cover image An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago

An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago

Alex Kotlowitz. Doubleday/Talese, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-385-53880-0

Journalist Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here) examines the epidemic of violent crime in Chicago through the events of the summer of 2013, narrating the stories of victims and their families, social workers, and perpetrators. A high school student and former gang member’s one-night spree of violence threatens to run his entire future off-course. A mother finds the strength to forgive her son’s killer, arguing on his behalf in court. A teen haunted by a friend’s death at a birthday party watches helplessly as another friend is gunned down. A man spends a “day of atonement” each year on the anniversary of the day he took a life, visiting with victims of violent crime. A witness to a teenager’s death comes forward to tell the victim’s mother that police officers shot her son and planted a gun at the scene. Kotlowitz has a ruminative, almost poetic sensibility, describing for example how “the acronym RIP... is everywhere... tattooed on people’s bodies... scrawled on the sides of buildings. Embossed on T-shirts and jackets. It’s as if these communities are piecing together the equivalent of a war memorial.” The violence is made palpable but never romanticized. Kotlowitz’s approach is empathetic in this a bold, unflinching depiction of an ever-lengthening crisis. (Mar.)