There Are No Children Here - Book Review

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Book Review – There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz

There Are No Children Here is a story of the struggles two preteen boys live with while growing up in the projects. From the first pages the scene is set amongst the all too familiar gun fire blazing through the neighborhood. This story is of eleven year old Lafeyette and nine year old Pharoah dealing with the daily fight for survival in inner-city Chicago circa 1987. The boys are living in an apartment at the Henry Horner housing complex with their mother, LaJoe, their younger brother and sisters – the triplets, and a constant stream of people from their father Paul to their sister’s boyfriend’s brother staying on and off with them. Henry Horner is a housing project in inner-city Chicago. Between Henry Horner and a neighboring complex, 60,110 people resided here, 88 percent black, 46 percent below poverty level. (Kotlowitz, p12) This neighborhood has long been forgotten by the city of Chicago. There is no upkeep on the apartments, there are few police and the gangs have taken over. LaJoe is a loving mother that is doing everything she can to literally keep her boys alive. She has three older children who are anything but role models for the boys. LaShawn who is a drug addict, prostitute and mother of three. Paul Jr. who has already been to prison and Terence who is a drug dealer and father. Paul Sr., the boys’ father, loves them very much but cannot provide much of anything due to his drug addiction. Lafeyette is the strong, protective older brother. He is the man of the house concentrating on teaching life lessons to Pharoah and relieving some of the burdens from his mother. Pharoah is sensitive, studious and does everything he can to retain his innocence and youth. In the beginning Lafeyette and Pharoah are able to keep up a decent attitude. The boys tease, run around and make the best of what they have. Way too often they are ducking for cover or rounding up their siblings from the random gunfire but usually the boys are able to return to their “normal” life. As normal – chaotic life continues, Pharoah develops a stutter as a coping method while Lafeyette gets more angry and detached. LaJoe struggles to get assistance for her family and deals with the constant stress and worry of being able to provide for her five small children. She is forced to depend more and more on Lafayette which is requiring him to act as a man. Lafeyette always welcomes helping his mother and feels obligated to take on some of the stressors but it has stripped him of his childhood. The boys do not have a father figure and their older siblings are not setting a good example. They are not getting much support from their school since it is one of the most underfunded and has low success rates. They have a constant stress of life and death on their shoulders. Their apartment has rotting appliances, trash, dead animals and is roach infested so is an additional health stressor. The boys have never ending reminders that they are not important to society – watching their mother struggle, watching their home and school deteriorate, fear of police, fear of gangs and fear of death. Lafeyette and Pharoah rarely develop friendships because they have learned not to trust or rely on anyone but themselves and maybe family. As the boys get older some of their friends or acquaintances are involved in risky business including gangs, drugs, thieving and other delinquency. Throughout the book tragic incidents happen taking the lives of people in the neighborhood. Since these friendships are so rare, the impact it has is significant. Lafeyette becomes more aggressive, cynical and depressed. He is fighting against becoming the expected criminal this neighbor is known to produce and against the pressure to join a gang. Pharoah eventually overcomes his stutter, defined his morals and becomes more successful in his studies. Unfortunately both boys have a realization...
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