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All God's Children

3.6  ·  Rating Details ·  219 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
James Daniel Nelson first hit the streets as a teenager in 1992. He joined a clutch of runaways and misfits who camped out together in a squat under a Portland bridge. Within a few months the group—they called themselves a "family"—was arrested for a string of violent murders. While Nelson sat in prison, the society he had helped form grew into a national phenomenon. Stree ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published January 30th 2007 by PublicAffairs (first published January 1st 2007)
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Community Reviews

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Feb 15, 2015 McKenzie rated it liked it
What I was struck by in All God’s Children, was the revelatory documentation by Denfeld on a new trend in alienated youth to the degree with which they deliberately dissociate and choose homelessness.

I can somewhat relate to this from my own early teen homelessness experiences and I can certainly understand what could cause such a type of alienation. But back then when I was a homeless youth, even though there were not nearly as many resources available, as there was in the 1990’s, I remember
Jan 21, 2008 Lauren rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: people who can keep a sharp critical eye
OK as sort of expected this book was pretty offensive and totally frustrating - so much so I think I read the whole thing in less than 72 hours. I'm not sure where to start - do I start by saying the author thinks most homeless youth are prone to meth use and killing? Do I start by telling you she thinks places that give out free meals make it "easy to be homeless"? Do I start by telling you that even though I myself don't know very much about being homeless in downtown Portland that I know enou ...more
Stephanie Griffin
Aug 22, 2011 Stephanie Griffin rated it really liked it
In 2003, Jessica Kate Williams was murdered in one of the most horrific ways imaginable. James Daniel Nelson was ultimately responsible for this and another murder in 1992. But he didn’t hold the weapons that killed Jessica; he had his “family” do it for him. How did he have such control over a dozen other street kids? ALL GOD’S CHILDREN: Inside the Dark and Violent World of Street Families, written by Rene Denfeld, explains how. James, or “Thantos” as he liked to be called, was the “father” of ...more
Aug 29, 2008 Melissa rated it it was ok
This look at the culture of street kid "families" focuses on the brutality of a few and ignores the vast majority of homeless youth that never commit murder. The writer insists that the youth agencies that provide food, shelter, and programs for these kids enable them to continue to live on the streets and "playact" when they could go home to loving middleclass families. She fails to address the many complicated causes of teen homelessness (abuse, addiction, poverty, education, mental illness, s ...more
May 31, 2015 frazzledsoul rated it really liked it
This is the scariest freaking book I have ever read. Stephen King has nothing on feral, sociopathic street kids.

The next time I see an anarchist, I will run for my life.

Feb 13, 2009 Kirsten rated it it was ok
The more I think about this book, the more irritated I am by it. I do believe that Denfeld has brought attention to a legitimate problem, that of "street families" -- that is, small ganglike groups of young street people, often lead by charismatic individuals -- that contribute to crime and commit acts of violence. Denfeld focuses strongly on several vicious murders perpetrated by a man named James Daniel Nelson with the assistance of other street "kids" (most of the "kids" mentioned were in the ...more
Feb 21, 2008 Damien rated it did not like it
I don't like the way this writer handled the material concerning this true story. Sensationalist is the best I can say about her attitude, and my friend called it "propaganda" which is much more accurate all around. Her treatment of "street culture" is inaccurate and exaggerated. Pulp non-fiction; unrecyclable trash basically.
Jess Zha
Mar 20, 2012 Jess Zha rated it it was amazing
Terrifying. Life-changing.
Sep 07, 2010 Joanne rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010-books-read
There is a body of a young girl found on the train tracks in Oregon. She has been beaten and burned beyond recognition. It is found out that her name is Jessica and that she had been involved with a family living on the streets.

The street families have their own "laws" and if you do not abide by them, you pay the price.

This book was very well researched and you are quickly pulled into the street life and the different families that reside in Oregon. What is the hardest to realize is the violence
Aug 03, 2011 Melody rated it really liked it
I thought this book was very interesting, especially since it was a story that happened in Portland, Oregon. It had a lot of information that I didn't know about and while I knew that not all children who are on the streets are from abusive families or are thrown out of their homes, I didn't realize how many were choosing to live on the streets because to them it was "fun and exciting" and they are easily able to do so because of all the services offered to them by the teen shelters. It's a scar ...more
Aug 10, 2011 Stephanie rated it liked it
"All God's Children" tells a very interesting story about the environment, background and circumstances of a group of people that culminated in an atrocious murder. Rene Denfeld tells the story well and supports the story by including the stories and opinions of police and shelter workers that were in some way involved or connected. It was as good of a read as it was unsettling.

That said, "All God's Children" should not be taken as indicative of the entire homeless experience. The murder and beh
Carrie O'Dell
Mar 20, 2008 Carrie O'Dell rated it it was amazing
I basically inhaled this book in two days. While it's a journalistic exploration of street families (which are primarily composed of kids who CHOOSE to live on the street rather than the legitamately homeless who actually have nowhere to go)this reads a bit like a novel at points, pulling the reader into the dark, violent world of these "kids", many of whom are over 18. Ironic that these teens run from the structure of home and family just to place themselves in a world with more rules, more vio ...more
Jul 19, 2010 Keri rated it liked it
I must admit I inhaled this book in a couple of days, and definitely NOT because it's a feel good story. This is an account of one street family that murdered a young woman hanging out in downtown Portland. It has been interesting to read the reviews and to see how defensive folks get about how this author challenges the romanticized view of homeless youth. I work a bit with this population and I definitely see the issue as complex. Of course all homeless kids are not living in a murderous cult. ...more
Clay Nelson
Jun 23, 2011 Clay Nelson rated it really liked it
I am a teacher, I've worked in alternative school settings that had "street kids", I have a close relative that is a "crustie" (a street kid subculture)and lastly I got this book because I know one of the main kids involved in this horrible true story.
Rene Denfeld does a great job in exposing the many problems when it comes to the "street kid" issue. She also does this through the telling of a horrible crime that she has done a good job investigating.
Should you read this book - yes
But then pleas
Lew Serviss
Jun 24, 2013 Lew Serviss rated it it was amazing
This is an extremely unnerving book. I read it when I lived briefly in Portland and worked in an office very close to the scene of the murder at the center of the story. Portland, like San Francisco and other cities in the Northwest, has a large population of street people. They are not to be confused with homeless people who wander the streets of Eastern cities: many of these Northwest street people are kids and young adults who are drawn to the thrill of living by their wits. Denfeld skillfull ...more
Jan 06, 2008 Eva rated it liked it
A very dark portrayal of Portland's street youth scene. I have lived in Portland for most of the time covered by this book and I am distressed at how little I knew about the details of the lives of the teens I passed daily on the streets of downtown Portland.

