nonfiction

Book Review: American Made: What Happens to People When Work Disappears by Farah Stockman

I don’t remember when I learned about American Made: What Happens to People When Work Disappears by Farah Stockman (Random House, 2021), but I do know it appealed to me right away. A few years ago, I read Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein and really enjoyed it, and that was the book that really opened up my eyes to what the economic landscape of so much of America looks like. I read it as part of a reading challenge; it’s not something I would have picked up on my own, but I’m eternally grateful that I did, and my picking up American Made stems directly from my having read hat book.

So much of the image America has of itself involves people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, getting a job that allows them to work with their hands and earn enough money to live a good life, and to feel pride in what they do. And a large part of this story involves jobs in factories, jobs that you can learn from the ground up and walk into straight from high school, then not leave until you retire at 65. But the landscape has changed. NAFTA opened up the world to trade with Mexico and China, and one by one, these factories picked up and moved overseas. They could pay their employees far less there; operating costs would be less; safety measures wouldn’t be as stringent (thus, upping production); the company wouldn’t have to deal with stupid unions and expensive health insurance. Win-win, right?

Not for the American people who were losing their jobs. The exodus of these manufacturing centers leave the towns they’re located in economically depressed; the former employees are left scrambling to survive. Often, their skills aren’t transferrable, and the only other options for employment leave their pocketbooks nearly empty long before the end of the month. Those jobs most presidents brag about creating don’t often pay a living wage.

Journalist Farah Stockman follows three people who flounder in the wake of the closing of the Rexnord manufacturing plant in Indianapolis: John, a white union head; Wally, a Black man who dreams of opening a barbecue joint; and Shannon, a white woman caring for her disabled granddaughter and schizophrenic son. The moving of the plant to Mexico disrupts their lives in every way imaginable, and the consequences stretch far and wide.

Farah Stockman covers their stories with sympathy and understanding. There are times when the people she follows aren’t entirely sympathetic, but Ms. Stockman never wavers in her work to understand what they’re thinking and feeling, and why they’re reacting and making the decisions they do. Her exploration of the reasons behind Rexnord’s move to Mexico opened my eyes to the long-term consequences of NAFTA, something I hadn’t been fully cognizant of before, and I so appreciate that new understanding. I’ll definitely be reading these stories of plant closings around the US with new eyes from now on.

American Made is an incredible look at the devastation wrought by a more expanded world trade. There are human consequences to what we think of as progress, and it’s so important to understand the whole story. What a great book.

Visit Farah Stockman’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

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memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Gunfight: My Battle Against the Industry that Radicalized America by Ryan Busse

I had the privilege of attending a virtual presentation a few weeks ago featuring author and activist Ryan Busse, discussing the US’s massive gun violence problem and his book, Gunfight: My Battle Against the Industry that Radicalized America (PublicAffairs, 2021). I hadn’t been able to get a copy of his book before the talk, but it came in soon after and mirrored a lot of what he spoke about in his presentation. He shared slides, some of which came from testimony he’s given to Congress (like half of them care…), and all of it was shocking and terrifying, like so much in this book.

Ryan Busse grew up loving the outdoors. His father taught his brother and him to hunt and fish, but he shared with them the importance of handling guns safety, and that no gun was worth a human life. Thanks to his strong ties to hunting as a child, Ryan grew up wanting to work in the gun industry and made that happen for himself, securing a position with Kimber and helping the company grow exponentially over his time there.

But Ryan’s goals for the company and where the NRA was steering the firearms industry as a whole began to diverge along the way. Whereas Ryan stood by the values of safety and nature conservation he’d grown up with, the radicalization and violence fetishization the industry pushed, along with its commitment to toxic masculinity and profits above human lives, alienated and horrified him. For years, he fought back from the inside, until the damage was too much for one man to even begin to control.

This is quite a damning look at the firearms industry as a whole and how the NRA has poisoned it along with American politics, and has fanned the flames of xenophobia, racism, toxic masculinity, and violence as a whole, all under the guise of making money. “Who benefits from this?” is an important question to ask when you’re consuming social media of politicians and reporters who are doing their best to drum up fear; the answer is very often the firearms industry, as more and more Americans purchase more and more guns and weapons. It’s a disturbing, sickening industry with no morals or integrity, and it makes me ashamed that we as a country let this happen.

