cover image The Holly: Five Bullets, One Gun, and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood

The Holly: Five Bullets, One Gun, and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood

Julian Rubinstein. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (284p) ISBN 978-0-374-16891-9

Journalist Rubinstein follows Ballad of the Whiskey Robber with an engrossing investigation into why Terrance Roberts, a gangbanger turned community activist in northeast Denver, shot someone at his own peace rally in 2013. To answer the question, Rubinstein chronicles 50 years of civil rights activism, racialized poverty, drug crime, gang conflict, and urban redevelopment in the Holly, a Denver neighborhood that takes its name from a local shopping center where the police shooting of an unarmed teenager in 1968 touched off waves of racial unrest. After joining the Park Hill Bloods as a teenager, Roberts spent several years in and out of jail before a religious conversion inspired him to become a gang prevention advocate and a leader in efforts to redevelop the shopping center, which had become an open-air drug market in the 1980s and was burned down by Crips in 2008. Rubinstein contends that undercover law-enforcement activities, including the overuse of still-active gang members as informants, stoked intra-gang violence and helped create the combative circumstances that led Roberts to shoot a Bloods enforcer in self-defense. Though Rubinstein is clearly on Roberts’s side, he bolsters the book’s veracity with expert sociological and historical context. This vivid story of redemption and loss offers profound insights into the forces that plague America’s inner cities. Agent: Zoë Pagnamenta, the Zoë Pagnamenta Agency. (May)