217 of 257 people found the following review helpful
on 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.
54 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2003
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.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2005
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.
40 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2003
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.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2005
This is an outstanding book that required some patience to finish, but ultimately certainly paid off. It tells the stories of a group of Hispanic individuals whose lives, spent between the Bronx and other dangerous neighborhoods are related by family, love, crime or misfortune. I think the book can be roughly divided in two parts.
The first part is the one I found harder to read, didn't stir much sympathy in me, and mostly succeeded in making me really angry and contemptuous towards most of the characters. Here you see them at their worst. Young, ruthless, unable to control any of their cravings for money, sex, or anything else that money can buy. Teenage sex is the rule, contraceptives aren't even mentioned, drugs are bought and sold as if they were (expensive and profitable) vegetables, women are repeatedly beaten up by bad boyfriends they don't want to leave.
Then many central characters end up in jail, and the second part of the book starts. Here is when you start realizing how young these characters were when they ended up making the wrong choices that they will never be able to fix later in life. And here is where my symphathy gradually replaced my contempt. The second part of the book should be compulsory reading for every narrow-minded individual who thinks that everyone simply has what he/she deserves, and that these people should be just left to rot with their own problems. Here is where you start realizing that in an environment where most girls are molested before they reach puberty, where violence and drugs are the rule, and contraception is not even considered, kids end up doing a LOT of stupid mistakes before they are 15 years old, and when they will realize they should have behaved differently, that's already too late: boys are in jail, girls have 4 children, from 3 or 4 different fathers.
The stories of Coco (and her girls) and Cesar, are particularly touching. I couldn't help feeling for Coco, who finally starts maturing after too many early pregnancies, when things are already out of control. And for Cesar, who needed years of jail to become a better man. This is, by the way, another aspect of this story that I found interesting and in some way, hopeful. Jails, in this book, are certainly terrible places, but here and there you also find peaks of humanity, both among the inmates, and among some of guards.
Finally, the book is really very well written, in a dry, fairly neutral, but very effective style. The author succeeds in letting the reader decide how to react to each event, without imposing her point of view. Well done, and thank!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2006
I just finished reading Random Family, and I have to say it has left a lasting impression on me. This book grabs the reader from page one and doesn't let go. While reading this book I found myself caring about the characters and hoping that they would stop making the devastating choices that kept them in the cycle of poverty. However, as I kept reading I came to understand that it was not entirely the characters fault that they were in the predicaments that they were in. Being born into poverty gave them little options for a better life. They pretty much emulated what they saw. Random family gives first hand insight into the plight of America's inner city. Without proper community resources, well paying jobs, adequate education, and good, affordable housing these problems will only get worse. I applaud the author for being so ambitious and bringing us a story that everyone needs to hear.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2003
I am astonished that some of the reviewers on this site have accused this book of being boring. This is perhaps the last word I would use to describe Random Family. These lives are as hectic as you can imagine and LeBlanc does an excellent job of capturing the uncertainty and danger that these people face on a daily basis. I do agree that with other reviewers that large number of characters can be confusing at times. That being said, I think that overall the author describes the complicated, fluid family structures very clearly.
I was surprised by my own reaction to the book. You cannot help but by moved by the appalling conditions that these people and abject poverty. At the same time, I became increasing exasperated by the terrible decisions that some of the people made over and over again.
This is one of the best books I have read this year.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2004
This non-judgemental, captivating story of life in the Bronx is all the more powerful because it is real. For anyone interested in subcultures within the American experience this is a thoroughly engrossing book. For anyone who has ever questioned the judgement, or life-chioces of those entrenched in poverty this book provides the framework for understanding the cycles of love and abuse that perpetuate themselves. For anyone who has ever been sad to finish a wonderful novel because they were going to "miss the characters" this book provides a new dimension of captivation. It is tragic, touching, enlightening and stunningly well-written. It is a truly fascinating book.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2003
It took me less than two days to read "Random Family" from cover to cover - I only put it down when I absolutely had to. I'd known before that I'd led a sheltered, naive kind of life, and this book showed me a world I'd certainly heard about but never, praise God, had the misfortune to experience for myself. Ms. LeBlanc's writing style and thoroughly-documented detail allowed me to do so and thus educated me in a most effective way. "Random Family" should be a must-read for all.
I've read criticism pertaining to Ms. LeBlanc's participation, or, rather, her lack of it, in the telling of this tale. I believe she made the right choice in choosing to maintain a third-person perspective. Had she told the story from her own vantage point, or included herself as a character, the reader would not feel the full impact of the point she is trying to make. The experience and knowledge one gains from reading "Random Family" would only be diluted if obtained through the buffer the author's viewpoint would provide.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2006
It's not necessary to give a synopsis at this point since so many reviewers before me have covered that territory. I will say that this is a profound book, and I am amazed that the author spent 10-12 years with these folks gathering her material.
It definitely reads like a novel, in that it is engrossing and takes the reader straight into the lifetyle that she writes about.
It is very frustrating to 'watch' the various people in this book continue to make the same mistakes over and over and over again; upon each new pregnancy, I could almost hear myself say "WHY?" ~ these women could have taken advantage of free birth control through the government, but they chose to continue to use their abilities to procreate to hang on to men who weren't worth a second glance in the first place.
The desperation of the women is mind-boggling; how badly they want men who are destined for prison or whom already are in prison; how they do not see a better way for themselves by learning from their mother's mistakes, negligence and abuse.
Physical, verbal and emotional abuse is rampant, and pedophilia is a worry for mothers who are constantly leaving their daughters with acquaintances, friends, and even family members.
These people do not seem to learn from their past, or their mistakes. In fact, it appears by the end of the book that the third generation covered is on her way to repeating once again the vicious circle of poverty and teenage childbirth.
Nonetheless, I rooted for Coco, Cesar, and to a lesser degree, Jessica. I so wanted them to find a way to climb out of the hopelesness. I hope someday the author will do a follow-up.