Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence, A True Story in Black and White” as Want to Read:
Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence, A True Story in Black and White
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence, A True Story in Black and White

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  399 ratings  ·  101 reviews

Long before President Barack Obama praised his work as “an all-encompassing, all-hands-on-deck anti-poverty effort that is literally saving a generation of children,” and First Lady Michelle Obama called him “one of my heroes,” Geoffrey Canada was a small and scared boy growing up in the South Bronx. His childhood world was one where “sidewalk boys” learned the codes of th

Paperback, 124 pages
Published September 14th 2010 by Beacon Press
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Fist Stick Knife Gun, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Fist Stick Knife Gun

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.99  · 
Rating details
 ·  399 ratings  ·  101 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence, A True Story in Black and White
Geoffrey Canada's story is vivid. He remembers his childhood so well, describes it in great detail, and Jamar Nicholas' illustrations really bring it to life. This story, about Canada's integration into a violent urban life, is heartbreaking, but I couldn't stop reading. It's a great personal story of The Code of the Street.

I honestly think the epilogue does not serve the story well. It pushes the book into didactic, instead of letting Canada's experiences speak for themselves.

But I really app
Giovanni Gelati
Feb 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Hey,TGIF! I love to read graphic novels for many reasons, one of them is to chill and relax after a long, pleasant week of reading seriously good novels. One of my daughters told me about Jamar Nicholas, she has an interest in art, so I checked him out. This is one serious read about life and learning some hard lessons, no matter where you come from. Check out what is between the covers:
“Long before President Barack Obama praised his work as “an all-encompassing, all-hands-on-deck anti-poverty e
Nov 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book was an amazing non-fiction story fit into a comic. This books genre had action, drama, and even comedy to it. Before i read this book I judged it by its cover thinking it was a childish book with no meaning because it was a comic, but by the time I got near the end of the book I noticed I was actually enjoying it because I wouldn't usually read a book without being forced to and that week I went straight to reading my book on my own. I would recommend this book to anyone thats looking ...more
Kelly Moore
This was really amazing, eye opening, and scary. Although it is clearly meant to educate, the story avoids being preachy, and I was completely drawn in. Is it appropriate for middle schoolers? I think it would be a great book to read and discuss, because there is a lot to process. Ultimately I think everyone should read this at some point - maybe in eighth grade, maybe later, depending on the student and whether they have a chance to talk about it with an adult. Some people might be put off by t ...more
Feb 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'm going to echo all of the positive reviews here, with one quibble. On the last page of his own story, (view spoiler) ...more
Darius H
Oct 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book has a ya sticker. but it is awesome i couldnt put it down.It is about a boy that grows up setting a rank on union avenue he stolen from and held at gunpoint. He learns to be tough and stickup for himself.
Jon Nakapalau
Aug 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Excellent adaptation of the book by Geoffrey Canada with art by Jamar Nicholas. As the title states there is a progressive escalation of violence...a history that too often repeats itself.
Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)
Fist Stick Knife Gun is yet another book on gang violence. I've been lately reading/watching stuff on this topic. It is totally unplanned, mostly coincidental, but I can't help but notice its recurrence. First it was Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri and then this book. Now, just last night, I watched the movie - Freedom Writers (which by the way is awesome).

Fist Stick Knife Gun was illustrated by Jamar Nicholas, based on Geoffrey Canada's memoir by the same title. This is th
Aug 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a graphic novel adaptation of an earlier more detailed, text only, book of the same name. I would call this an autobiography, but it is not as detailed as autobiographies usually are. This autobiography just focuses on violent episodes in the author's childhood and how they shaped him. Geoffrey Canada is the president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone. He tells his story to illustrate the condition poor inner city children live in. [return][return]This new edition includes the sub-su ...more
Educating Drew
Mmmkay...I have to make a confession. My ears immediately perk up when I hear or see a book that lends itself to a 'full disclosure on my life whilst in the bleak caverns of violence'. In fact, that little gem of Truth right there is the reason why I read (and reviewed) Gang Leader for a Day last year.

