A young man finds joy in a “place they said no one could love.”
In 2009, at age 23, Philp bought a house for $500 in Detroit: an abandoned 1903 Queen Anne with a wraparound porch. One of many such bargains available in the bankrupt city, the house and the story of its yearslong rehabilitation are the focus of this fresh, honest, often stirring debut, which began as a BuzzFeed feature. A shy, idealistic working-class white kid from rural Michigan, the author arrived in the 80 percent black city with no friends, job, or money. Fixing the house “would be a protest of sorts,” he reasoned, an expression of his contempt for the wealthy suburban lifestyle of Ann Arbor, where he had just attended the University of Michigan. Working odd jobs, he found himself in a frightening city of wild dogs, frequent shootings, suspicious fires, and near-daily offers of drugs or sex. One new neighbor, Zeno, a crack dealer, asked him, “are you wearing a wire, motherfucker?” Another told Philp about a county auction of thousands of abandoned houses, an event that kicks off this deeply felt, sharply observed personal quest to create meaning and community out of the fallen city’s “cinders of racism and consumerism and escape.” Often hungry and scared, the author had help from his parents and new friends (most wild spirits sharing in the adventure of a revitalizing city) in working with abandoned materials to cobble his broken-down home, from chimney and stairs to foundation. The grueling process not only reveals his growing maturity, but also becomes a window on the look and feel of present-day Detroit and the neighborly people struggling to achieve satisfying lives there. Philp ably outlines the broad issues of race and class in the city, but it is the warmth and liveliness of his storytelling that will win many readers. “It is your sacred duty to find hope somewhere,” he reminds us.
A standout in the Detroit rehab genre.