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

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  10,412 ratings  ·  1,325 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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4.24  · 
Rating details
 ·  10,412 ratings  ·  1,325 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
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
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.
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
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
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
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
400 pages of dysfunction with no solution...
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fishers
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.
Sep 16, 2015 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
Sidik Fofana
May 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
SIX WORD REVIEW: Daddy sends birthday cards from jail.
Sep 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, abandoned
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.
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
better than I expected. Compelling. Gives you a chance to walk in someone else's shoes. Coco was so young (and flighty and disorganized), but she devoted herself to those kids. Admirable.
Oct 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
Hmm so wanted to like this book so much more than I did, first off it is subtitled Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx, and being born in the Bronx and still claim roots there I was immediately intrigued, add that to the glowing recommmendation of a librarian friend I was psyched to read this and promptly took it with me on my week long Jamaica trip to pass the time on planes and at the beach...Not my best idea, for starters this is not and I repeat not a novel, this is a work of ...more
Dit is een heel intens boek. Ik had dan ook steeds moeite om het weg te leggen en als ik de kans had, pakte ik het op om weer verder te lezen. Zo graag wilde ik verder gaan met lezen. Het is een heel ingrijpend verhaal. Ondanks dat het geen leuk verhaal is. Het gaat over armoede, drugsgebruik, seksueel misbruik van kinderen, mishandeling, criminaliteit, ouders die niet voor hun kinderen kunnen zorgen, omdat ze zelf nog kind zijn of in de gevangenis zitten. Toch is de toon van het boek niet depri ...more
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
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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
“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.” 3 likes
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