But why, you might ask. Especially if you knew me. I mean, I'm no Pollyanna by any means, but I do like to think of myself as a "let's just give peace a chance" kinda gal. No really. I am. Which me
Oct 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing

Fist Stick Knife Gun is an amazing book and it is an interesting read. Fist Stick Knife Gun is a graphic novel but still portrays a powerful message. Fist Stick Knife Gun follows Geoffrey Canada through his life in the Bronx and it shows the well developed system of unwritten laws in place. Geoff is raised with three brothers and his mom in a bad neighborhood. This neighborhood has a system of fighting set up. The winners get to travel and play on the streets while the losers get to sit on the

Jan 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence
Geoffrey Canada
adapted by Jamar Nicholas
Beacon Press

Based on the best selling book of the same name, Fist Stick Knife Gun is the true story of a boy growing up in the Bronx, surrounded by gangs and violence. Mr. Canada shares with the reader how children in his neighborhood were indoctrinated to violence at a young age and how each year the violence escalated.

The prose is simple, straight-forward, and moving. The illustrations are successfu

In the form of a graphic novel, Geoffrey Canada tells his own true story of struggling to break out of the streets in which survival meant downplaying one's intelligence while the choice of weapons escalated and the deaths of friends became commonplace. I think students will be fascinated by this book from beginning to end. Many students will identify with the events and ideas in this book. The South Bronx is not really that far from some of their personal experiences, or from the world
Feb 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
A very interesting and informative look into the life of a child who grew up in The Bronx during the 1950s and 1960s. The author gives us a picture of what it was like to be a boy living in the ghetto, and the ways that boys adapted to an environment of intense violence.[return][return]Beyond all of this it's an entertaining read, depressing as it might be at times. The illustrations are rather good, and lend the story another level of depth. Kudos to whoever recognized this story would benefit ...more
Jul 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I've had this book for ten years. Today, I picked it up and read it.

In the epilogue to Canada's personal history of violence, he writes, "While nationally we have foolishly invested our precious resources in a criminal justice approach to solving our crime problem--including hiring more police and locking up more people for longer periods of time--we have nothing to show for it except poorer schools, poorer services for youth, and more people on the streets, unemployable because they have a cri
Feb 28, 2013 rated it really liked it

"Violence has always been around, usually concentrated amongst the poor. The difference is that when I was growing up, in the 1950s, '60s, and even '70s, we never had so many guns in our inner citties. The nature of the violent act has changed over these decades from the fist, stick, and knife to the gun."

"America has long had a love affair with violence and guns. It’s our history; we teach it to all of our young. The Revolution, the “taming of the West,” the Civil War, the world wars
This is not an easy read in an emotional sense, but, wow, it's an engaging, enlightening, and downright brutal one. Early childhood education advocate (and all-around amazing human) Geoffrey Canada first came to my attention on the "Going Big" episode of This American Life ( While I haven't read Mr. Canada's memoir, the graphic adaptation is damn near perfect in its capturing of those big, quintessential everyday childhood moments and makes those moments ...more
Mendel Chernack
Thanks to Goodreads and Beacon Press for sending this to me through first-reads.

I really enjoyed this book and can't wait to booktalk it for my 9th grade students. Jamar Nicholas does a wonderful job of adapting Geoffrey Canada's memoir of learning the codes and conduct of violence as a boy growing up in the South Bronx. The simple language and powerful themes will appeal to both reluctant and enthusiastic readers, as will the incredibly expressive drawings. It would be great to pair this book w
I read it in about an hour. In an hour, I met Geoffrey Canada at the age of four, round-eyed when his mother insists his older brother confront a neighborhood thief to retrieve a stolen jacket. I saw him, at six, get robbed of sixty-one cents after he'd been trusted to walk to the store alone. (Alone! At six! Every cell of 'mom' in me sat up and waved her arms and shrieked when I read that.) I was worried when he found a knife in the gutter, and alarmed when he bought a gun.

