AMAZING GRACE: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol
Kirkus Star

AMAZING GRACE: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation

Email this review


A wrenching cri de coeur from a section of New York City where drugs, AIDS, cold, hunger, and rats who feed on babies are part of a child's everyday world. Kozol is a tireless witness to the travesty of childhood experienced by so many young Americans. As politicians slash budgets, pronouncing that the poor have only themselves to blame, and academics argue about the rise and fall of the bell curve, he writes about the wretched lives of children whose families are racked by illness, tragedy, violence--and, yes, drugs, alcohol, and teenage pregnancy. What makes Kozol's books (Savage Inequalities, 1991, etc.) so powerful is their simplicity. They are graphic observations of life in urban neighborhoods that are, literally and figuratively, the garbage dumps of the privileged. For this volume he spends time in the Mott Haven section of New York City's South Bronx, a 15-minute subway ride from Manhattan's elite East Side. There the Hispanic and black residents are among the ""poorest of the poor""--median household income is $7,600 a year, or $147 a week to cover rent, food, clothes, transportation, roach powder, cleaning supplies, phone calls, and attendance at funerals. More than one-third of their number are children. The children suffer depression and anxiety; a disproportionate number are asthmatics. These children are taught to crawl on their stomachs away from windows when they hear gunshots. What about the ""breakdown of the family""? Says a minister: ""Everything breaks down in a place like this . . . the pipes . . . the phone . . . the electricity and heat. Why wouldn't the family break down also?"" What is remarkable is that under these circumstances these same children laugh, draw happy pictures, eat ices, and share the pizza slice that is their dinner with someone hungrier. This time, Kozol has no answers; he does pass along some comfort (borrowed from a local church) in the form of the last verse of ""Amazing Grace"": ""Through many dangers, toils, and snares . . . grace will lead me home.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0060976977
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Crown