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Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx [Kindle Edition]

Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (258 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Random Family tells the American outlaw saga lurking behind the headlines of gangsta glamour, gold-drenched drug dealers, and street-corner society. With an immediacy made possible only after ten years of reporting, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc immerses the reader in the mind-boggling intricacies of the little-known ghetto world. She charts the tumultuous cycle of the generations, as girls become mothers, mothers become grandmothers, boys become criminals, and hope struggles against deprivation.

Two romances thread through Random Family: the sexually charismatic nineteen-year-old Jessica's dizzying infatuation with a hugely successful young heroin dealer, Boy George, and fourteen-year-old Coco's first love with Jessica's little brother, Cesar, an aspiring thug. Fleeing from family problems, the young couples try to outrun their destinies. Chauffeurs whisk them to getaways in the Poconos and to nightclubs. They cruise the streets in Lamborghinis and customized James Bond cars. Jessica and Boy George ride the wild adventure between riches and ruin, while Coco and Cesar stick closer to the street, all four caught in a precarious dance between life and death. Friends get murdered; the DEA and FBI investigate Boy George's business activities; Cesar becomes a fugitive; Jessica and Coco endure homelessness, betrayal, the heartbreaking separation of prison, and throughout it all, the insidious damage of poverty. Together, then apart, the teenagers make family where they find it. Girls look for excitement and find trouble; boys, searching for adventure, join crews and prison gangs. Coco moves upstate to dodge the hazards of the Bronx; Jessica seeks solace in romance. Both find that love is the only place to go.

A gifted prose stylist and a profoundly compassionate observer, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc has slipped behind the cold statistics and sensationalism surrounding inner-city life and come back with a riveting, haunting, and true urban soap opera that reveals the clenched grip of the streets. Random Family is a compulsive read and an important journalistic achievement, sure to take its place beside the classics of the genre.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Politicians rail about welfare queens, crack babies and deadbeat dads, but what do they know about the real struggle it takes to survive being poor? Journalist LeBlanc spent some 10 years researching and interviewing one extended family-mother Lourdes, daughter Jessica, daughter-in-law Coco and all their boyfriends, children and in-laws-from the Bronx to Troy, N.Y., in and out of public housing, emergency rooms, prisons and courtrooms. LeBlanc's close listening produced this extraordinary book, a rare look at the world from the subjects' point of view. Readers learn that prison is just an extension of the neighborhood, a place most men enter and a rare few leave. They learn the realities of welfare: the myriad of misdemeanors that trigger reduction or termination of benefits, only compounding a desperate situation. They see teenaged drug dealers with incredible organizational and financial skills, 13-year-old girls having babies to keep their boyfriends interested, older women reminiscing about the "heavenly time" they spent in a public hospital's psychiatric ward and incarcerated men who find life's first peace and quiet in solitary confinement. More than anything, LeBlanc shows how demanding poverty is. Her prose is plain and unsentimental, blessedly jargon-free, and includidng street talk only when one of her subjects wants to "conversate." This fine work deserves attention from policy makers and general readers alike.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Journalist LeBlanc spent more than 10 years following two Latina women from the Bronx, and in this ambitious work, she tells their stories, beginning in the late 1980s with their young teen years. Older Jessica becomes a mistress to an enormously successful heroin dealer, and Coco falls for Jessica's brother, an aspiring gangster. The two women find love, weather abuse, have babies, endure their own and their partners' prison terms, and struggle with health problems, social systems, motherhood, their own mothers, the violence of their communities, and the uncertain future. LeBlanc's prose is sprawling and dense with cinematic detail--what people wore, ate, drove, listened to; where they lived; what they said--and she studiously removes herself from the story, letting her characters' day-to-day lives unfold in scenes that are both gripping and mundane and, like life, defy easy organization. What emerges is an important, unvarnished portrait of people living in deep urban poverty, beyond the statistics, hip-hop glamour, and stereotypes. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
213 of 253 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very mixed emotions April 27, 2006
I grew up in one of the neighborhoods portrayed in this book, and while I believe the author has accurately described Jessica, Coco and their friends and relatives, these people are not representative of everyone who lives in the South Bronx. There are many, many people in these neighborhoods who shun the drug-dealing and thug lifestyle. These people work hard at low paying jobs (think doormen, porters, mailroom clerks, cashiers) and scrimp and save to send their children to Catholic school. They don't hang out on street corners and they don't allow their children to do so either. And they are the victims of people like Boy George and Cesar, they are the ones whose apartments are robbed, whose children are beaten on the way home from school, whose daughters are harassed.

