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Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx

4.22  ·  Rating Details  ·  8,831 Ratings  ·  1,187 Reviews
In her extraordinary bestseller, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc immerses readers in the intricacies of the ghetto, revealing the true sagas lurking behind the headlines of gangsta glamour, gold-drenched drug dealers, and street-corner society. Focusing on two romances - Jessica's dizzying infatuation with a hugely successful young heroin dealer, Boy George, and Coco's first love wi ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published February 10th 2004 by Scribner (first published January 28th 2003)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Apr 03, 2008 Richard rated it it was amazing
If this book was a novel, readers would probably dismiss it as too chaotic and not believable. But it is in fact a true story, the never ending cycle of living on the edge, the ghetto (largely the Bronx), where the girls get pregnant and the guys sell drugs and go to jail (some of the girls do too). Somehow, LeBlanc, the author, has gotten inside several families, and the result is you live with them, with all their turmoil, rage, love and loyalties. I'm not sure I've ever read a more honest acc ...more
Oct 06, 2013 Kelly rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sociology
It's hard to truly understand poverty unless a) you experience it first-hand, or b) you read a work like Random Family. But this isn't just some study about poverty; it's about people.

Although LeBlanc zooms in on several family members, she focuses on the lives of Coco and Jessica, two Latina women who at the beginning of the book are mid-teens--a vulnerable stage where they're trying to build their identities, impress others, and be experimental. This is where they start to make detrimental ch
Nov 01, 2007 Seán rated it it was amazing
I think the LA Times blurb for Random Family, which called the book a 'non-fiction Middlemarch of the underclass,' is absolutely spot-on. While it is principally a brilliant work of journalism, the book also feels at times like a massive 19th century English novel. You know, one whose four dozen-odd 'characters' occupy a wide range of positions within their class, and it feels as if the story could go on, and should go on, forever. Most of the characters flit in and out of the narrative; however ...more
Dylan Zierk
Oct 01, 2010 Dylan Zierk rated it did not like it
What was the point of this book? If it was the soap-operafication of a family in the midst of poverty, then mission accomplished. This book is pure voyeurism. There is no message to be found, no subtext about the plight of the poor, and ultimately no empathy from the author for these people who have been reduced by the author to their choices (many of them poor). Reading this book I learned nothing about these people except for their decisions; nothing about their inner lives or the insitutions ...more
May 22, 2008 Maureen rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Maureen by: My daughter
I cherish this book. My daughter read it for a journalism class at NYU, and insisted that I read it. The author, Adrian Nicole Leblanc, spent ten years observing four young people and their extended families. She has written a masterwork in about living life on the streets in the Bronx. It is quite possibly the most thought-provoking book I have ever read. Even though we read it two years ago, Erin and I are still talking about it. Here is a small sample, from page 69:

"Back in their own Crystal
Apr 02, 2013 Wes rated it liked it
I really enjoyed reading this book, however, I grew up in the South Bronx during the time this book was set in - so my review may be a little biased ;-). Based on an article written by the author, I received the impression that the author "enjoyed" leaving her uptown "cushy" cocoon to delve deep into the lower class, inner city as a voyeurist (FYI, the author spent about 10 years living with the family). Yes, anyone unbeknownst to the Bronx (or any urban area), will receive a close look into the ...more
Dec 25, 2008 Amber rated it it was amazing
This is a phenomenal book that unflinchingly documents the personal stories of a loosely defined bronx family. Adrian Nicole LeBlanc immersed herself in an impoverished, marginalized community for over 10 years and this book is the result. As a social worker these are stories I hear often: generations of abuse, addictions, teen pregnancies, incarceration, abandonment, mind numbing poverty, and violence. What is truly amazing about LeBlanc's work is that she does not glamorize, sanitize, condemn, ...more
Kressel Housman
This book was the perfect antidote to all my griping about the narrow and occasionally judgmental Orthodox Jewish world in which I live. For all the extremes the community sometimes goes to in order to protect its insularity, the overwhelming majority of kids it produces never experiment with drugs or get into trouble with the law. Boys and girls alike are virgins until their wedding night. But not so in the South Bronx. After reading the painstaking detail of the struggle to grow up there, I’d ...more
Apr 07, 2010 Meg rated it it was ok
Shelves: race-and-racism
"Random" family, in the sense of "typical"? Well, not exactly. LeBlanc actually says in the book that her subjects are NOT typical of the folks who live in their neighborhood. The illusion that what's portrayed is representative is one of this book's major flaws. The book reinforces stereotypes associated with race and class (e.g. the "welfare queen" going on a cocaine binge in a limo, the baby mama drama). LeBlanc focuses heavily on the psychological angle (why would someone go back to her abus ...more
Jul 25, 2007 Kristine rated it liked it





