cover image RANDOM FAMILY: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx

RANDOM FAMILY: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx

Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, . . Scribner, $25 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-684-86387-0

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 includidng street talk only when one of her subjects wants to "conversate." This fine work deserves attention from policy makers and general readers alike. (Feb.)

Forecast:Readers who enjoy the work of Barbara Ehrenreich, Alex Kotlowitz, Jonathan Kozol, Susan Sheehan and other social world reporters will seek this out; it should receive wide review attention and will surely inspire policy debates.