I’m not a gun person; I have no interest in them (I’ve been shooting multiple times in my life and I’m actually a pretty good shot, but it’s not a hobby I’m interested in pursuing), and I can’t say this book did anything to make me more interested in guns as a whole, despite Ryan’s obvious respectful fascination (I did appreciate his devotion to conservation and protecting the lands he obviously cherishes, however!). If you’re not into guns, you should definitely know there’s a lot of information in here about them. I can’t say I’m any better informed about makes and models, but I am walking away with a much better look at how dark the gun industry has become in the US, and how they’re a massive part of the problem, if not the majority of how and why we’re where we are today in the US. It’s shameful, but I’m glad to have this understanding now. I wish everyone understood this.

If you’re looking to shed more light on why the US is such a horrific mess, and you want to know how we got here, with mass shootings every ten seconds and no one doing anything about it, look no further. Gunfight by Ryan Busse will explain it all.

Visit Ryan Busse’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: You’re the Only One I’ve Told: The Stories Behind Abortion by Dr. Meera Shah

Abortion has been in the news lately for obvious reasons, and I wasn’t sure if I had the spoons to read a book about it; it’s not always easy to engage with a subject that’s so important but which is also under assault at the moment. After volunteering with a local organization to pack comfort care bags for our local Planned Parenthood a few weeks ago, however, I was ready to pick up You’re the Only One I’ve Told: The Stories Behind Abortion by Dr. Meera Shah (Chicago Review Press, 2020).  

Dr. Shah is a doctor who provides abortion care to patients who seek it out. Because being able to decide when to become a parent is an important part of bodily autonomy, planning one’s future, and in some cases, remaining alive, she is passionate about her work and seeks to help others understand the importance of what she does. Each chapter focuses on one person who, for varying reasons, chose to end a pregnancy; Dr. Shah includes the important medical knowledge necessary to fully understand each situation, and the difficulties that our national climate surrounding abortion adds to what is already often a tense and heartbreaking decision.

The reasons behind the abortion in each chapter are various and complex; from abusive relationships (who wants to be tied forever to a man who has hurt you multiple times???), to a doomed pregnancy where the baby will live maybe minutes after being born (if it survives that long without killing the parent carrying it), to pregnancies that occurred at the worst possible time, to a pregnancy that would render life next to impossible for the entire rest of the family (“Here, person already struggling to pay the rent for you and your three kids! Here’s another new baby; now you can also add $1200+ per month in daycare fees! I’m sure you can handle that!”), there are so, so many reasons why these women choose abortion, and Dr. Shah is respectful of them all, without judgment. Throughout each chapter, she illustrates and emphasizes the importance of being able to examine one’s life and come to the conclusion that becoming a parent (often becoming a parent again) at this moment cannot happen, and how important it is that this procedure remain legal.

So many heartbreaking decisions in this book. Often, the pregnancies were desperately wanted; nature, however, had other ideas about how the fetus would develop, and the parents were faced with the awful knowledge that there was no chance of them ending up with a child even if the pregnancy were continued. At other times, the parents simply realized that bringing a child into their lives was the worst possible thing they could do at the moment. Being allowed to make that decision allowed them to go on to have the lives they wanted – lives that often included, eventually, having more children.

If you’ve never read a book about abortion and are curious as to what could possibly lead a woman to make the choice to have one, this would be an excellent place to start. I’ve noticed that doctors tend to fall into two camps: either they’re terrible writers, or they’re great. Dr. Shah is one of the great ones; her style is engaging and never wanders into stiffy, stodgy medical writing. Her respect for the people she treats is obvious in her gentle handling of the stories in this book, and it’s obvious her patients are lucky to be served by her.

nonfiction

Book Review: Not a Crime to Be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America by Peter Edelman

Poverty is a subject I’ve read a lot about, in vain attempts to understand our societal reaction to it. People are struggling and suffering, and we just…do nothing? And sometimes, we actively make the situation worse, because in the US (and I’m sure in other countries around the world), we see not having money as a moral issue. It was because of this inability to understand the way we view poverty that Not a Crime to Be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America by Peter Edelman (New Press, 2017) ended up on my TBR. It’s a gut-punch of a book, but if you’re looking to understand exactly how difficult it is to be poor in the US, it’s a sock to the stomach that you need.

