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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Book Review: Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol

This book wasn't exactly what I was expecting because with Mr. Kozol, I figured it would mostly be about education. But that's about the only thing he doesn't really touch on much in this book. Mostly it's about a single neighborhood in the Bronx: Mott Haven. I found it telling that I lived in New York City for almost five years, in Queens, and I never even heard of this neighborhood.

Given the amount of crime in this neighborhood, you'd think it would be on the news every night, but given the commonality of that crime, it wasn't. In this book, Mr. Kozol gets to know a few dozen members of this community, focusing on the children, and tells us what their lives are like, how they get by, what their options are (or aren't), and a little bit about how their lives got this way. Along the way, many people, including many children, die. Yet there are stories of hope, even if they are few and far between. I was particularly touched by the drug kingpin who declared no one was to be selling any drugs during the hour when children are walking home from school. And also in the local "park"--although it seemed more like an empty lot--there was a tree with teddy bears hanging from branches that was an unofficial safe place where mothers could play with their children and the dealers and gang members would leave them alone.

Overall this was a fascinating but depressing book. The only hope was that some people could get out of there. There wasn't any hope for the neighborhood generally. But what else do we expect in an area with no/terrible access to medical facilities, awful poorly funded schools, no jobs, falling-down buildings police won't even go in. This book was published in 1995, so I do hope there have been some improvements, but I am not holding my breath. I truly admire Mr. Kozol for giving voice to a segment of society usually ignored by the rest of us. But we can't fix the problems we don't see.

I got this book at my local used bookstore, The Book Rack.

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