I hate the idea that middle-class white liberals are reading this book and getting some kind of voyeuristic thrill. I suspect they wouldn't be nearly as enthralled by a book that chronicled the lives of the people I've described above, the ones who try to live upstanding lives despite overwhelming poverty and the threats of the street.
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54 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound April 24, 2003
By A Customer
This has to be one of the best books that I have ever read. LeBlanc grasped "it", the life, the city, the love or lack there of, the lifestyle, the losses and the helplessness. I read this book like I would have an article in Rolling Stone, holding on to every word, wanting to know what happened next. I could not put it down. It was a personal experience for me, having lived a portion of my life like the girls in Random Family. I must say that one of my frustrations has been that there are not enough of these kind of stories out there for us to read. This is the reality of our world, our social structure. Welfare is not a luxury, housing systems are not free living, not all criminals should remain prisioners. These are everyday people caught up in a cycle, a family cyle, generation to generation. These are our neighbors, the woman at the supermarket, the girl at the doctors office, just random people. And this book is just about that, a random family. There are so many families like this, torn apart, looking for the love that so often is mistaken for money, sex or a drug. I would recommend this book to anyone who asked. I believe that Ms. LeBlanc will be one of the greatest journalists of all time. I am so impressed with her writing and her willingness to study her subjects, living in less that acceptable accomodations, dedicating herself and her life to the research, becoming apart of their families. I consider this book one of the best, I hope that you will too.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
This is an amazing and all-consuming story. LeBlanc transports the reader into an extended family in the Bronx. She recounts the relationships, the fights, the betrayals, the drugs, the crime, the unintentional preganancies, the jail time, and much more for her intertwined cast of characters. Everything is presented as is--the only reflection on the characters' motivation is their own. LeBlanc does not try to extrapolate from their experiences or impart her own beliefs on the reader. The reader is left to draw his or her own conclusions from the interactions they read about.

It's easy enough to say women in the ghetto need to start using contraceptions and get off their butts and get jobs. I learned through the people in this book that life is much more complicated than that. Children aren't afforded learning opportunities because their parents are using drugs and having unsavory characters around. No one wakes the teenaged girls up to tell them about pregnancy. The girls have no sense of self worth and want to have children to force the fathers of their kids to love them. Every woman in here was once sexually abused, so responsible mothers can't their there children with friends or family members who have random people traipsing through the house, and that prevents them from getting jobs and getting out of the house.

This book comes full-circle with the story of one Bronx family. It opens with Jessica, pregnant at age 16. It ends 16 years later with Jessica's daughter Serena ready to get in as much trouble as her mother did at that age, despite the major strides Jessica has made at becoming a functioning member of society.

LeBlanc's dedication to her task--combing through trial records, wiretaps, police reports, child welfare reports, and conducting years of interviews--has really paid off in this compelling narrative.
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40 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Both random and familiar: applying faces to actions January 26, 2003
By A Customer
My interest in Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's new book was sparked by the excerpt from it that I read in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago. Her simple writing style and unsentimental look at the hard lives that "Lolli" and "Toney" have led since the mid-1980s appealed to me, and I decided that I had to buy Random Family when it came out. Having bought it today, I can testify that this book is no disappointment. Poignant and emotional, it succeeds in offering a glimpse into the lives of individuals growing up in a poverty stricken and dangerous Bronx while still emphasizing the importance of family life and the dependance on community that is so prevelent there. LeBlanc also paints a striking picture of family life in the ghetto and how it is affected by crime and the consequences that accompany it. If you are interested in learning more about the struggles and sacrifices of families whose stories are not often heard, this book is for you. I highly recommend it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
True Story. Wonder what became of the family.
Published 2 days ago by chickychu
5.0 out of 5 stars Exhausting
Loved this but had to take a few breaks as the intensity of the struggle and existence of the characters is just tiring.
Published 8 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
perfect condition!
Published 1 month ago by megan
5.0 out of 5 stars wow.
Sometimes you forget how hard people have it. This was real, passionate, and heart breaking. The author did an amazing job
Published 1 month ago by Natalie
5.0 out of 5 stars "MIND-BLOWING"
this enthralling depiction of poverty and the ghetto will leave you stunned. Leblanc's immersion, in this Latino family clan, will leave you wanting more... good luck.
Published 1 month ago by Abraham
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing read.
This book is just such a good read. Hard to put down and I simply devoured it. It's a harsh reality on the struggles of so many descendants of immigrants who most of the time... Read more
Published 2 months ago by amy
5.0 out of 5 stars total recommend for social works or anyone interested in sociology
I read this book for a sociology course; complete mind opener... I totally recommend this book for social workers or anyone interested in sociology!
Published 2 months ago by Lakiesha C.
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting veiw into a world that many of us need ...
Interesting veiw into a world that many of us need to know more about. It increases your compassion and empathy for others.
Published 2 months ago by jill tache
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best
Just finished reading Random Family for the second and it even better the second time. This book haunts me... Read more
Published 3 months ago by JustMe
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read
Great Book to read, really makes you take a good look at what the ghetto is really like instead of its positive portrayal in certain genres of music
Published 3 months ago by Abigail K. Ortiz
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More About the Author

Adrian Nicole LeBlanc is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, Esquire, Elle, Spin, The Source, The Village Voice, and other magazines. She holds a B.A. in sociology from Smith College, a Master's of Philosophy and Modern Literature from Oxford University, a Master of Law Studies from Yale Law School, and is currently a Visiting Scholar at the New York University School of Journalism. She has also been the recipient of numerous awards, including a Bunting fellowship from Radcliffe, a MacDowell Colony residency, and a Soros Media Fellowship from the Open Society. Adrian Nicole LeBlanc lives in Manhattan. Random Family is her first book.

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