West Baltimore, where Coates, a former Village Voice and Time staff writer, spent his formative years, was an environment ravished by crack and beset with deadbeat fathers. But his own father (and his mother, to whom he dedicates the book) fought hard to keep him and his half-brother, Bill, from succumbing to the destiny awaiting many of their peers. Their father, Paul Coates, found his own purpose as a young man in the Black Panther movement, only to become disillusioned by the internal politics, but he never lost the foundational beliefs he found there. From this basis, he instills in his sons a pride in their cultural inheritance which, as they mature, plays a significant role in their developing sense of self and is credited in part with keeping them from surrendering to the streets. Though the bookish Coates and his street-wise half-brother travel different paths toward manhood, they find freedom in the lessons of their father. Ultimately, Coates brings the struggle of the streets to the page in language, verging on poetic, that is brutal in its honesty.