I thought it was gut-
Jun 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: teachers, educators, youth workers, social workers
Recommended to Kendra by: John Lee
Shelves: nonfiction
I know the heart of the book is Canada's personal experience on the battlefield of the South Bronx, an experience that informs his thorough and creative response(s) to the battlefield that is now young soldiers with guns. But I was distracted, as others have mentioned, by the seeming contradiction between glorifying the fights in which he engaged as a youth and the peacemaking he endorses in his work with youth, particularly in Harlem today. Also, the book was organized in a confusing way and po ...more
Aug 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Author Geoffrey Canada does what few authors have been able to do - showcase the experiences and instincts that are developed as a necessity to survive in urban cultures. Exploring his encounters with violence, Canada delves into the mentality of the streets. The nature of violence as a means of protection, defense, or power are given a realistic treatment, existing as every-day occurrences to those who grow up on the streets. Whether its retrieving a jacket or ball, showcasing heart, or adoptin ...more
Mar 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book opened my eyes to the problems in life faced by many millions of the most troubled Americans in our inner cities. I enjoyed the way the author told stories of his childhood and later adult experiences working with the youth growing up as he did. His style of writing is engaging and entertaining. The author presents some solutions to the problems he discusses, but it doesn't seem our country will ever really make significant headway with actually meaningful solutions towards solving pro ...more
Nov 08, 2011 rated it liked it
This is one of those books that isn't doing anything profound formally. It doesn't need to be a comic. It doesn't leverage the comic medium to any great effect. But the substance of the book is profound and insightful. It's one man's experience with the nature of violence in the context of the increasing racial and economic divide in this country. And it's a perspective that many people (especially those in positions of civic responsibility) need to be aware of. ...more
Sherlin Gonzalez
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love this book so much. This is hands down my favorite book. I love the detail the backstory and the imagery. I thought i would hate this book and just read it for the challenge and i am so glad i did. This book does a great job in developing the character and letting you know him until his adulthood and how he changes through each phase in life.
Sarah Silverman
Nov 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: ya-lit, graphic-novel
I live, work, and teach in Harlem, and therefore have much love for Geoffrey Canada. Certainly, his story is a powerful one. This is a graphic novel aimed at young adults, a remake of his original memoir of the same title. It explores the idea of the social hierarchy of violence in the streets of Harlem and later the South Bronx, as experienced through Canada's POV. They key idea in the book is that young children living in poverty, especially children of color, are forcibly indoctrinated into t ...more
Nov 14, 2010 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dani Shuping
Nov 29, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: graphic-novel
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

This book is a graphic novel adaptation of a book by the same title that was originally published in 1995. Jamar Nicholas, the artist, does a fantastic job of illustrating the words that Geoffrey Canada wrote. He captures the fear of young boys as they are forced to fight and the violence they witness growing up, and he captures the triumph they feel at overcoming an opponent or standing up for a friend. It is a compelling story and a good
Joy Kirr
I'd heard of this book from a Twitter conversation about books for reluctant boys, and I had just listened to a podcast by Joshua Parker on Talks With Teachers about reaching our boys, as well:

This was a quick read, although it was nonfiction. This is the graphic novel edition, and there is obviously violence and cussing. Such was the way of Geoffrey's life in the Bronx. He doesn't soften anything, and as you read it, you realize this violence and always
Trent Ross
This was my second First Read's win and another pretty good book. It was nothing life changing, though perhaps that was the aim of it, but it was an enjoyable read. Well drawn and well written with an interesting insight into the violence that plagues the inner city. Fist Stick Knife Gun helps me, a middle class white kid from rural America, appreciate and understand how the youth of the inner city is inducted into a life of violence from their beginning years. To see that their was no alternati ...more
Lauren Chai
Jun 08, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 12th-grade-shelf
I read this book for a project I was doing in school and the project was about whether there should or shouldn't be stricter gun laws. I needed to read more about why people use guns and more about the background information about guns. This comic depicts a young boy with violence involving guns, knife, etc. Geoffrey Canada, the main character, is a boy from the Bronx and he is a very shy and weak boys unlike his older brothers. On his block, there were divisions and to gain recognition, you mus ...more
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Topdog/Underdog
  • Stuck Rubber Baby
  • Nat Turner
  • Boy, Snow, Bird
  • How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child
  • The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures
  • Be Gay, Do Comics
  • Gumballs
  • La Différence invisible
  • Calling Dr. Laura
  • Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918
  • All This Could Be Yours
  • Spellbound: A Graphic Memoir
  • The Migration
  • The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam
  • I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir
  • Flamer
  • The Underground Abductor
See similar books…
Geoffrey Canada is an African-American social activist. He is the author of Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America. Since 1990, Canada has been president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone in Harlem, New York.
He also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bowdoin College and a Master's degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Related Articles

  Discover lots of new and upcoming nonfiction reads this spring with our author interviews, articles, and book lists!   Interviews with...
4 likes · 2 comments