158 of 167 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2005
To hardcore conservatives who believe that the plight of the poor is no one's fault but their own, I say: Read this book. To hardcore liberals who believe the poor are oppressed by society and not responsible for their situation, I say: Read this book. "There are No Children Here" shows that life is more complicated than either extreme. The lives of the people in this book are governed by complex interactions of both personal choices and unavoidable bad luck. The author sympathetically examines the terrible hardships his subjects were born into, but never shies away from showing how their situation is perpetuated by the harmful behavior and relationships they choose to pursue. Whatever your ideology is going in, you will not look at poverty the same way after reading this book.
46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2000
This book describes a social atmosphere that few people actually experience or fully understand. It only provides a glimpse into the lives of two boys growing up in one of Chicago's public housing areas, but it will leave an everlasting impression in the minds of its readers. Alex Kotlowitz follows the lives of these two young boys as they attempt to navigate through the gang wars, police and government deficiencies, and the poverty stricken Chicago slums. The boys are under 15 years of age, yet they are forced to make decisions that people much older than them struggle with every day. They are forced to struggle through their childhood in poverty and without a father to guide them in those struggles. Kotlowitz looks at the two boys as they watch their friends and family members perish in gang and drug wars, police brutality, or hauled off to prison for other crimes. They also watch as their mother struggles to provide for her family and the governments inefficient handling of Chicago's public housing. The author is able to show the young boys struggle to get an education and succeed in an area filled with failures. They have few role models to guide their decisions and few opportunities for success. Alex Kotlowitz is able to point out the constant struggle these young boys have faced and the opportunities that they are deprived of. He shows how the environment both physically and mentally hampers the two boys opportunity for success and a normal childhood. The book provides an excellent look into the mental struggles they faced as their friends got caught up in gangs, were killed, and started committing petty crimes. Overall this book provides an excellent depiction of life in the Chicago public housing, and the struggle of those two boys as they attempt to survive and succeed in the ghettos.
36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2003
It's been a few years since I've read this book in its entirety. I first did so as a requirement for my college minor - Youth Agency Administration. This book, quite simply, changed everything for me. Growing up in a small farming community far away from the violence of the inner city, the only view I ever had of the life led by Lafayette & Pharoah came from snippets of the news from larger cities or from movies. It's easy to question the accuracy of both. However, with every page of "There Are No Children Here," I was drawn into the struggle these boys and their family & friends faced every day. I, as many others who have read their story, do wonder what has happened to all of these people since the ending of the book. Bottom line: Yes, the author's elaborations can seem a bit contrived at times, but the facts of the story alone speak for themselves. And, honestly, given the power of this account, what author would not be a bit emotional & contrived? That's the point. I recommend this book to people all the time...even to my boyfriend who grew up in a Chicago neighborhood similar to the one haunted by Lafayette & Pharoah. Regardless of your reason for reading it, your own background, or what you think your views are now, you will bring something away from the experience.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 1999
Alex Kotlowitz's novel was written during the middle and late 1980s. It accurately and truthfully describes the living conditions that existed in a Chicago housing project. He details a three year period in the lives of ten year old Lafayette and seven year old Pharaoh which includes their special adventures on the railroad tracks and their constant fear of gang violence and death. The family is caught up in a "culture of poverty". Mr. Kotlowitz includes many, many true characters including the then mayor, housing execs, politicians, police, and gangbangers in the book. But the beauty of the book is the close bond between the brothers in the mist of surrounding chaos. Today Lafayette is still adjusting, but alive. Pharaoh has graduated high school with the help of Mr. Kotlowitz's, and his mother, LaJoe is well. They have since move from the housing projects, but still reside on the westside of Chicago. Mr. Kotkowitz lives in a suburb outside of Chicago. I was police officer in those projects when this book was written.
31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2004
Make no mistake: this book should be read and contemplated from cover to cover. I am horrified to see some of the reviews given of this book such as given by Mr. Galt, and the unidentified 'reader' who should be too ashamed to reveal who he really is. Read the reviews by the above individuals, and stare into the face of brass hard cruelty and ignorant misunderstanding.
Kotlowitz's book is a look into the lives of two young boys growing up in the hard parts of Chicago, and very sucessfully displays many of the struggles that happen in such areas. The book goes into depth into the lives of the individuals who the book is centered on, and really gives an inside out look at the situation that way too many people are forced to grow up in: in the 'other America' that too many of us are content to ignore. The strong reactions by some (such as Mr. Galt) to this book gives good illustration to what Jürgan Moltmann wisely points out, that "[t]he people who enjoy the modern world because they live on `the sunny side of the street' fear the downfall of their world..." (Moltmann 1996, 135). Kotlowitz brings us into the the 'dark side of the street' to see the view of the world from the eyes of two young boys.
Read this book for yourself and make your own final judgements, but in my opinion and many others, this is an excellent read.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 1999
Format: Audio Cassette
For those readers who have commented that this book is boring, I have one question....is the existence of this type of devasting poverty boring and insignificant to your partiticular life? This is not a ficitional story of the hardships and struggles of the River's family; rather, it is a harsh reality that exists in our country, one of which we turn our backs and close our eyes to daily. This book is touching only if you understand and acknowledge the facts that perpetuate poverty and welfare-denpendency in the United States. I believe that the readers who comment on LaJoe's laziness are truly portraying their ignorance and stupidity in their comments. In my opinion, this book paints a vivid picture, too vivid for some, of the America that most people do not want to see. My advice for others- read this book because you will be shocked a horrified at our "land of the free." Are those in poverty truly free or are they drowning in a world that smothered them to begin with?
