add to the conversation. It's a solid read, but ultimately doesn't resonate much. ( )
  500books | May 22, 2018 |
(66) ( )
  activelearning | May 2, 2016 |
I read There are No Children Here many years ago and came across this book at our local bookstore and was excited to reconnect with the author's work. I love real stories, especially ones like this that take on a sociological viewpoint. The author really provides a detailed look into all his characters. You learn a lot about them and it feels like you are part of Kotlowitz's interviews because of the portraits he paints. I probably ended up googling half of the people in this book to see where they are now. Very engaging and an interesting glimpse into two conflicted towns.
  traciragas | Jul 20, 2011 |
Eric Mcginnis' body appears in the St. Joseph River; the circumstances of his death are the purported focus of this book. The book is, in fact, a look at race relations between two very different communities: Benton Harbor (poor, black) and St. Joe (weatlhy, white). The author's research is extensive as he pursues virtually every witness, every theory, every conspiracy. At the end, however, there is the truth: no one knows what happened the night Eric died. In between, the pages paint a frightening view of race relations in the USA today. ( )
  mjspear | Apr 18, 2011 |
I live in St. Joseph, Michigan, so I found it enjoyable to read about the very familiar locations, businesses, people, and history in this book. On the other hand, reading this book was painful because it is so sad to realize that the conditions in Benton Harbor are still terrible today despite it being 12 years since this book was published. ( )
  itbgc | Apr 20, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 038547721X, Paperback)

The author of There Are No Children Here follows up that magnificent effort with the gripping story of a mysterious death in southwest Michigan. A black teenager surfaces in the St. Joseph River, drowned. How did he get there? The towns of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, divided by both race and the river, grapple with the possibilities in this maddeningly difficult case. Alex Kotlowitz puts his sharp reporting skills to good work here, describing in detail everything that is known about Eric McGinnis's short life and untimely death. But the book is best at plumbing the racial psychology of these mutually suspicious communities. The Other Side of the River has that can't-put-it-down quality found in the best narrative nonfiction, and it speaks to issues affecting all of America.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:51 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Discusses the impact on a community's race relations when a young African-American is found murdered near a river which separates two Michigan towns; one predominantly white and prosperous and the other African-American and impoverished.

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