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There Are No Children Here

4.23 of 5 stars 4.23  ·  rating details  ·  8,953 ratings  ·  647 reviews
There Are No Children Here, the true story of brothers Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers, ages 11 and 9 at the start, brings home the horror of trying to make it in a violence-ridden public housing project. The boys live in a gang-plagued war zone on Chicago's West Side, literally learning how to dodge bullets the way kids in the suburbs learn to chase baseballs.

"If I grow up,
Paperback, 324 pages
Published February 1st 1991 by Doubleday Image, US
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Amar Pai
For those wondering what happened to Pharoah and Lafayette, here's a quote from the author, taken from a 2011 Chicago Tribune article:
In 1991, the same year the book was published, Henry Horner residents embarked on a legal battle that led to a federal consent decree to have the site redeveloped. The towering high-rises were eventually demolished and replaced with town houses, condominiums and public housing apartments.

Public housing now in Chicago is "not perfect, but it's quite different from
This book changed my entire perception of the power of journalism. Kotlowitz follows the lives of two young boys growing up in the projects of the near West Side of Chicago. I consider it a seminal book in my life. It was both heart-wrenching and mind-opening. The writing is smooth and thoughtful. It is exhaustively researched, and his access to the subjects just astounds me. That he could get them to trust him as much as they did is astonishing. Then the story he records just astounds. Before r ...more
Anne Tommaso
This book ended abruptly for me. I think it's because I wanted to keep hearing about Lafayette and Pharoah's days...make sure they were okay. I've felt a void not reading about them since I finished it. That is one sign of an exceptional book.

There is so much chaos in the Lafayette and Pharoah's lives. The book affirmed the importance of school with all its rules and rituals. The Spelling Bee! The biggest idea I take from this story is, as a teacher, school can offer some order, structure, some
At the time this book was written, I was nearly the same age as the main characters and living only 12 miles away in the near west suburb of Bellwood. We thought we were poor back then but this book has opened my eyes to bottomless abyss of poverty.

I'm now convinced that it is nearly impossible for people to rise out of their circumstances. We're not all born with equal opportunities. This book describes a culture where children can't learn because they're hungry/tired/distracted by violence, w
A story of two young brothers growing up in an infamous project in Chicago known as Horner Homes. The book spans 4 years and deals mostly with describing how the boys are affected by poverty, violence, drugs, gangs and run-ins with the police. Won the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Journalism.

I'd been meaning to read this book for some time now. While visiting a friend, I saw it on her shelf and asked her how was it. She said, "It's good, but it's depressing. It's really depressing."

I'd say it was
I grew up in Chicago - Northwest side, Logan Square - and always thought my family was kind of poor. We wore hand-me-downs. We didn't go on vacations. I knew better than to ask for anything because the answer was always "No, we can't afford it", whether I was asking for money for a school trip - or lunch at the Woolworth counter. But we had a decent apartment in a safe, lower middle class neighborhood, adequate schools, and plenty to eat.

The lifestyles and environment of people who lived in Publ
Frank Stein

I realize now I've been reading a lot of books about the old Chicago projects. Many of them tend to blur together into one tangled mess of shootings, pregnancies, drugs, and live-in fourth cousins, but this one really broke my heart.

Instead of trying to detail every catastrophic news blurb that makes it out of the projects, a white reporter named Kotlowitz somehow manages to spend years hanging out with just two project boys, Lafeyette and Pharaoh. He sees Pharaoh's first birthday party, which h
Raquel Richardson
I read this book over the Christmas holiday. It's an old read, but still a good story and I'm sure lots of information is similar to how it is today (sadly). Two major things bugged me about this... 1) So many people in roles who are to help kids in these situations just gave up. I was reminded to never, ever, judge people and their situation, desire, capacity, etc. I need to always meet people where they are, not where I think they are and 2) Oprah helps people all around the world but these ki ...more
This book is a true story about two boys that grew up in the project. It talks about how their mom protected them from the dangers of their situation. All around the boys were drugs, gangs, and violence. Everyday there was a shooting right in front of their house. Also their house was full of cockroaches no matter how many times the supervisor of the building sprayed. Their house was never what they wanted but they made it work for them. They take their terrible situation and turn it into someth ...more
Elizabeth Lockhart
This nonfiction account follows the lives of Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers, two brothers growing up in Chicago in the late 1980s. Lafeyette and Pharoah live in the Henry Horner Homes—a public housing development—with their mother, LaJoe, and an assortment of other relatives who come and go at random. Though LaJoe does what she can to keep her children safe and off the streets, the boys are daily subjected to violence, murder, gang warfare, and the damaging effects that drugs can have on a communi ...more
Nichole Flynn
fucking devastating. you should read this book...everyone should.
An non-fictional account of American poverty as experienced by two adolescent boys and their mother in a Chicago housing project during the late 1980s. The author was a young journalist who initially became acquainted with the family while doing a related story for the Wall Street Journal. He felt compelled to elaborate on what he saw by spending several days a week and many weekends just hanging out with the kids and their mom over a two year period, and then wrote this book about it. He interv ...more
Kathleen Hagen
There are no Children Here: the Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America, by Alex Kotlowitz, narrated by Dion Graham, produced by Blackstone Audio, downloaded from

