Comparisons to Alex Kotlowitz's There Are No Children Here (1991) are inevitable and warranted.



An observant, gutsy journalist immerses herself in the lives of marginal Bronx residents.

Freelance writer LeBlanc wanted to understand a nearby culture different from her own, so she won permission to enter the lives of a Bronx family, and stayed more than ten years. Her story begins in the mid-1980s, as 16-year-old Jessica cruises Tremont Avenue, hoping to attract young men amid the drug trafficking and otherwise colorful street life on corner after corner. In the first of 39 densely populated chapters, newcomer LeBlanc introduces Jessica's extremely extended family, including her 32-year-old mother Lourdes; brother Robert, with whom Jessica shares a biological father; half-sister Elaine; half-brother Cesar; and Big Daddy, the 25-year-old meat-market butcher who fell in love with Lourdes after Jessica, the original object of his desire, introduced the couple. Boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, partners in crime, law-abiding friends, law-enforcement personnel, social workers, and merchants—all make cameo appearances, disappear, then sometimes reappear in dizzying fashion. LeBlanc’s narrative style, heavily reliant on novelistic techniques, is almost always gripping, although the storyline occasionally becomes confusing. Jessica’s never absent for long as the connecting character, but with so many supporting players in this real-life soap opera, a refresher on who’s who and who did what is often needed. Near the end, in 2001, as Jessica walks through the neighborhood, she is no longer a man magnet. She is many pounds heavier, self-conscious about her figure, but alive and doing better than just getting by, thanks to a security job in a bank. It is now Jessica's 16-year-old daughter Serena and Serena's friends who draw the attention of the men along the street. How will life turn out for Serena? LeBlanc has some thoughts that she works subtly into the narrative, but this is one saga the author can’t control.

Comparisons to Alex Kotlowitz's There Are No Children Here (1991) are inevitable and warranted.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-684-86387-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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