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2004
I might not have gotten to the second half of this book if it hadn't been assigned for a class. But I'm so glad I did--while the book started out a little slow (a lot of great writing and key information, but not a whole lot to pull the reader onward in the first 100 pages), by the end I was incapable of thinking about poverty in the same way.
While the information in the book is now dated (by journalism standards), Kotlowitz's portrait of the Chicago housing projects is incredibly moving--even readers on the extreme right will be hard-pressed to keep your emotional distance from the characters (surely no one deserves to live in an apartment with raw sewage bubbling up into the kitchen sink).
But though the author could easily have let his narrative degenerate into a depressing, disgusting account of violence, crime, and drugs, he does not: Kotlowitz is determined to present the human side of Pharoah, Lafeyette, LaJoe and their family. Like any other family, they also have their joyous moments--birthday parties and Christmas excursions. Like any other little kid, Pharoah wants to win the spelling bee. Like any adolescent, Lafeyette struggles with peer pressure. And like all mothers, LaJoe worries about her children. But the odds they're trying to overcome are enormous--the neighborhood gangs are omnipresent, and graduating from high school is usually an "if" not a "when." The reader can't help but root for them, all the way to the end.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2006
Format: School & Library Binding
All of the positive reviewers of this book got it right. This book paints an equally grim view of the disturbingly painful(and unfortunate given we live in the most powerful nation in the world) existence of some of those most marginalized by society. And yet, I'd call it just as equally uplifting in terms of the triumph on the human spirit.
This book is a year-long documentation of the experiences of two young boys growing up in the projects on Chicago's West Side (just a mile from the downtown loop) and their families attempts to get out, get ahead and live a better life (in essence the American dream, though this image is never called by name in the book) during the late 1980s.
The big picture you'll get from this book is the horrific and violent conditions these boys face and must cope with on a daily basis. Lafeyette, 12, and Pharoah, 9, create an interesting though loving brotherly contrast.
Given the environment, you've got little Pharoah, smart, alert and very patriotic, who buys into the belief through education he can lift himself and his family out of poverty. He's independent and stunningly focused on success at his age.
Lafeyette's like the older extreme of Pharoah though further along in life, he's starting to lose faith in the myth of the American dream given 3 significant acts : 1) a close/positive friend being mistakenly murdered by police, 2)a celebrated cousin graduating from high school only to struggle to find work, struggle to pay for part-time college classes all while STILL LIVING in the projects 3)the mental wear of just being tired of living in his conditions & being consumed by general vibe of hopelessness that surrounds him.
Perhaps the saddest part of this read is the overwhelming sense of hopelessness that most of the inhabitants hold that they'll never rise above these circumstances despite all of their attempts to do so.
Economic empowerwent, pursuit of excellence and education are pretty much at war with politics of the day, the lure of the evils of streetlife (drugs, drug selling, gang culture) and even religious faith (innocent little Pharoah actually stops believing in God b/c he doesn't think he's listening to his prayers to get them out of the projects and away from violence).
Kotlowitz does an amazing job of giving you enough color to get the full picture of just about every person he details in the book. You'll have your moments when you look at a person, perhaps judgmentally for making a bad personal decision, but you'll get to the root of a lot of the problems of these people so much so that you almost relate to them as if they're your own family/friends.
That being said you'll more than likely come away with an equal feeling of people taking responsibility for their lives/actions AS WELL AS a sense of what the government should be doing to make sure all people have the shot at the American Dream regardless of race or class -- after reading this book, set in the 1980s, you'll definitely get a sense that not providing equal resources and access to quality education can be blamed on the powers that be.
This book puts a human face on families forced to live in the most inhumane of positions in life & just goes to show that for all those critics who'll point the blame at the poor for their own circumstances, please remember there are innocent children born into this lifestyle that suffer physically & mentally on a daily basis and aren't really being given the "chance" in life they deserve.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2001
I think the readers who express dismay at LaJoe and Mr. Kotlowitz for the lack of personal responsibility potrayed in the book are not completely off track; rather, they might be missing the point. The children, like Lafayette and Pharoah, are the victims and the ones for whom our hearts should ache. I live near public housing in Chicago, and I'm not sure what's worse, thinking that the children have to live there, or thinking that they've no place else to go. It's a third world nation in our own back yard and the children are there through no fault of their own. Yes, Mr. Kotlowitz had an agenda, but I truly believe it was an agenda of a better quality of life for America's children. When children in the ghetto see and deal with violence everyday and receive no understanding or services or tools to deal with that violence, how do we expect an escape from the violence to be so easy? Lafayette is the same age as I am and I can't help but wonder where and how he is today.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2000
Mr. Kotlowitz has brought to the eyes of this very sheltered and unsuspecting reader the real truths and horrors of the projects. Through the personal experiences of two brothers, both children, Kotlowitz portrays a vivid picture depicting the "slums of America". From personal observations it's easy to see that this book stirs both good and bad emotions in whoever reads it. Should I feel sorry for the young mother, LaJoe, who has eight children, as well as grandchildren, as well as friends of boyfriends of the children living in her three room apartment all surviving on welfare, or should I condemn her for the not so smart decisions she made? It's easy to point fingers when I don't have the evidence, but after reading this book, I've had to reevaluate my thoughts about the projects and whose fault it is that people live there and get lost in the downfall of their civilization. In conclusion, I suggest this book to everyone, in hopes that their eyes are opened as much as mine were.