North Texas Daily

Novel Review: “There Are No Children Here”

Novel Review: “There Are No Children Here”

February 22
02:32 2013

Aimee Pass

Staff Photographer

Climb into a roach-infested apartment with 11 other inhabitants where the walls were once painted white, but are now smudged with grease stains, dirty handprints and the sewage leaking from upstairs. Bullets fly in from the courtyard and break through most of the windows in the living room where children sleep on the floor. Fortunately, even the youngest have learned to duck when they hear gunshots.

There Are No Children Here” by Alex Kotlowitz follows the story of two boys, 12-year-old Lafeyette and 9-year-old Pharoah, growing up in Chicago public housing in the ‘80s. The title of the book comes from a quote by the boys’ mother who said, “But you know, there are no children here. They’ve seen too much to be children.”

Lafeyette learns to grow up fast taking care of Pharoah and their three younger siblings.

“If I grow up, I’d like to be a bus driver,” he said to Kotlowitz in one of their first meetings. The uncertainty of that statement stings with truth throughout the entire book.

LaJoe, the boys’ mother, takes $80 out of her $900 welfare check every month to buy burial insurance for the five children. In the first summer of the book, 57 children were killed in the midst of the gang wars that plagued the apartment complex. One person every three days was beaten, stabbed or shot.

By the end of the book, the boys have personally witnessed the murder of seven people, several of whom were friends. Lafeyette decides he doesn’t have friends, only acquaintances. Pharoah maintains his innocence by continually saying, “I’m too young to understand.”

Their experience contrasts with that of white children growing up in the suburbs where a woman was killed and the subsequent deluge of outrage, support and therapy.

The themes of racism, waste and a broken system ring true regardless of which decade you were born in.

In Dallas alone, nearly 60,000 people live in public housing. Of that 60,000, approximately 86 percent are black, according to data from the Dallas Housing Authority. Granted, the conditions of public housing evolved rapidly after the publication of this book, but the problem of the poverty cycle persists.

Nationally, only a fifth of the families in need of housing assistance will receive it, according to a statement made by MaryAnn Russ, DHA president and chief executive. The waitlist in Dallas for public housing is three to five years long. Currently, it is closed to new applicants, according to the DHA.

There Are No Children Here” puts a face on the people we forget about while we debate over what to do with the nation’s impoverished population. It’s a story that will undoubtedly draw readers into the two boys’ lives, tragically perpetuated by both unfortunate circumstances and unfortunate decisions.

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