on June 16, 2000
Mr.Canada grew up in the 60's in the Bronx. In this book he talks about what it was like to live there. He talks about having to prove yourself or face the prospect of getting your ... kicked in the future. You get a VIVID description of what he was up against as a young person. I mean, I grew up a long way away in a much less dangerous place, and I knew exactly what he was getting at. That's a testament to his writing, and the universality of the subject. Mr. Canada recalls one episode where he is walking a few blocks out of his neighborhood, and you get a detailed view of how dangerous this was. Just walking down the street! All I can say against the book is that I would have liked even more of the authors autobiography. Later on in the book, he gets more polemical about what can be done. I agree with what he says, but as far as literary quality goes, that stuff isn't really in the same league as the earlier part of the book. Also, let me say, the author has an excellent, direct writing style, which makes what he has to say that much more powerful.
As a graphic novel in the traditional sense, "Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence" is not a particularly exciting read. However, FSKG is not a traditional graphic novel, but an illustrated memoir and examination of the street culture that gave rise to the violence that plagues our ghettos and causes hardship for so many who find themselves unable to extricate themselves and succeed in life when life has taught them nothing but aggression. The story sidesteps many opportunities to be preachy and allows the reader room to connect the dots themselves as the author simply recounts his life experiences growing up in the South Bronx and the social structure and cultural change that would eventually lead to what we now know as gang violence. Author Geoffrey Canada has spent his life educating people and attempting to offer children the chance to grow up free of violence by starting the Harlem Children's Zone, which is a program that seeks to provide the adult role models and supervision that he and so many other urban youths did not have growing up. That's what you "call putting it where your mouth is". Universal praise is hard to come by in these politically-divided times, but Mr. Canada has indeed earned it.
FSKG is really not so much a graphic novel as it is illustrated autobiographical expositionary prose. This is to say that there is very little dialogue from the characters and the story is told via narration rather than unfolding based on character interactions. As a story it lacks many things (including a climax or even a proper conclusion), but one thing it has in spades in believability. After all, one can hardly expect real life to unfold like a fictional Hollywood production or classic novel. The purpose of this comic is not to entertain, but to educate. And those who look down their noses from ivory towers at what they see as crude street culture could use this particular class. Canada's experiences are interesting in that they predate the wide availability of firearms in urban areas so in that sense he got out before things got really bad. A lot of what is within thee pages are what we'd call "boys being boys". However, the lack of father figures or adult supervision leads to an almost tribal atmosphere where combat is the only way to establish a pecking order and neighbors band together to prove their street is the toughest. It's a crude system, but one with it's own with ethics and honor. But -just like in business, career, and politics- growing up and succeeding on the streets means escalation and an eventual discarding of any pretension of integrity. The title says it all.
FSKG in a brief glimpse into the street culture of days past that led to the violence we see in ghettos around the country. Canada lays his experiences out for the world to consume and Jamar Nicholas' art effectively visualizes the tale. As a story unto itself, it's not really outstanding, but as a look into a world your average suburban businessman has never bothered to consider while complaining about hip-hop attitudes and fashions and paying no mind to the large number of young people losing their lives in these inner-city warzones, it's essential. Mr. Canada has spent his life combating the things he grew up with in an attempt to better the lives of those who may not be as lucky as he has been. Is it too much to ask that we listen to the man's story?
Canada grew up poor in the South Bronx in the '50s. Violence, then, as now, was a way of life. All boys fought - life was worse for those who refused. Violence and the rituals surrounding it established the social pecking order. In the preface to his memoir Canada says, "The difference is that we never had so many guns in our inner cities."
Canada's first memory of street violence came at age 4, when his two older brothers had a jacket stolen at the playground. The boys' mother sent them right back to fetch it, promising them a beating "ten times as bad as what that little thief could do to you," if they failed.
They left the house in tears and returned triumphant, with the jacket. Their mother sat them down and told them it was a lesson in not becoming a victim. The author, her youngest, was unconvinced.
Then a neighborhood boy who habitually refused to fight was "stretched" over a car and savagely beaten by a group of boys. "The lesson was brutal and unmistakable. No matter who you fought, he could never beat you that bad."
Canada's memoir is a thoughtful, moving portrayal of social behavior in a culture of violence. A quick study, Canada learned to use posturing, attitude and negotiation as well as his fists to minimize the number and severity of violent encounters.
But he is absolutely convinced that violence is a learned response, not innate. He and the other small boys, says Canada, were aghast at the prospect of fighting. Only fear of worse violence and a life of cowering in corners spurred them to fight.
Today, says Canada, the same imperatives operate. But guns have shattered the rituaized formality of the pecking order. Toughness is no longer determined by fighting skills or "heart" but by willingness to pull the trigger.
This is the book's most chilling precept. The streets are now ruled by those whose most important attribute is a lack of compunction about killing.
Canada's own experience as a gun carrier is a perfect illustration. Home from college he found a nearby street ruled by a gang of toughs so intimidating he would take a circuitous route to avoid them. So he bought a gun. Carrying it, he found his whole personality changed.
Instead of avoiding the block or even crossing the street he would swagger through the gang, his whole attitude provoking a challenge. But back at school in bucolic Maine he saw his behavior in a different light. Appalled at how close he'd come to shooting someone, he threw away the gun.
Those who don't leave the ghetto don't have the luxury of contemplation.