Rene Denfield has a clear agenda in this book, an it sometimes clouds her analysis, but it was a good, and sometimes painful counterpoint to the (limited) media coverage on the issue. I think this is an important book to be included on the
John Pappas
Jul 27, 2011 John Pappas rated it really liked it
Dark and disturbing. Denfeld provides a glimpse inside the world of street urchins and "families" of homeless kids, and shows how the values of the street family culture, relying heavily on codes of conduct derived from a punk ethos, anarchism, Dungeons and Dragons and other subcultures, encouraged a group of kids, including a college student from a middle-class family, to commit multiple beatings and murders. Relying mostly on interviews and less on theory, this cultural study reads more like a ...more
Nov 17, 2011 Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, drama, biography
While this true account of and the whole concept of "street families" is horrific, I can't fault the author for that. She did an excellent job objectively relating the events and explaining the culture in great detail.

That said, I would NOT recommend this book unless you want yet another reason to believe that our society is doomed and evil is real.

All due respect to my friend, Lisa, who recommended this. I can see why it would be compelling for the mother of teenage sons living in Portland.
Jun 06, 2008 Lizette rated it really liked it
Recommended to Lizette by: Russell
Very good book and very well written. Offers a glimpse into the life of the "gutter hippies" that hang out all over Portland, OR, specially downtown. I'm sure not all of them are like the group discussed in the book but some of those kids out there are pretty scary and plain dirty. With their appearance and obvious strong work ethic, they won't be succeeding in life anytime soon... One can never expect much from these kinds of people.
Jul 28, 2007 Janet rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who is willing to look at the sad truth about some people on the streets
This book is well researched and offers a different view of youth who end up living on the street. As a person who loves social psychological theories, I loved reading about how the street families are formed and how quickly they shift. While some people do not like this book because she shows that some of these street kids truly did have other options, I think she is careful about saying that this is the case for all street kids.
Jan 18, 2009 Krystal rated it liked it
Recommended to Krystal by: Heidi
Shelves: non-fiction
This book tells about the violence of street families in Portland, OR. It was particularly interesting to read as I am currently living in Portland. While it is a true story, and a riveting one at that, it is not exceptionally well written. Instead of reading like a seamless story, it is somewhat choppily written and there is extraneous information throughout the book. However, it is a good place to begin to get information about the culture of street families.
Sep 18, 2008 Amy rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Scary book about crazy, scary street kids. Not homeless kids, but people who choose to live on the streets. Some are adventurers, some are damaged and some are just plain psychopaths. The author does a great job describing the street culture, focusing on one group of kids and one horrendous crime they commit. It was a fast read. A little bit sensational, but good.
Mar 09, 2008 Danielle rated it really liked it
This'll make you think twice about being rude to those kids on the 16th Street Mall. Very interesing and scary. The street family she focuses on lives in Portland and hangs out at this square near my brother's office - we've often taken the niece & nephew there to play. After reading this, I won't go there. Opened my eyes to a scary subculture. Very well-written and hard to put down.
Jul 23, 2007 Karen rated it it was amazing
Rene Denfeld is an amazing author; she really does her research and tells it like it is. She's taken a lot of verbal abuse and threats because of this book but she continues to educate people about the street families. A street youth heard me talking about this book and interrupted to tell me that what she writes is the truth and that it was a great book.
Oct 18, 2007 itpdx rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a frightening book about a "family" of street kids in Portland, OR and their involvement in several murders. It shows how important belonging is to kids and how easily they can be led. I guess it is a demonstration of what research is now telling us that the human brain does not completely mature until the late 20's or even the early 30's. And that some people are truly evil.
Jan 03, 2008 Denise rated it liked it
This book is a facutal account of murderous street families that live in Portland was good but sometimes hard to read because of the graphic accounts of violence...for a non-fiction book, it was easy to read...
Dec 30, 2007 Nicole rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociology
4 stars, but I wouldn't say I really liked it. I can't imagine liking a book this. It was interesting. It was disturbing. How can we as a society let this happen, and not even admit it's happening? This should serve as a wake-up call that our youth service aren't working, but it won't.
Dec 21, 2012 Kurt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. I've been on an abused/abusive kid theme lately, and this one was suggested by someone who knows the Portland, Oregon, homeless scene pretty well. The story completely held my interest, especially since I see these "families" of street youth all over the place downtown. Sad but true.
Sep 04, 2008 Liz rated it really liked it
Recommended to Liz by: Murray
This is a true story about street kids in Portland. I learned a lot about what goes on with the homeless and how out of control it can become for them.
Feb 11, 2008 Chris rated it liked it
Kinda interesting. Could make a great movies with lots of storylines of the different real life characters.
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