This is the true life portrait of two boys, Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers, ages 11 and 9 when the story begins in 1987. The author, a famous journalist, kept track of the family for four years. This included the two boys, their mother, and the six other children she had, plus a father who lived there sometimes, and
Lisa Van Winkle
Fabulous book that had me rooting for the main character from page 3. This book offers a rare glimpse of what it's truly like to grow up among the worst of the worst housing projects in Chicago. Set in the 1980s but might as well be any decade as the issues never seem to change. The author tells the story by chronicling the lives of two young kids over a 2-year period as they struggle with family issues, gang violence, peer pressure, drugs, and much more. The younger of the two children is an ab ...more
This is a wonderful book. In some ways, much has changed since Kotlowitz wrote this book: the Henry Horner Homes have been demolished in Chicago -- a relief considering the poor construction documented in the book, many cities are experiencing an urban renewal, and though Chicago is still plagued with violence, it's down significantly from the era this book documents (possibly due to the absence of lead). But at the same time, much has stayed the same. Poverty still limits far too many children ...more
Dennis Henn
Painful, depressing, and mostly hopeless. Those were the feelings I had reading Kotlowitz's book detailing the lives of families, particularly two boys, "imprisoned" in the projects of Chicago in the late 1980s. This must be a bit what living in a refugee camp must be like. This must be what living in Afghanistan or Iraq or Gaza must be like. Gangs, drugs, crime, lack of opportunity, distrust of the police and legal system, no employment opportunity. How does anyone escape? How does anyone survi ...more
Terrol Williams
Not sure how I hadn't known about this book previously. A marvel of clarity and unflinching honesty that never descends to become maudlin, cheap, or manipulative. If you want to get the beginnings of understanding Baltimore's riots or what class differences look like in the real world, this is a good place to start. I am changed for having read this.
Sheena  at Hot Eats and Cool Reads
This is one of my favorite books. It's so amazing that Alex Kotlowitz was able to experience these kids lives and be able to share it with the world. Most People are oblivious to the things that go on in Henry Horner or any other project in America and this book shows the every day struggle that "The Other America" goes through. At times I felt sick to my stomach while reading this book but it's the realness that affects you most of all. This book details building conditions (the way they were b ...more
Interesting read, and I respect what Kotlowitz achieved in bringing the troubles of inner-city America to suburban audiences nationwide. However, the pace is glacial and the book not particularly well-written; in addition, I noticed an astounding number of typos and other errors in this text. Surprisingly sloppy for a 20 year old bestseller from a major publisher. I rarely if ever notice spelling errors in books, but could not help but be distracted by the frequent errors in this edition. And be ...more
This reads like a sociology textbook, rather than a novel, which it is not. In all fairness, I lost interest halfway through the book. The climax that set the rest of the book apart hadn't shown up in those first 150 pages. Every day was conflict and climax. It is heartrending yet achingly difficult to not ask myself, as a middle class Caucasian, why did she continue to have children when the father was out of the picture? Why didn't she seek employment sooner?

But, as I pointed out, the circumst
More required reading. This book could have taken place yesterday instead of almost thirty years ago and that's a goddamn shame.
This book has been on my to-read list for a while. Those two little boys (who are now grown men who are older than I am) are going to haunt me - I haven't stopped thinking about them since I finished the book. This is an especially harrowing read in the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. If you're not comfortable challenging your perspective on privilege, race, class, and social justice, this book is not for you.

