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There Are No Children Here

4.24  ·  Rating Details ·  10,161 Ratings  ·  723 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
Mar 14, 2012 Amar Pai rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 13, 2009 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 18, 2012 Anne Tommaso rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 13, 2009 Teri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Frank Stein
Jun 30, 2014 Frank Stein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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
Nov 28, 2008 Cameron rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Mar 03, 2014 Kathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Aug 03, 2015 Rob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 17, 2013 Kay rated it it was amazing
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
Elizabeth Lockhart
Jul 14, 2015 Elizabeth Lockhart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-to-own
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
Raquel Richardson
Dec 28, 2010 Raquel Richardson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 30, 2015 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dennis Henn
May 26, 2014 Dennis Henn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 11, 2010 Jared rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 29, 2012 Jana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, kindle, 2012
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
Apr 09, 2013 Tori rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Aug 31, 2008 Homeschoolmama rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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?
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.
Nichole Flynn
Apr 11, 2013 Nichole Flynn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
fucking devastating. you should read this book...everyone should.
Jun 28, 2014 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Oct 08, 2010 Lisa Van Winkle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 16, 2016 Josie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a very interesting read, it kept me into it as it built on the characters and left the reader wanting to know what happened next in their lives and where it would take them in their lives emotionally since living in Henry Horner was a difficult place to live. It was very eye opening and an upsetting thing to read to realize that these awful things were happening in a place so close to where I live. I never could have imagined the hardships these people endure so young in their live ...more
Johana Zaldivar
May 21, 2016 Johana Zaldivar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book very much, reading this was truly eye-opening and helped me value the things I have in my life. Coming from a small town, that is often referred to as "poor", it is so humbling to see how blessed I actually am to live here. Seeing of the horrors they experienced as little kids,helped me see how fortunate I am that my life comes nowhere close to that.
This book was also reflective of how for some people in America, the opportunities that are always talked about are not always
Linda  Branham Greenwell
Alex Kotlowitz follows the lives of two young boys in the Chicago ghettos as they attempt to navigate through the gang wars, police and government deficiencies, and the poverty stricken Chicago slums. The boys are under 15 years of age, yet they are forced to make decisions that people much older than them struggle with every day. They are forced to struggle through their childhood in poverty and without a father to guide them in those struggles. Kotlowitz looks at the two boys as they watch th ...more
Gilda Felt
Dec 23, 2015 Gilda Felt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was completely taken by the two protagonists, especially by Pharoah, the younger child. He, and his older brother, Lafayette, do what they must in order to survive. Their living conditions are difficult, to say the least, made worse by the rampant crime of the area. And while their mother does what she can, it’s almost impossible to protect her boys from the influences which surround them.

The book is very easy to read, sometimes almost reading like a novel. But it’s very clear that these two b
Apr 08, 2011 Justin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
OK so I did not actually finish this book. I got about 1/3 of the way through and the cynic in me was screaming to just put this book down so I listened. It seemed, to me, that Kotlowitz was taking too much creative liscence in recounting the events taking place in this story. I'd have preferred to simply be told the story without the author trying so desperately to make me feel so bad for everyone. Everybody is such a great person in this book even the drug dealers, murderers and gang leaders a ...more
Katy Flesher
May 09, 2016 Katy Flesher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As someone who lives in a Chicago suburb, I found this novel very eye-opening and informative. The author has a clear connection with the family he writes about and he gets the readers to care for these Chicagoans, as well. Kotlowitz really goes into detail when diving into the history of westside neighborhoods and into the history of this complex family. It was a great read, keeping me captivated and involved in both the story and its background information. I would recommend "There are No Chil ...more
Feb 15, 2010 Nancy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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...

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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.” 1 likes
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