This book was pretty good... about a family in the Bronx that she followed for ten years.
It relates to poverty/race a bit- it's interesting to see how they survive- unfortunately jail shows up too often.
I know "interesting to see" sounds detached... but that's
Mar 26, 2009 jamie rated it it was amazing
An eye-opening true life account of life in the inner city. if i were to rename it, i'd title it "Survivor: Bronx". I was a camp counselor in North Philadelphia and was very surprised to see how similar living conditions in the bronx are to philly. All the families are on welfare, most of the kids have different fathers, it is commonplace for teenage single mothers, everyone had a family member or knew someone in jail, and the kids also lived in a drug infested neighborhood. I found reading this ...more
Mar 01, 2008 Edan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fans of the Wire; everybody
Since I began this book a week ago, I've had about 4 or 5 dreams about its characters--real people whose lives are brutal, unfair, fascinating, and frustrating. At first I was struck by the "then this happened, then this happened," summarized nature of the narrative, LeBlanc's absence somewhat troubling, ghost-like, but as the story continued the telling of it slowed, became more dramatic, and occasionally LeBlanc added interpretations of these people's predicaments. She is both objective and co ...more
Feb 06, 2009 Steph rated it did not like it
Incredibly cold, boring, redundant, and banal. LeBlanc's approach is cold and lifeless; journalism at its most barren. She took no interest in any of the people involved; it read like one giant insensate run-on list of daily activities.
Mar 08, 2009 UpstateNYgal rated it it was amazing
I had to go to Amazon and copy word for word their synopsis because I strongly urge everyone to read this book and I did not want to do it a disservice by my meager way with words so this excerpt is from

Politicians rail about welfare queens, crack babies and deadbeat dads, but what do they know about the real struggle it takes to survive being poor?

Journalist LeBlanc spent some 10 years researching and interviewing one extended family-mother Lourdes, daughter Jessica, daughter-in-law
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
I’ve been procrastinating on this review because it’s so hard to explain why a book is great or important. But when I come across one that is I have to share it with people.... so.

This is a work of narrative nonfiction, following an extended family and their friends for about 17 years. The subjects are impoverished Puerto Rican-Americans and the setting is the Bronx (and upstate New York) from the mid-1980s through the beginning of the 21st century. Despite claims to the contrary, it does not re
Jan 27, 2009 Lobstergirl rated it it was amazing
This is just an amazing, amazing book. Possibly the most depressing book I've ever read. LeBlanc completely and utterly immersed herself in the lives of her very poor, very lawbreaking subjects and tells their stories matter-of-factly, without an ounce of judgment or condemnation. Phenomenal. She needs to write more books.
Diane Yannick
May 20, 2014 Diane Yannick rated it it was amazing
This book is an amazing piece of investigative journalism. Just imagine enmeshing yourself in the lives of a Puerto Rican family in the Bronx (mostly) for 11 years in order to tell their story. Then imagine telling their story with utter honesty, an unusual intimacy and a complete lack of judgment. You have a masterpiece that allows us to actually "experience" the unrelenting cycles of poverty, drugs and violence endured by many Americans.

This book is a commitment of time on the reader's part. I
Evanston Public  Library
Journalist LeBlanc spent over a decade throughout the 80s and 90s with the members of one extended family in the Bronx, following their every move at home, on the streets, in hospital rooms, court hearings, and prison cells. As the children grow up amid bitter poverty, a fractured home life, and the dangerously alluring 1980s explosion of the street drug trade, they must struggle not only towards adulthood, but also for their own everyday survival. LeBlanc becomes like a member of the family, pl ...more
Jul 23, 2009 Erin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: all-time-faves
I have been surprised by some of the other reviews I've read about this book commenting that they cannot believe these people make the same mistakes over and over again. While what, to you, may seem like a mistake, is in fact the only way known to the people in this book, and they face circumstances that facilitate the lifestyles they have and don't offer many paths out. The best way it was addressed, I feel, in the book was by Cesar:

"Mercedes’s predicament extended beyond personal history or fa
Sabrina Rutter
The author started this project intending to write about Boy George who had been arrested at the age of 23 after becoming a millionare by dealing heroin. Along the way she ran into Jessica one of his girlfriends and decided she wanted to write about her life instead. LeBlanc followed Jessica and her extended family for twelve years mainly focusing on Jessica and her sister in law Coco.
If you don't know poverty then after reading this book you will. This book gives you a better understanding of h
Robyn Brady
Aug 19, 2013 Robyn Brady rated it it was amazing
This book is haunting. It has haunted me since I put it down and I don't foresee a time when I will not think about it or the people in it and wonder where they are and how they are doing. I so want the author to write an update but I am also so afraid of what I will read.

This is a 10 year long look into an extended family living in the South Bronx. I read this because it was recommended in one of the articles I read about Orange is the New Black. The family lives in the web of extreme poverty a
This book floored me. THIS is the book I will be telling everyone to read in the months to come.

Excerpts to come when I have time, hopefully...
Jul 16, 2014 Kaethe rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned, nonfiction
As intrigued as I was by the premise, the book itself felt like a bit of a slog, and I never quite read the whole thing, more skimmed it.
Sep 23, 2015 Annie rated it really liked it
I wasn't sold at first but this was some damn fine reportage. Frankie's such a little bitch though
I don't know how to start my review, so I'm just going to jump on in: I fucking love this book and Adrian LeBlanc. Why she hasn't won a Pulitzer for this, I don't know. LeBlanc followed two women, Jessica and Coco, for about 15 years, and chronicles not only their lives but the lives of the families, boyfriends, friends. There's a wide cast of characters, and even though a few times I had to page back to try to remember who a person was, LeBlanc's writing is so concise that the narrative easily ...more
Jun 02, 2015 Caitlin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pub-lib, popsugar
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Judah Martin
Random Family is one of those rare books that I feel sad to have finished. There were many days when I only read 10 or 15 pages, just so that I could put off saying goodbye to the subjects of the story I'd grown so close to for a little while longer. This book sat on my desk at home for nearly a year before i ever picked it up, just because I didn't know what to expect from it. Now that I have turned its final page, I know that I will cherish the time I spent reading it for the rest of my life. ...more
This is a 2.5 stars. Because it doesn't stink. But I really, really didn't like reading it. In fact I nearly re-shelved it after 100 pages, which I never, ever do. But it is no fun. It is so hard to gain any traction when there's not much structure. So boring, and it took me forever because there's so little story here.

I guess it is only reporting, which means very little narrative of any kind. At all. Facts, description, retrospective statements. But I think it thinks there's a readable story,
Mar 06, 2008 Johnny rated it it was amazing
One of the most astonishing journalistic endeavors, "Random Family" provides the proverbial window into the part of America we hate to acknowledge. LeBlanc has created a masterpiece of urban depiction. Her bland, almost lifeless prose and reporting lull readers into thinking that their living in the overly crowded apartment down the hallway, close enough to eavesdrop on the vicissitudes experienced by our lead characters Jessica and Cesar. Simply put, the tale is haunting, the behaviors almost u ...more
Jun 29, 2011 Maria rated it liked it
Part novel, part anthropological study. Overlapping narratives that occasionally dovetailed together. It's totally confusing at first (aunts, uncles, mamis, papis, abuelitas, tias, some random friend named Milagros that somehow ends up taking care of everyone else's kids.) Kind of like Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle", but about the cycles of 3 generations of Bronx residents. Basically describes cyclical poverty in the Bronx and Troy, NY. Depicts the difficulty of poverty, crime, and jai ...more
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omg 12 69 Mar 04, 2014 09:58AM  
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Adrian Nicole LeBlanc is an American journalist whose works focus on the marginalized members of society: adolescents living in poverty, prostitutes, and women in prison. She grew up in a working-class family in Leominster, Massachusetts. She studied at Smith College, Oxford, and Yale University. She worked for Seventeen Magazine as an editor after earning her Master's degree in Modern Literature ...more
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“A fog of despair so pervaded the ghetto that the smallest gesture of rebellion could seem like a bold, piercing light. Bad, said with a fond expression, was almost always a compliment.” 0 likes
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