Top positive review
14 people found this helpful
on February 14, 2006
Our America, a book by two young boys from a housing project on the South Side of Chicago, is raw and beautiful all at once. It tells the story of the authors, LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman, as they make their way in the Ida B. Well's housing project and tell the story of a five year-old's death from one of the buildings. The book, which was written by the boys in collaboration with author David Isay, is part journalism, part activism and part reflection. It takes a very factual look at the events of the child's death, there are transcriptions from interviews, and there are their own ramblings and editorializing about what's going on in their part of the country.
The boys become involved simply by bringing their notebooks, pens, tape recorders, cameras (and their instincts) to their own neighborhood. Interview subjects include teachers, young children, cousins, neighbors, the chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority, police officers and lawyers. Their approach is direct and simple - they ask the tough questions of the people in charge. For example, Lloyd asks the CHA chairman, "Would you want your kids growing up in these public houses?" With the help of David Isay, LeAlan and Lloyd become the chroniclers of their particular time and place.
The book's readability level is low - at maximum, it's on a fifth grade level in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure. However, the themes and issues developed in the book are far more advanced. Students of any age level in high school should be able to grasp the content and then think critically about the issues it presents around racism, poverty, gang violence, family structure and public housing. It is a book aimed not only at young people but also the adults in power, the people who make the decisions that affect the poor.
Our America is not something to pick up for light Saturday afternoon reading, or to help you forget about the troubles of the world. Instead it's a book to crack open the minds of two young boys living an all-too-common reality, and face both the issues and the joys that they see every day. Its literary value is lesser than its cultural significance, one of the few books written by young African Americans and one of the few resources for genuine information about what their lives are like.
Our America is published by Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, 1997.