In a book reminiscent in tone and in the intellectual heft of Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law, Peter Edelman chronicles how poverty is systemic the US: the pointless fees and charges that are meant to keep poor people poor; the next-to-impossible roads necessary to make to climb out of poverty; the punishment that we inflict upon those who are already struggling in an attempt to discipline the poverty out of them. We fill our coffers and profit off the backs of people barely managing, or not managing at all; we see them struggling; we enact more laws and regulations meant to drain their accounts. And the cycle continues.

This isn’t history. What Peter Edelman writes about is here and now: court systems enacting hefty fees and fines, prisons charging for anything and everything they can, law enforcement writing tickets, which come with a heavy price tag, to homeless people. In every way we can, we make it harder to be poor. It’s not all without hope; plenty of people are fighting back, and fighting back hard. But this is a systemic issue; it’s baked in deeply to our laws, our law enforcement, our court systems. But in order to make things better, first, you need to understand just how bad it is, and that’s why you need to read this book.

This is an information-dense book; it’s not something you’re going to want to kick back with after a long day at work when you’re looking for relaxation. Not a Crime to Be Poor is a book you open because you want to understand what’s going on, and because you want to challenge yourself and your preconceived notions. After you turn the final page, you’ll close the book with a righteous sense of anger, a healthy dose of empathy for those who are set up to fail in this wretched system, and hopefully, a strong desire to be part of the solution. Read this book in small chunks if that’s what it takes: a chapter at a time, a few pages a day. This is information that all Americans should be aware of, an understanding we should all have.

Not a Crime to Be Poor throws the curtains open on a reality that far too many of us find it convenient to ignore.

fiction · YA

Book Review: Why We Fly by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

A book on high school cheerleading wouldn’t normally appeal to me. I’m not in high school, my one brief foray into cheerleading (seventh grade) did not go well, and while cheerleaders are incredible athletes, it’s generally not a subject that interests me. But the premise of Why We Fly by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal (Sourcebooks Fire, 2021), along with its first person, dual-narrative structure, lured me in right away. It only took a few tries to finally find it on a somewhat-local-to-me library! (Always glad to see interest in the books that interest me. I’m never too bummed when I have to wait a little bit!)

Why We Fly begins with Eleanor in physical therapy, where she’s been for months following her second concussion after a cheer accident. It’s affected everything about her life – not just her ability to cheer, but her ability to drive, her memory, even her personality. Concussions are serious business, but Eleanor just wants to get back to cheering. At PT, she runs into Three, the star quarterback from her school who’s on his way to college football and a career in the NFL, and things fire up a little between them.

Chanel, Eleanor’s teammate and best friend, is super-focused on success. Leadership runs through her veins, and she’s determined to succeed in everything she does. When Eleanor is named team captain, Chanel can’t believe it; with as hard as she’s worked, how is this possible???

This will affect everything, because the team needs strong leadership right now. Teams across the country are coming to understand the systemic racism inherent in the US, and Chanel and Eleanor’s school is no different. The fallout from their teammates taking a knee during the anthem will have dramatic effects on their school, their friendship, and their futures, and both girls have a lot to learn.

This ended up being a really interesting book. I was kind of expecting it to be more about concussions, but it left that behind early on and segued into the Black Lives Matter movement and how that movement plays out in high school sports teams, how high school administrations respond to it, and how it can divide friendships. Eleanor got caught up in a lot of things in this story; I wondered often if the multiple concussions had made it less likely that she would see she was often making the wrong decisions in regards to the leadership of her team (she should’ve known she wasn’t the right leader from the start) and her friendship with Chanel.

Chanel is a dynamic character. She’s complex, driven (maybe sometimes a little too much?), and hard-working. She gets the short end of the stick far too often, but that usually just makes her work harder. She doesn’t let disappointment get in her way; when it tries, she’s able to refocus and continue on. I liked her character a lot; contrasted against Eleanor, who is a little flakier and nowhere near as driven, she felt like a strong role model.

I do wish we had seen more of what made the two girls friends in the first place. I never got a great sense of what drew them together and kept their friendship going. I did really like the information on concussions in the beginning, though. My son had two (mild) concussions during his teenage years; some kids are just more prone to them than others, but they can be really devastating, and I’m glad more attention is being paid to the seriousness of these brain injuries.

Fascinating look at racial injustice and how today’s social movements play out in high schools and among high school students. I enjoyed this one.

