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Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx Paperback – 4 Sep 2009


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Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx + Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City
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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; (Reissue) edition (4 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007163436
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007163434
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 2.2 x 12.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 122,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'Remarkable…filled with indelible images and heartbreaking moments. I cannot praise it enough. A towering achievement.' Daily Telegraph

'An extraordinary social document which is also a riveting read.' Observer

'I always thought the phrase that critics occasionally use – "If you buy just one book this year, make it this one" – quite meaningless until I read “Random Family”.' Books of the Year, New Statesman

'A brilliant book. LeBlanc sinks into the world of her subjects, identifying exactly and in intimate detail the successive trials by which they are afflicted.' Sunday Times

'This book took 10 years to report and it may well stand 10 years of reading.' Editors' Top Ten Books of the Year, New York Times

'A startling portrait of how demanding it is to be poor.' Books of the Year, Economist

'LeBlanc's work shines as a monumental work of narrative journalism. Poverty is the oldest story in town, and the trick is to write about it in a way that makes us look at it anew. LeBlanc's reportage does just that, and shows us exactly what we're missing. Read it and wonder why.' Scotsman

'There are more drugs, violence and abuse in chapter one of this chronicle of inner-city women's lives than most of us will ever experience. Disturbing, complicated and emotional, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's book will haunt you.' Marie Claire

About the Author

Adrian Nicole LeBlanc has written for the New York Times, Esquire, Village Voice and Elle. She was a non-fiction fellow at Radcliffe’s Bunting Institute.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 7 Oct 2004
Format: Paperback
An absolutely riveting read, the best I have read all year. Adrian Nicole le Blanc gives an intense insight into the 'ghetto' lifestyle of the Bronx throughout the 80's - 90's, highlighting how America is not the always the land where dreams can come true, instead documenting how hard life is for the under-previledged in the worlds most powerful country.
Le Blanc's style of writing flows easily, and takes you on a journey with the characters, managing to draw you into their lives, making it easy fo feel that you are reading fiction as opposed to a true story. 10 out of 10
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 23 Dec 2003
Format: Hardcover
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc has pulled off the ultimate feat in fly-on-the-wall writing. Her presence in the lives of those she has so studiously documented seems almost invisible. She writes about the lives of Coco & Cesar - a modern Romeo and Juliet perhaps, with all the same passion and self-destruction. Also the beautiful Jessica: a symbol of potential not-realised. The research, consideration, love and honesty that has gone into this book astounds me. I wept on the tube, on more than one occasion. Yet it is not a depressing book: it is uplifting, if anything. It shows how people in the worst situations can make the most of their bad lots. It shows the dark underbelly of American life, and it shows that this belly rumbles with passion, affection, hard-graft and love, as well as trauma, hate, and poverty so ingrained that the characters can imagine little less in their lives. Serena, Jessica's daughter, gets a limo-ride for her 18th birthday. She drives round their block, not knowing where else to go.
New York hasn't been done this well since Tom Wolfe wrote 'Bonfire of the Vanities', and this ain't fiction.
Buy it.
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By A Customer on 28 Dec 2004
Format: Paperback
This book gives the reader an inside peek into the world that many are fortunate enough not to have seen. If you're curious why the Bronx has such a bad reputation, this book is for you. It follows the life of a troubled family, in a typical American ghetto. There is no happy ending, or an ending at all as far as I could see. It's just a glimpse into another world.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 246 reviews
102 of 112 people found the following review helpful
AN ASTONISHING WORK 30 Jan 2003
By Gail Cooke - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
All of us have read many family stories but surely none as compelling or heartbreaking as this.
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, who has written for the New York Times Magazine, Esquire, The Village Voice, and others, gained unprecedented access to those living in an impoverished section of the Bronx. For some ten years the author shared their existence as she documented struggles, defeats, and transient victories. "Random Family" is an astonishing work of straightforward reportage; it is also written with heart.
A stunning picture of life in the Bronx drug trade, "Random Family" is traced through the experiences of two girls, Jessica and Coco. In Part I, "The Street" we are introduced to Jessica who lived on Tremont Avenue, "...one of the poorer blocks in a very poor section of the Bronx. She dressed even to go to the store. Chance was opportunity in the ghetto and you had to be prepared for anything....A sixteen-year-old Puerto Rican girl with bright hazel eyes, a generous mouth, and a voluptuous shape, she radiated intimacy wherever she went. You could be talking to her in the bustle of Tremont and feel as though lovers' confidences were being exchanged beneath a tent of sheets. Guys in cars offered rides. Women pursed their lips, grown men got stupid, boys made promises they could not keep."
Jessica's man of choice is Boy George, a young heroin dealer with money to spare and a willingness to do anything to earn more. He provides undreamed of escapes: trips, jewelry buying sprees, and a car that James Bond would envy. He's also free with physical abuse.
Coco, a fourteen-year-old, is the other girl. "Boys called her Shorty because she was short, and Lollipop because she tucked lollipops in the topknot of her ponytail; her teacher called her Motor Mouth because she talked a lot."
But, school wasn't high on Coco's list of priorities. She has eyes for Cesar, Jessica's younger brother, who is working hard at becoming a thug. This pair also enjoys the big time for a while, if you can relish luxury while your friends are being murdered.
Teenage pregnancies are the norm, and being old at 30 isn't a surprise. Prison becomes home.
"Random Family" is a look at a part of our country we would like to think does not exist. But, it does and the awareness of it sears. We owe a debt of gratitude to Adrian Nicole LeBlanc for her honesty and dogged courage.
- Gail Cooke
206 of 245 people found the following review helpful
Very mixed emotions 27 April 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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.
53 of 62 people found the following review helpful
Profound 25 April 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
All-consuming read that leaves the reader to make up their own mind 18 Oct 2005
By Jessica Lux - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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
Both random and familiar: applying faces to actions 27 Jan 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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.
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