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Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and…

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx

by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

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From Publishers Weekly
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 incluidng street talk only when one of her subjects wants to "conversate." This fine work deserves attention from policy makers and general readers alike. Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. ( )
  WayCriminalJustice | Apr 8, 2016 |
An incredible portrait of the joint impacts of poverty and the drug war in the US. The author walks a fine line between journalism and voyeurism at times, but the simple act of telling the in-depth stories of these families making ends meet is tremendously confronting and powerful. And, to be honest, a bit dispiriting. ( )
  mjlivi | Feb 2, 2016 |
Heartbreaking and fascinating. How much drug culture pervades some inner cities and affects every aspect of life. I can't believe that these girls have so many kids and so young and so little education to be prepared for anything. It's just sad. But a great read. ( )
  bookwormteri | Mar 23, 2015 |
i have some mixed feelings about this actually pretty amazing story and its host of people and information in its pages. i'm tempted to give it both more and fewer stars (more tempted to dock a half or whole star, though). this tells me that there are a lot of things to take from this book, and a lot of things i wish she'd done differently. but overall, this is an incredible display of reportage, a hugely important story that people of even remote privilege have no concept of, and a description of both hope and tragedy living together and battling to come out ahead.

the utter poverty and how people are forced to live is a world apart even from the people who are tasked to help the people chronicled in this book. (best example: an 11 year old is told by a social worker that she needs to help out her mom around the home, that she's old enough to do things like set the table for dinner. this kid's mom is about 26 and has never had a table to eat on in her life.) this book's greatest accomplishment, to me, is that it makes this life more relatable for those of us that (even reading this book) didn't really understand that all meals are taken on their laps. it makes the reader think that when these people have what we might consider chances (always living hand to mouth, on emergency food stamps, etc and suddenly coming into - through a court settlement - $17,000) and then they "waste" them (by spending all that money in only a couple of months, on a few material items that don't help them or improve their lives a bit) that they are living in a different world than the reader is. that they don't have bank accounts or credit cards, and that $17,000 is a good reason to get killed or robbed, so you might as well spend it on clubbing and cabbing while you can.

i feel like this is a really important book for all that it holds. i very very much wish it was written differently - that there was, if nothing else, an introduction in the book that lets the reader know that these are real people and their real experiences. that the author lived with them, or at least stayed with them, for over 10 years. that there isn't sugar coating or inferences, but that's why it sometimes reads a little choppily, or why we're sometimes missing a little information. but the information this book contains is truly astounding. the author had to live it with the people in the book. but for all that, and probably because of it, the people are so known without truly being known. the author cares about these people, especially (it seems from articles i've read) coco, but we actually aren't given a terribly sympathetic view of almost anyone in this book. we aren't made to root for them all that much, other than how you'd root for someone who is oppressed by the system in general. i'd like for this to have been a more personal writing - if the author didn't want to insert herself into the book itself, than an introduction which explained her award-worthy decade of immersion reporting and maybe a reason why it mattered to her, and a more personal writing of the few characters she documents. (this sounds weird because the details she writes are incredible, but i wanted more about the inner motivation, not just a reading of what happened without analysis.)

that is really my only complaint about this book; that and how long it takes to read it. but it's been on my mind a lot since opening to the first page and i suspect i'll be talking about it for a while. all good signs, so maybe it deserves more stars after all. ( )
  elisa.saphier | Sep 1, 2013 |
Riveting portrait of a family in the Bronx ghetto where they live. The author became part of this family for 10 years, and her immersion gives this book a verisimilitude that is often lacking in less well-researched books I've read. It was a difficult read but a fascinating one. ( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
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...Some say that Happiness is not Good for mortals & they ought to be answerd that Sorrow is not fit for Immortals & is utterly useless to any one a blight never does good to a tree & if a blight kill not a tree but it still bear fruit let none say that the fruit was in consequence of the blight.
William Blake, letter to William Hayley
London, October 7, 1803
For my parents,
Eve Mary Margaret Mazzaferro
and Adrian Leon LeBlanc
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Jessica lived on Tremont Avenue, on one of the poorer blocks in a very poor section of the Bronx.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743254430, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:01 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Random Family tells the American outlaw saga lurking behind the headlines of gangsta glamour, gold-drenched drug dealers, and street-corner society. With an immediacy made possible only after ten years of reporting, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc immerses the reader in the mind-boggling intricacies of the little-known ghetto world. She charts the tumultuous cycle of the generations, as girls become mothers, mothers become grandmothers, boys become criminals, and hope struggles against deprivation." "Two romances thread through Random Family: the sexually charismatic nineteen-year-old Jessica's dizzying infatuation with a hugely successful young heroin dealer, Boy George, and fourteen-year-old Coco's first love with Jessica's little brother, Cesar, an aspiring thug. Fleeing from family problems, the young couples try to outrun their destinies. Chauffeurs whisk them to getaways in the Poconos and to nightclubs. They cruise the streets in Lamborghinis and customized James Bond cars. 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 life and death. Friends get murdered; the DEA and FBI investigate Boy George's business activities; Cesar becomes a fugitive; Jessica and Coco endure homelessness, betrayal, the heartbreaking separation of prison, and throughout it all, the insidious damage of poverty. Together, then apart, the teenagers make family where they find it. Girls look for excitement and find trouble; boys, searching for adventure, join crews and prison gangs. Coco moves upstate to dodge the hazards of the Bronx; Jessica seeks solace in romance. Both find that love is the only place to go."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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