Visit Kimberly Jones’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

Visit Gilly Segal’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: Worn Out: How Our Clothes Cover Up Fashion’s Sins by Alyssa Hardy

Back when I was pregnant with my daughter, I read Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline and was shocked by it. I had never really thought about clothing and the damage it does to the earth, and to the people who made it, before. The book was fascinating and needless to say, I haven’t looked at clothing the same way since. Browsing through NetGalley made me aware of the existence of Worn Out: How Our Clothes Cover Up Fashion’s Sins by Alyssa Hardy (New Press, 2022) and it got me wondering: what’s changed? How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the world of fashion? Has anything gotten any better? I hit the request button and was delighted to receive my acceptance just hours later. Huge thanks to NetGalley, Alyssa Hardy, and New Press for allowing me to read and review an early copy of Worn Out.

What happens to all our used clothes? We bag them up, drop them at Goodwill or another thrift store or bin, and then…what? Alyssa Hardy begins Worn Out with a bang, describing the secondhand markets in Ghana, where over fifteen million items of clothing, mostly from Europe and North America, end up. Western society is incredibly wasteful, habits that extend to our clothing usage as well, and this has not just ripple effects, but entire tsunami effects, around the world. Homegrown garment industries collapse because our garment industry overwhelms them. Children work these secondhand markets. Women die for low-paying garment factory jobs, as we saw in the Dhaka garment factory collapse in 2013, and for what? So we can buy an item of clothing made with such cheap materials that it falls apart in the wash within a few months. This has to stop, Alyssa Hardy argues, and she backs up her argument with devastating example after devastating example.

Beyond giving the fashion industry, from cotton field to salesroom floor, a hard look, Ms. Hardy turns her criticism on the fashion consumer. We’ve lost the inability to distinguish need from want, she points out, and in shying away or refusing to examine our lives and habits, we’ve created entire identities based on what we purchase, assigning ourselves in-group status based on what we wear. And in doing so, we’ve helped to create abhorrent conditions not only around the world, but in our very own backyards. American sweatshops exist. Women, who make up the majority of garment workers, make $4-6 per hour, working sixty-hour weeks. They’re sexually harassed and raped by the bosses who threaten to fire them if they speak up. Some make as little as $3.75 per day. “The bottom line is that we want too much at a cost that feels low but is expensive in other ways,” writes Ms. Hardy, and she’s correct. This is a mess that we as a society have created.

Worn Out is a reckoning for the fashion industry and the western consumer. From #metoo’s impact on the fashion industry as a whole, wage theft and wretched working conditions in garment factories around the world (such as Nike paying workers 12 cents per shoe, or Shein forcing 75-hour workweeks from their employees and having no emergency exits in their Chinese garment factories), the lack of inclusion in the fashion industry when it comes to plus-size and disabled models and thus lack of appropriate clothing for these groups, the damage done by influencers and what they should *really* be doing, the use of forced Uyghur labor (about one-fifth of all cotton garments around the world contain material from the Uyghur region in China; odds are, something in your closet was made by Uyghur slave labor), the environmental cost of the industry, Alyssa Hardy shines a light on it all. It’s not all hopeless, though; there are steps we can take, she tells us, to force the industry’s hand…but it’s not going to be easy, and it may be more collective effort than we have in us.

An incredible book that will change the way you shop. Read it; live it; tell your friends. Garment workers around the world deserve a better life, and only we as consumers can help make that a reality if we push the fashion industry, hard.

Worn Out is available September 27th, 2022.

Visit Alyssa Hardy’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: Refugee High: Coming of Age in America by Elly Fishman

It was a segment on NPR that clued me in to the existence of Refugee High: Coming of Age in America by Elly Fishman (New Press, 2021). Located about forty-five minutes from me, Roger C. Sullivan High School in Chicago, the focus of this book, has one of the highest populations of immigrant and refugee students in the country. It’s a fascinating place, and the author gave a wonderful interview. As soon as I parked my car in the grocery store parking lot, I grabbed my phone and smashed that ‘want-to-read’ button on the Goodreads app.

