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The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League Paperback – July 28, 2015
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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A heartfelt and riveting biography of the short life of a talented young African American man who escapes the slums of Newark for Yale University only to succumb to the dangers of the streets and of one s own nature when he returns home When author Jeff Hobbs arrived at Yale University he became fast friends with the man who would be his college roommate for four years Robert Peace Robert s life was rough from the beginning in the crime ridden streets of Newark in the 1980s with his father in jail and his mother earning less than 15 000 a year But Robert was a brilliant student and it was supposed to get easier when he was accepted to Yale where he studied molecular biochemistry and biophysics But it didn t get easier Robert carried with him the difficult dual nature of his existence fronting in Yale and at home Through an honest rendering of Robert s relationships with his struggling mother with his incarcerated father with his teachers and friends and fellow drug dealers The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace encompasses the most enduring conflicts in America race class drugs community imprisonment education family friendship and love It s about the collision of two fiercely insular worlds the ivy covered campus of Yale University and Newark New Jersey and the difficulty of going from one to the other and then back again It s about poverty the challenges of single motherhood and the struggle to find male role models in a community where a man is more likely to go to prison than to college It s about reaching one s greatest potential and taking responsibility for your family no matter the cost It s about trying to live a decent life in America But most all the story is about the tragic life of one singular brilliant young man His end a violent one is heartbreaking and powerful and unforgettable An instant New York Times bestseller named a best book of the year by The New York Times Book Review Amazon and
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The only reason I gave it four stars instead of five was because the author seemed to completely miss something obvious: Robert Peace was clearly an addict and probably an alcoholic. The book describes his daily drinking and drug use and hangovers, noting the huge quantities he ingested, and the progressively greater quantities he required as time went on. And at one point, the author does mention, almost in passing, that Robert considered himself a "high functioning" addict. But that's not the kind of thing that merits just a passing mention. The inability to form a healthy intimate relationship, the emotional development stalled at the age (adolescence) that drug use began, the choice of menial work that you can do even when out-of-it, the grandiose plans coexisting with a profound fear of change: all of it is classic Addiction 101.
In fairness to the author, who is still young, I can see how he would miss the obvious truth staring everyone in the face. A lot of people in Robert Peace's orbit -- the Yale set very much included -- drank alcoholically and abused drugs, too. So even though Robert's using stood out, the author perhaps mistook it as a difference of degree rather than kind. And of course, the other issues that may have served to obscure the addiction were real, too, and serious: the anguish of not quite belonging in either of two very different worlds, the loss of his father to prison and then to the grave, the huge expectations placed on him by himself and others, and the tremendous psychospiritual difficulty of doing better than your parents, even if they want you to. By his own accounting, Robert used drugs to cope with the chronic anxiety of his own schizophregenic existence. The problem is that of all the very serious and legitimate difficulties of his life, there was not a single one that his addiction did not make worse. I hope his soul has found the peace that so eluded him in life. There but for the grace of God . . .
Rob was a brilliant, remarkable and flawed young man. He was trying to live a dreamlike in America. This was a touching, sometimes hard to read book. I knew the ending yet I wanted a different outcome for this young man and for his mother.
I was reminded by the similarities of his mother to the mothers of yore who wanted their children to accept life's challenges and become model citizens. Her sacrifices, tears, sleepless nights and dreams of success were diminished, in his case, to bitter disappointment and despair.
To read about Robert's life, as told by Jeff Hobbs, reveals the close and personal bond between them as they engaged in trivial shibboleths of their disparate cultures. This was a warm and meaningful gesture for Jeff to commit their "togetherness" with a book tribute about his friend. I enjoyed it immensely because it conveyed a poignant and terrific message about shared dreams, trials, tribulations and ambitions even though the different journey they took never converged.
Bruce E. McLeod, Jr.
Las Vegas, Nevada
16 January 2015
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