House of Good Hope: A Promise for a Broken City

Michael Downs, Author . Univ. of Nebraska $19.95 (318p) ISBN 978-0-8032-6012-2

Combining a reporter's eye for detail, the breathless narrative rush of an action movie and the generous heart of a hometown boy desperately trying to make sense of a place gone terribly wrong, Downs examines the social and economic disintegration of Hartford, Conn., in the 1990s through the coming-of-age of five African-American teenage boys. These young men—track stars, football players, scholars—try to make the right decisions while local and state politicians squabble over money, drug gangs roam the streets and the middle class—both white and black—flees to the suburbs. Harvey, Derrick, Eric, Hiram and Joshua make a pledge that no matter their future path, they will return to Hartford to rebuild their shattered city. The first half of the book flows with the power and grace of a finely tuned magazine article. Then Downs loses his focus and gets bogged down in a lengthy recounting of the boys' track coach's trial. The narrative shifts from the boys—now young men with growing families and burgeoning careers—to Downs's own struggle with his identity and the declining health of his grandfather. If the narrative splinters, perhaps it is an apt metaphor for the boys' pledge. Just one—Joshua—returned to Hartford. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/19/2007
Release date: 04/01/2007
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