(Higher Ed friends - it reminded me of A Hope in the Unseen in many ways, so if yo
A non-fiction book, Kotlowitz conducts an in depth examination of the Rivers family and their life in Chicago's Henry Horner housing project. Kotlowitz focuses on two brothers, Lafayette and Pharoah. Their lives are filled with danger, poverty, too many children in a family, lack of education, daily fear of being killed, substandard housing, poor sanitation, overcrowded apartments, drugs, gangs, and lack of role models.
Apr 09, 2013 Tori rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tori by: Angie
Shelves: 5-star-books
It came as a huge surprise to me that I loved this book as much as I did. It was assigned to me at school, and I was less than enthusiastic about reading it. It took me a little while to get into the writing style - it's not exactly prose, more like a work of journalism or reporting.

I would describe this shocking and moving glimpse into the lives of Lafayette and Pharoah Rivers as disturbing, in a good way. Eye-opening and tragic, something that people perhaps need to read more than they want to
I read this book while on vacation last week. Very moving and eye opening, poignant and sad. I think it's important to read about what life is like for others, people in different countries, different cultures, or people who live in difficult and turbulent contexts, like the boys in this book, (the Chicago projects). I am now curious about what has happened to the two boys, Pharaoh and Lafayette, and their families and friends since publication of this book.. I wonder, does anyone know?
Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s in the Chicago suburbs, we thought we knew about the ghettos and the projects. We were mindful not to wear our Starter jackets if we were going into the city. We knew not to wear hats, and if we did, to make sure we wore them straight. We heard about the dangers of gangs and the threats they presented. At the same time though, it seemed like a fantasy. It seemed like part of a whole other world.
They never really seemed real, and were something we joked about, like
This was gripping and heartbreaking in a way that reminded me of "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" (a completely unrelated book). You can see these trains very slowly but surely headed toward each other, or off the track - whatever metaphor you want. You can see why people would come to the conclusions that they do based on their experiences, and indeed you wouldn't expect them to come to any other conclusion, but it's still rough to watch them careen off track.
Lafayette and Pharoah. What strong names. What hope in those names. What promise. Their mom did everything she could, from the moment of their births, to show her sons what they meant to her.

La-Jo (this was an audible book, so I may be misspelling her name) Rivers had her first child at 14, and went on to have 7 more. This book focuses on her middle boys and the hope she holds for them to have a different life. A life outside the Henry Horner Homes in the projects of Chicago.

This book is a comm
Apr 27, 2007 suzy rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: teachers, social workers, medical workers, those interested in poverty issues
A sad look as Chicago's west side projects (Robert Taylor) and a couple kids growing up there in the 1980's. The projects have since been torn down, but looked like this:

I remember living near them for a summer and driving by them and being creeped out! I recall in the summer of '85 a toddler was raped and thrown off the roof to her death and that story only got a couple lines in the paper.
Ellen Kobe
Technically speaking, there are a lot of children here. Here, being the Henry Horner Homes, the Chicago Housing Authority’s public housing project where the majority of Alex Kotlowitz’s non-fiction book “There Are No Children Here” takes place. In Henry Horner, there are babies, toddlers and teenagers. And there are also adolescents, such as Lafeyette and Pharaoh Rivers, the two young boys Kotlowitz profiles from the years 1987 to 1989. Children appear everywhere in the book — they’re inside the ...more
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there are no childhere 1 37 Mar 31, 2009 07:36PM  
  • Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America
  • American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare
  • Our America
  • Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1940-1960
  • The Other America: Poverty in the United States
  • City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America
  • Chicago: City on the Make
  • Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago
  • Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage
  • Flat Broke with Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform
  • Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life
  • Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago
  • Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor
  • A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League
  • The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City
  • Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America
  • American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass
  • No Shame in My Game: The Working Poor in the Inner City
Between writing books on urban affairs and society, Alex Kotlowitz has contributed to "The New York Times Magazine", "The New Yorker" and public radio’s "This American Life". Over the past three years, he has produced three collections of personal narratives for Chicago Public Radio: "Stories of Home," "Love Stories" and "Stories of Money." Stories of Home was awarded a Peabody. H
More about Alex Kotlowitz...
The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America's Dilemma Never a City So Real: A Walk in Chicago The Spelling Bee Division Street: America LaPorte, Indiana

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“If I had one wish I’d wish to separate all the good from the bad and send them to another planet so they could battle it out and no innocent people would get hurt,” James mused.” 0 likes
“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore— And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over— like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode? —LANGSTON HUGHES” 0 likes
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