Tracy
Tracy asked:

Do you think there was any point in Rob's life where he could have turned himself around? While I was largely sympathetic to him throughout the entire novel, at some point, I wondered if he would ever pick himself up and move forward in his life in a meaningful way instead of just settling into the mire and poverty of his drug dealing? Do you see a point where that was possible?

Molly I think yes and no. I think there were plenty of opportunities for him to make choices that would have taken him down a different path. A different school than Yale, going on to graduate school immediately after or seeking a job in his field, staying in Rio or any of the other places he loved in his travels. But the part of me that says "no" argues that he couldn't leave Jackie alone in East Orange to care for her aging and ailing parents, and couldn't abandon Skeet while there was still the slightest chance of his getting out of prison.

His parents did so much to help him rise above the disadvantages that were his birthright, but, in doing so, I feel they anchored him to Newark and to themselves.
Elsof Like most of us, Rob's early circumstances shaped him into the man he would become. With all of his mother's commitment and sacrifice, Rob still had to confront the world he was born into and find a way to live in it. This, I believe, was his undoing. His brilliant mind was limited by his own view of what he could and should do.
Mauimom See also "A Hope in the Unseen," by Ron Suskind, about a DC-area student who went to Brown. The ending is happier, but the struggles are similar. Superbly written.
Kim Weiss I think an African-American science genius would be a welcome addition to many companies or graduate school programs. He certainly could have made more money than as a Catholic school teacher. He could've taught public school, and not necessarily in the inner city. I think he had an abiding anger towards the mainstream "white" world that prevented him from reaching his potential, based on what he felt was his father's wrongful conviction. A fascinating book, but a very sad one.
Justin The turning point for me was Rob got caught selling drugs at Yale and he didn't use that as a wake-up call. His response was "it looks bad for the university if someone like me goes down like that" and he would "lay low for a minute". The decision to let him stay in school was the second chance of a lifetime in my opinion, but unfortunately for Rob it was just further evidence that he was untouchable. Maybe actually getting kicked out of school would have more beneficial in the long run for Rob????
Stacey I don't think he knew how to make sense and bring together the two worlds he was bound by: his upbringing in crime-ridden, very poor East Orange, NJ and that surreal Ivy League distinction, which served almost no purpose once back home. In fact, it was almost a detriment to him. How much are our life choices determined by our upbringing? Some can rise above those experiences and some cannot.

I believe Rob's worst decision was returning home after Yale. But because of his struggle to make things right for his friends and family, coupled with his internal demons to unite those two worlds he occupied, he could never turn his back on his mother, nor his friends and create a positive future for himself.
Nicole He could've stopped, to be honest he never had to start. Rob's way of thinking was his downfall, he was quick to give advice, but when some was given in return, he never listened. He wanted to do what he wanted and how he wanted. There were multiple ways he could've taken care of his mother and family, but his comfort zone was Orange, NJ and he wouldn't leave that behind. On multiple occasions Oswaldo, told him to change and do better, even offered to help him. Raquel's aunt tried to help, even she realized she needed to do something and joined the Navy to save herself. It's ironic the same advice Rob gave to Oswaldo about leaving Newark in order to better himself, was the advice he refuse to adhere to.

This was a real good book.
M. Yes, he definitely could have stopped, and that's what is so tragic. He continued selling drugs because he was good at it and because that was connected with where he came from, not because he had to.

This is a really good book, by the way.
Rhiannon I think Jeff Hobbs (with his liberal arts degree) understands that bootstrapping your way out of poverty depends as much on the individual as the circumstances. Robert's particular psychology was self-destructive, especially after he left Yale, and lost his money, his position at the lab, his plans, his prestige, and his support system; when he graduated, he lost everything, and everyone lost interest in helping him. Oswaldo, in contrast, was self-destructive, but he knew when to ask for help. I related to Oswaldo a lot- he's somewhat of a hot mess, but understood the meaning of the word "escape."
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by Jeff Hobbs (Goodreads Author)
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