Anyone read Random Family, by Adrian LeBlanc?

This week, I read Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. It’s an amazing feat of reportage-I remember reading that she started off following one member of a poor Bronx family, then gradually expanded to the rest of it, and kept up with them for ten years, following all the events of their lives. I’m still thinking a lot about the book, hence the thread.

It’s an engrossing book-I read it in two days because I just had to see what was coming next. Since I grew up in a middle-class suburb, the book was a window into a world that I’d never known first-hand. It was troubling to see how the cycle of poverty kept everyone locked in. Whenever anyone would try to do something to improve their lives, like Coco returning to school, something would always come along and screw it up.

At the same time-I’m fresh from a Multicultural Counseling class, so I fully acknowledge the lens I view this throught-while the book jacked describes the book as “the story of young people trying to outrun their destinies,” it’s impossible not to aknowledge how the people in the book repeatedly screw themselves over. This book features a lot of systematic causes of misery-bureaucracratic rules that keep people busy staying poor, bad schools, child abuse, drug dealers everywhere, but for every one of those, there’s someone making a desicion that would cause someone who opposes welfare or any anti-poverty iniatives to stand up and crow. “See, they keep having kids they can’t afford! See, that dumbass 15-year-old with the pregnant girlfriend said welfare would support them! I told you so!”

The people in the book I most felt for were the kids like Mercedes and Serena, the ones who got stuck shuttling back and forth between apartments of mothers, grandmothers and friends, who never got to be kids because they were stuck baby-sitting. It was heart-breaking to see Coco try to make Cesar happy even after he’d had kids with other women, his accidental shooting of his friend over some gangbanger shit landed him in jail, and he was a drain on her already precarious finances.

Anyone else have any thoughts on the book?

I read it and liked it quite a bit at first, and less toward the end. I thought that Boy George was a facinating charater, and easily could have been the focus of an entire book- though it would have been a much different book.
As for the others, I agree with you. Coco in particular was infuriating. Yes, she was stuck in a bad situation, but the decisions she made were just terrible. She was basically a walking stereotype, having child after child by different men- none of whom were any good- and living off the public, and every time she was given a chance to make a better life, she blew it.
The author goes out of her way to say that these people are not at fault for their situation, that others who made all the right decisions and worked hard were still stuck in the same poverty. Maybe she’s right.
Lastly, it seemed to me that the only characters who really grew during the course of the book were those who ended up in prison. It seemed like being sent away, separated from the hustles of daily life and family allowed them to become introspective and see things in a more objective light, and realize their own flaws in a way that those on the outside never had the time to do.

I think you’re right-Jessica and Cesar grew in prison. They were able to take classes and workshops and therapy sessions without worrying about where they were going to live or if they were going to eat. It’s kind of like they were given a second chance at a stable adolescence to find themselves.