Canada has devoted his life to helping poor children and reducing street violence. Today he runs a program which offers classes and recreational activities which involve the whole community. The Rheedlen Center uses public school buildings, open 17 hours a day, in an effort to provide children and families with safety.
At the end of the book, Canada offers a program for solving the problems of violence in the inner cities. Chief among them is getting handguns off the streets by using buyback programs, registration at the place of manufacture (so any gun can be traced) and registration of ammunition.
Whether the reader agrees with his solutions or not, Canada's memoir is powerful testimony of a future of little hope without major change. It is also a riveting and convincing personal history.
on May 3, 1999
I grew up on the southside of Chicago. While reading this book I could relate to every experience that Mr. Canada relates. The book is easy to read. I think he identifies the problems well. Everyone who cares about children should read this book and help our children.
on January 23, 2014
I read the sample from this book, and bought it right away... I used to be a teacher for 8 years, and I have seen first--hand the trials of violence and and the aftermath of the effects. This book really resonated with me, and I appreciated Geoffrey's willingness to be so transparent with his life in attempting to break the cycle of violence that has affected our country.
I highly recommend it!
Much like the book Our America, Fist Stick Knife Gun is a nonfiction story that both teens and adults find captivating. Though this version is a graphic novel, that is an advantage, for teenage reluctant readers in particular will be more apt to read it as a result. I've seen with my own eyes young men read this work and identify with it, and, more importantly, learn from it.
Though the artwork is rather straight forward and simple, I can't imagine any other style more befitting. Canada's story is inspiring, brutal, and eye-opening. For some, this book offers a glimpse into a world unknown but no less important. For others, they will see a kindred spirit who made it out alive and is now helping others.
I truly recommend this work for all readers of all abilities.
~Scott William Foley, author of Andropia
on December 31, 2013
Recommended by my English composition college teacher and discussed in class, I loved it. Totally recommend it to everybody to find it and read it. Extraordinary example of somebody born in poor conditions, in the ghetto, in New York and becoming an exceptional lawyer, involved in helping others achieving their goals. Great book. We need more people like him!
on March 4, 1998
This is a must read for all who work with children of the inner cities. It should be compulsory for martial artists desiring a road map for teaching conflict resolution to young adults and children. I have never before read a depiction that was so lucid about my growing up in NY City. Cananda describes the tight rope that is walked for us who grow up on or around the mean streets and end up in ivy league schools and corporate environments that leave us still disengaged, alienated and disenfranchised. To be healed we must become healers. Cananda outlines the why and how to make a difference. We need now to heed the call. There are solutions......
on April 6, 2011
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is a graphic novel adaptation of a book by the same title that was originally published in 1995. Jamar Nicholas, the artist, does a fantastic job of illustrating the words that Geoffrey Canada wrote. He captures the fear of young boys as they are forced to fight and the violence they witness growing up, and he captures the triumph they feel at overcoming an opponent or standing up for a friend. It is a compelling story and a good introduction to the varieties of lifestyles and neighborhoods seen while growing up.
I've not read the original book so I can't compare where the differences in story are between the two works, but there was one area that bothered me a bit. Translating a written memoir, such as the original book, into a graphic novel means that changes have to be made to ensure the story is told in a manner that makes sense. In a few places the text became overwhelming and causes the reader to shift mental gears in how they read the book (from graphic adaptation to straight story) and it makes it a bit difficult to transition back and forth.
Overall though the book is well worth the read and the illustrations really do make the story come alive.
This graphic adaptation brought back some memories of my own youth though not near as tough as the author's experiences there was something about growing up in poor to lower middle income America's urban environment. This effort raises questions about things we, as adults, take for granted or choose to forget. We look at gang violence and have a habit of throwing it all into one boiling pot of urban trouble, brand it as an ethnic problem and throw money at law enforcement and conviction efforts. This story points out the fact that gangs may not be terribly diverse other than ethnic make-up but what we have today stems directly from young men and women trying find their way in the uneven environment of the streets they are made to walk.
The obvious escalation of violence in the neighborhood started from the idea that in order to survive the streets a person at a very young age how to know how to not just defend themselves but also how to win a fight. Unfortunately it becomes all too apparent that the older a kid gets the more likely it is that defending oneself grows into an ever more violent situation since every kid wants to be left alone and therefore finds easier, more effective and deadly means to defend themselves. This age of handgun violence came from the notion that a kid has to be prepared to defend not just himself but also the territory in which one resides, his turf, from others looking to dominate the streets.
This is an old story. It can be seen on a global scale as well from the street. And the more we believe a weapon will secure us from harm the higher the escalation goes.
This graphic narrative is a primer for anyone trying to understand the person struggle that has led to the violence featured on our nightly news. Kids are not born bad. Even the best intentions go awry and in some poorer neighborhoods and even in what are considered good neighborhoods things going awry can fast become deadly.
I like that this adaptation doesn't try to scare the reader. There were plenty of opportunities to ratchet up both the violence and the drama to makes this a frightening, cautionary tale but the author never loses sight of his point. It was bad when he was a kid but not terrible. A person can and did live this way, and a cautious young man can live to escape the violence but the fact is these experiences, real and full of actual and potential danger, were not how things had to be. As usual, it is incumbent upon adults to act to improve life for these kids, starting with functioning, fully aware parents (I like the way the author relates how his mother was not aware of his life on the street) on up to elected officials who need to represent every one and not just those who fund their campaigns to be elected and re-elected.