cover image Little Brother: Love, Tragedy, and My Search for the Truth

Little Brother: Love, Tragedy, and My Search for the Truth

Ben Westhoff. Hachette, $29 (288p) ISBN 978-0-306-92317-3

The death of a young Black man begets a thought-provoking look at the “ever-turning wheel of violence” in this sincere if flawed account from journalist Westhoff (Fentanyl, Inc.). A well-off college grad, Westhoff joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in St. Louis in 2005 after learning how it benefited children of incarcerated parents. Notwithstanding their vastly different backgrounds, he and his “Little,” Jorell Cleveland—“a tiny eight-year-old who possessed a gigawatt smile”—quickly bonded and remained close for nearly a decade. Despite his affection for Jorell, Westhoff chaffed against the realities of mentoring a child from an unstable home. “There was a part of me,” he recalls “that felt a dubious responsibility to try to fix everything.” But, as he reveals, his influence stopped short of saving Jorell’s life when he was fatally shot in 2016 at age 19. Showcasing his investigative chops, Westhoff reconstructs Jorell’s final months to untangle the “socioeconomic factors” that led to his possibly gang-related murder. Yet oftentimes, Westhoff’s gaze as a self-described “privileged” white outsider feels, well, exactly like that—especially when he writes of the drug dealing and gunslinging (“two more aspects of Jorell’s life that he kept from me”) that Jorell became involved in before his death. Well-meaning as Westhoff’s work is, it only skims the surface of a much more complicated story. (May)