For an entire schoolyear, author Elly Fishman followed the students and teachers and administrators of Roger C. Sullivan High School in Chicago. Increasingly known as a school that serves a population of immigrants and refugees, its students hail from thirty-five countries and speak at least thirty-eight languages. These students have been through and are still experiencing immeasurable trauma; they and their families are struggling to adjust to not only a new language, a new culture, and a new country, but also brand-new dangers in the form of gangs and street violence. Their setting may have changed, but often the levels of the students’ stress has stayed the same, or worse, increased.

While Ms. Fishman focuses on just a small handful of students and professionals at the school, it’s easy to see both the determination and the dedication of both, and the difficulties they all face. The increasingly hostile-to-refugees political climate has absolutely affected the school; fears are up, both for the safety of the students and for the funding that allows the school to stay open, continue to improve, and best serve their population of new Americans. It’s an incredible look into a world few long-time Americans often aren’t aware of, though they all should be.

What an amazing book. At times, it’s heartbreaking; the students have already been through so much before even arriving in America, and more often than not, their lives here continue to be terribly unstable, with poverty, family violence, and insane amounts of stress affecting everything. And with Chicago having the problems it does with guns and gang violence, this bleeds into the lives of these students. With great respect and humility, Ms. Fishman documents their stories, the ups, the downs, the pain, the joys. This can’t have been an easy task, but it’s a masterful account, and respectful every step of the way.

I’m so grateful to authors like Ms. Fishman, who take us as readers into places we would never get to see otherwise. In Refugee High, we sit with students struggling with the language, communicating with each other via Google translate, fearful of the gangs that roam their streets and are targeting them, engaging in a tug-of-war between cultures, between the person they want to be and the person their parents are demanding they become. With all the refugee crises raging across the world, it’s imperative that we develop a better understand of why they’re here and what they go through when they arrive. Refugee High is an incredible look into the world of teenage refugees and what it takes to help them integrate into their new world.

Such a wonderful book. Highly recommended.

Visit Elly Fishman’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree: How I Fought to Save Myself, My Sister, and Thousands of Girls Worldwide by Nice Leng’ete with Elizabeth Butler-Witter

Years ago, in my very early 20’s, I was introduced to the concept of female genital mutilation when my online book club read Do They Hear You When You Cry by Fauziwa Kassindja. Since then, I’ve read other books on the subject, and it never gets any less horrifying. Last summer, my library announced they would read The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree: How I Fought to Save Myself, My Sister, and Thousands of Girls Worldwide by Nice Leng’ete with Elizabeth Butler-Witter (Little, Brown and Company, 2021) as a book club selection. I’m still not going to in-person events, so I missed out on what I’m sure was an amazing discussion, but I definitely still wanted to read the book. That FGM hasn’t disappeared off this planet yet is a tragedy, but it’s a relief knowing there are still brave women (and men!) out there, fighting so hard against it.

Nice Leng’ete grew up in Kenya, a member of the Maasai tribe. Her parents were more progressive than most, and her father had a deep commitment to ensuring that his children were educated. Unfortunately, both of Nice’s parents died when Nice was still in early elementary school, and she and her sister were shipped off to an uncle who wasn’t much interested in raising his brother’s children. Education remained a priority for Nice, and she fought hard to be able to stay in school, but by the time she turned nine, her family began demanding that she undergo the ritual of female genital mutilation. Having seen these scenarios performed and knowing that its risks included infection and death – and especially knowing that having this done would mean early marriage, babies, and the end of her education – Nice refuses, even running away multiple times to escape the knife.

It’s not easy to avoid being mutilated; pressure is intense and Nice is nearly shunned by her family and her community for refusing (her sister is, unfortunately, not so lucky), but she holds fast and not only gets the education she deserves, she goes on to college and begins a career with a nonprofit, working to stop the practice of female genital mutilation around the world.

What a fascinating book! This is another easy read about a tough subject. It’s not as in-depth as, say, Do They Hear You When You Cry, but it’s definitely more accessible for younger readers and would make a fabulous read for the mature middle-to-high schooler looking to become better informed about issues that affect girls and women around the world. FGM is still happening, even in countries where it’s been banned, and Ms. Leng’ete makes an excellent case for why people like her – girls and women who know the community, who are intimately familiar with the communities – need to be at the forefront of demanding change. There are a lot of great lessons in this book about what amazing modern-day leadership looks like.

This is another book I read quickly, but it’ll stay with me. I’m in awe of Ms. Leng’ete’s bravery, and her commitment to becoming educated despite so many challenges. This is another book I’d love for my own daughter to read in the future.

