Stefani's Reviews > Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx

Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
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's review
Nov 29, 2009

it was amazing

I read this book with renewed vigor after being in book rehab for a few weeks (I am still suffering withdrawals from too much Anna Karenina). The author ate, slept, and breathed the nuances of the South Bronx for 10 years while writing this novel, which reads like a ghetto chronicle, minus the KRS-One. Despite the obvious demographic differences between Adrian LeBlanc and the family she was recording, I felt like her keen powers of observation obviated any prerequisites that she come from a similar background, and read like an autobiography. Without any embellishment other than the reality surrounding her, LeBlanc exposes the Rivera family's constant struggle to survive, not strive, within their insular and self-destructive community as well as the near-impossibility of ever escaping poverty, given the many other complicating factors in their lives. Jessica and Coco, the two main characters, are initially profiled when they are young girls, at a time when they are most vulnerable to the dangers of their neighborhoods, such as sexual abuse, pregnancy, and drugs and, conversely, when life could take a very different turn if the right decisions were made. Both girls have endured a tremendous amount of abuse, both sexually and as witness to domestic violence against their mothers. Neither have had a stable father figure in their lives. Inevitably, their lives become unstable as they age; multiple pregnancies from different men, incarceration, surviving on welfare; in many ways they conform too easily to the stereotypes of inner-city girls, yet we never get a sense of morality from the author, it just is. Despite their hardships and downtrodden existences, I didn't really feel the characters were relatable, nor did I feel much other than ambivalence for them; maybe it was the fact that they consistently and repeatedly made the same mistakes, without any kind of self-awareness or realization that their behavior was destructive. There seemed to be an attitude of learned helplessness that betrayed the tough facades and made it difficult for them to escape the constraints of familial obligations and reliance on government assistance. Even though Coco is aware she should stop having children because she is unable to support them, her efforts to obtain birth control never seem to be successful; Jessica is unable to reunite with her five children, upon being released from prison. LeBlanc’s purpose, seemed, to me, to highlight the difficulty of escaping the cycle of poverty; without any kind of positive role model or general life coping skills, these girls are left to figure things out for themselves, and are denied the opportunity to simply be kids themselves, before they have their own children. I would recommend this book to anyone with an intense curiosity about a way of life that many of us in suburban comfort will never experience.
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