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Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago Paperback – May 1, 1998
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This heartbreaking and inspiring book goes a long way toward fulfilling the wish one of its authors, LeAlan Jones, makes in his epigraph: "You must learn our America as we must learn your America, so that, maybe, someday, we can become one." Based on hours and hours of taped interviews that Jones and Lloyd Newman, two high school students, conducted for two National Public Radio documentaries they prepared in 1993 and 1995, Our America is a no-holds-barred look at the devastatingly poor Chicago neighborhood in which they live. It's a world where elementary school students learn about sex and drugs before they learn how to read, and where many boys do not expect to live to be 20. You finish the book marveling not that so many of those who people it are trapped, but wondering that anyone survives at all. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Library Journal
When they were 13, Jones and Newman gained notoriety by telling personal stories of life in the poor, violent, and desolate world of Chicago's Ida B. Wells Homes in the award-winning National Public Radio (NPR) documentaries "Ghetto Life 101" and "Remorse: The 14 Stories of Eric Morse." Drawing from more than 100 hours of tapes unused in the original broadcasts, the now 17-year-old authors, with assistance from NPR producer Isay, have created a frank and provocative view of America's minorities from the inside out and bottom up. Scrutinizing life in their poor South Side neighborhood through the experiences of friends, families, and teachers, the authors reveal how disenfranchised from mainstream America the ghetto has become. Jones poignantly states in the opening, "We live in a second America where the laws of the land don't apply and the laws of the street do." A powerful, rousing message for all concerned readers.?Michael A. Lutes, Univ. of Notre Dame Lib., Ind.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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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.
LeAllan & Lloyd are living testimonials to what must be overcome each and every day when one is in such circumstances. It makes one wonder how many others are feeling so trapped and possess such strong desires to better themselves in the midst of such tragedy.
I related to this book because I live close to this neighborhood, but I feel lucky that my life is so much better.
Anyone interested in learning more about the plight of the inner city should read this book. Not because it proposes any grand plans for fixing the problem, but because it gives the reader a view into a world rarely, if ever, encountered by most Americans.
LeAlan, especially, has a gift for conversation that will leave readers asking "Why has this been allowed to happen?" In a country as prosperous as ours, no one should have been left to fend for themselves in this manner.
Most recent customer reviews
Also very sad.