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Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx Hardcover – January 28, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (January 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684863871
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684863870
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (256 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #341,121 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Customer Reviews

This wonderfully written book reads like a fiction page-turner, even though the story and characters are real.
B. A Fridley
I really fell in love with the people in this book - I felt like I lived in the same small apartments and lived through their experiences.
Amazon Customer
As I progressed through the book, I developed a better understanding of the people and their struggles and choices they face daily.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

104 of 114 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
All of us have read many family stories but surely none as compelling or heartbreaking as this.
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, who has written for the New York Times Magazine, Esquire, The Village Voice, and others, gained unprecedented access to those living in an impoverished section of the Bronx. For some ten years the author shared their existence as she documented struggles, defeats, and transient victories. "Random Family" is an astonishing work of straightforward reportage; it is also written with heart.
A stunning picture of life in the Bronx drug trade, "Random Family" is traced through the experiences of two girls, Jessica and Coco. In Part I, "The Street" we are introduced to Jessica who lived on Tremont Avenue, "...one of the poorer blocks in a very poor section of the Bronx. She dressed even to go to the store. Chance was opportunity in the ghetto and you had to be prepared for anything....A sixteen-year-old Puerto Rican girl with bright hazel eyes, a generous mouth, and a voluptuous shape, she radiated intimacy wherever she went. You could be talking to her in the bustle of Tremont and feel as though lovers' confidences were being exchanged beneath a tent of sheets. Guys in cars offered rides. Women pursed their lips, grown men got stupid, boys made promises they could not keep."
Jessica's man of choice is Boy George, a young heroin dealer with money to spare and a willingness to do anything to earn more. He provides undreamed of escapes: trips, jewelry buying sprees, and a car that James Bond would envy. He's also free with physical abuse.
Coco, a fourteen-year-old, is the other girl.
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211 of 251 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 27, 2006
Format: Paperback
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 By A Customer on April 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
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 By Jessica Lux on October 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
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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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.