Follow Nice Leng’ete on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: Period. End of Sentence: A New Chapter in the Fight for Menstrual Justice by Anita Diamant

I love Anita Diamant. How can you not? She’s the coolest person. She’s an author (likely best known for The Red Tent, but she’s written a zillion other books, including some amazing ones about Judaism; we used her Living a Jewish Life in my in-person, pre-pandemic class), she’s the founding president of a mikvah (Mayyim Hayyim in Massachusetts), she’s funny and smart and interesting (she follows me on Twitter!!!11!!!11111!1!!!), and now, she’s written a book about periods, Period. End of Sentence.: A New Chapter in the Fight for Menstrual Justice (Scribner, 2021). Can I adopt her as my other mom? Because she’s seriously the coolest.

Period. End of Sentence. the film won an Oscar in 2019. This documentary showcased a group of girls working to help fundraise in order to provide machines that would make sustainable menstrual pads for a town in India. Around the world, menstruation is still a challenge for so many girls and women; they’re banished from their communities during that time, not allowed to take part in community rituals, told that their mere presence will cause food to spoil. Girls are forced to stay home from school due to lack of menstrual supplies; some are considered ready for marriage upon the arrival of their first period, effectively bringing their formal education to a halt. Even in the US, period poverty among girls and women is pervasive, and humiliation, including only allowing prisoners five pads per month, permeates our culture.

Anita Diamant has written the film’s companion book, illustrating the (human-created) problems surrounding menstruation and the fight to correct the course. All around the world, women and even some men have joined the fight to normalize menstruation (like, it’s something that happens to half the world; how is this still cloaked in mystery and taboo???) and bring justice and equality to those who menstruate. No one should have their education curtailed because of their period; no one should be kicked out of their home every twenty-eight days; no one should lose their life because they get a period.

This is truly an incredible book that will get you thinking about periods, equality, and what it means to exist in the world as a woman. It’ll get you thinking about what you can do to help, how you can even things up a little. While this would make an excellent mother-daughter read-aloud or mother-daughter book club read, I encourage you to think about making it a family read, too. There’s no reason why periods should be something secretive or embarrassing, and boys should know as much about periods as girls. Our sons should be allies and as dedicated to bringing justice to menstruation as girls and women are, and all that starts with learning and open conversation.

Two thumbs up for this book, and a big high five to Anita Diamant! I really enjoyed this one and will read it again with my daughter in a few years.

Visit Anita Diamant’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival, and Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott

I’m still here! I’m still alive, I promise!

We’ve had some major life changes that I’ll get into in my monthly update, but suffice it to say, I’ve had so little time to read lately, and even less time to sit down and write out book reviews. It’s been NUTS and probably will be for a while. But one of those best-of-the-year book lists got to me in December, and that’s how I ended up with Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott (Random House, 2021) on my TBR. At over 500 pages, this was a long read, especially with my having less reading time, but don’t let the high number of pages intimidate you; this is a heartbreaker of a book that will stick with you long after you turn the last page.

Journalist Andrea Elliott followed young Dasani Coates and her family, which consist of two parents and seven (I think) siblings, through their tumultuous lives in New York City. Dasani’s family is the epitome of poverty; the parents struggle with drug addiction and violence, and they struggle to provide for their children. Theirs is a story of generational poverty and trauma, and lives let down by the very systems that are supposed to help them.

Poverty, homelessness, hunger, behavioral problems, violence, drug abuse, poor choices, and trauma abound, but Ms. Elliott makes it clear that Dasani’s parents love their kids. It’s just that love isn’t enough, and where outside services could step in to help the struggling family, too often those systems fail, sometimes outright working against what their very mission claims to work for. At times, poor outcomes are as visible as a speeding freight train, but the various family members seem helpless to stop it. Other times, the family is failed terribly, through no fault of their own.

This is a story of poverty that didn’t need to be, of suffering that likely didn’t need to happen, of problems that we could solve, but we as a society choose not to. It is a story of problem after problem that, if not entirely caused by the downfalls of history colliding with modern-day life in American, certainly isn’t made any better by it. Your heart will break over and over reading this book, but it’s worth it, because Dasani’s story deserves to be shared. Her story, sadly, is the story of many.

Visit Andrea Elliott’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.