Here, Wall Street Journal reporter Kotlowitz expands his 1987 series on two brothers living in Chicago's Henry Homer housing projects into a vivid, novelistic portrait of life in ""the 'jets."" Kotlowitz follows the two boys, Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers, as they approach adolescence, an age that endangers their lives. Their daily activities--searching for snakes along the railroad tracks or walking through their decimated playground--are colored by a fear that Kotlowitz compares with a soldier's post-Vietnam syndrome. A war zone between the ""gangbangers"" who leave bullet holes in the family's living-room curtains, the brothers' high-rise complex is rarely visited by outsiders, including police, caseworkers, or housing-authority managers. In the midst of shootings, visits by his drug-addicted father, and an older brother's court battle that ends in an eight-year jail sentence, Pharoah spends months preparing for his school's annual spelling bee. He places second, but his victory celebration is cut short when he comes home from school to learn that Lafeyette's sole role model has been shot in the head by police. Pharoah retreats from reality and continually insists ""I'm too young to understand,"" while Lafeyette becomes bitter and is plagued by nightmares of his helplessness. Kotlowitz does not seek to offer an explanation or solution to the children's brutal lives, but his jarring descriptions provide an affecting document.