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

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  11,177 ratings  ·  1,380 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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Average rating 4.25  · 
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 ·  11,177 ratings  ·  1,380 reviews

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Dec 26, 2007 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
Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A cultural explosion of family, dysfunction, and violence

Profound, Epic, and 1000% Unputdownable

More to Come.
Kelly Wondracek
May 10, 2007 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
Elyse  Walters
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing by Roxanna Ortega.

These powerful - painful-insightful -
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc...
about poverty, drugs, sex, injustice, in the South Bronx neighborhood.... (published in 2003 - six years ago) -
was the perfect antidote to “Three Woman”, by Lisa Taddeo. (published this year in 2019)....

The stories told by Boy George, Jessica & Coco, ( both women I won’t forget), and Cesar we’re intimate, real, heartbreaking, and truthful.
I never once felt ‘annoyed’ listening to these de
Apr 02, 2013 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
Rae Meadows
Feb 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Riveting and devastating. Required reading for anyone wanting to better understand not just the cycle of poverty, but the systems that keep that cycle churning. I rooted for the people in this book, while all the while seeing what they could never get out from under, frustrated by their choices, yet seeing why they could not plan or save money or get away from trouble. Without a belief in the future, there is only moment to moment.
Dylan Zierk
Oct 01, 2010 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
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
400 pages of dysfunction with no solution...
Apr 07, 2010 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
Aug 19, 2007 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
Jan 18, 2009 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.
Feb 23, 2008 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
I guess that I’m not entirely sure what the author was trying to achieve with this book. There’s no introduction, there’s no conclusion--I don’t enough about her to know her motivations. To be charitable, it would seem that she is trying to show, through the lives of three main people, the ties that bind people into poverty, drugs, and crime.

I have no doubts about how difficult it is to escape poverty. When your parents are uneducated, violent, and poor, who can you look to for an example of how
May 22, 2008 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
Dec 02, 2008 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
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
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 26, 2009 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
Jul 25, 2007 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
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
Oct 25, 2013 rated it did not like it
This book would have benefited from some editing. I struggled through a hundred pages and gave up. Too many names, too many details that were not relevant or revealing. I disliked the writing as much as the depressing content, but also it just seemed to be a lot of the same things over and over. I didn't feel much progression in the characters- actually I didn't feel much of anything, just sadness that this kind of poverty and poor parenting exists in the world, but worse, our country. I'm disap ...more
Jan 27, 2009 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.
Mar 08, 2009 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
Larry Bassett
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, kindle
This book begins in the late 1980s and when I started listening to it I thought it was going to be somewhat dated. But it turns out the story covers over a decade and the book was published in 2012. I lived on Long Island for most of the 1980s and graduated from the SUNY School of Social Welfare in 1988 at the age of 42. This book became known to me because of my daughter who read it earlier this year while she was a student at the Columbia University School of Social Work.

The details included i
Jan 27, 2018 rated it did not like it
The writing is very "This happens and then this happens. This happens and then this happens." It's very dry and ordered, and I didn't make it very far. The subject matter is interesting but the writing style is extremely immature.
May 20, 2020 rated it it was ok
Meh. This reminded me of Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women in all the worst ways. Random Family is basically an interesting journalistic exercise (LeBlanc followed a group of young kids in the Bronx for a period of about 10 years starting in the late ‘80s) that ultimately became nothing more than a voyeuristic account of how bad it is for people born into poverty in this country.

There is no analysis, no break down of why certain actions were taken or discussion on what options are available to poor peo
What amazes me is the complete immersion in these people’s lives that the author was able to achieve and to sustain over a period of so many years. The level of trust involved in the writing of this book, with its detailed examination of messy, complicated lives (and, in the end, aren’t all lives messy and complicated?), is astonishing.
Diane Yannick
May 20, 2014 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
Aug 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
I just kept wondering how LeBlanc got such an intimate portrayal of this family because it's amazing how close you are inside their lives. It feels almost like an omniscient narrator. This is a beautiful and tragic story and a must-read for anyone who has not lived this.
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Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx 2 4 Feb 06, 2020 04:38AM  
What's the Name o...: SOLVED. Life in the South Bronx in the 1950s-'70s [s] 5 22 Feb 21, 2019 06:44PM  
Random Family Meet-Up 1 17 Jun 14, 2016 11:10AM  
omg 12 85 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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