This is the moving and powerful account of two remarkable boys struggling to survive in Chicago’s Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex disfigured by crime and neglect.
There Are No Children Here, the true story of brothers Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers, ages 11 and 9 at the start, brings home the horror of trying to make it in a violence-ridden public housing project. The boys live in a gang-plagued war zone on Chicago’s West Side, literally learning how to dodge bullets the way kids in the suburbs learn to chase baseballs. “If I grow up, I’d like to be a bus driver,” says Lafeyette at one point. That’s if, not when–spoken with the complete innocence of a child. The book’s title comes from a comment made by the brothers’ mother as she and author Alex Kotlowitz contemplate the challenges of living in such a hostile environment: “There are no children here,” she says. “They’ve seen too much to be children.” This book humanizes the problem of inner-city pathology, makes readers care about Lafeyette and Pharoah more than they may expect to, and offers a sliver of hope buried deep within a world of chaos.
The devastating story of brothers Lafayette and Pharoah Rivers, children of the Chicago ghetto, is powerfully told here by Kotlowitz, a Wall Street Journal reporter who first met the boys in 1985 when they were 10 and seven, respectively. Their family includes a mother, a frequently absent father, an older brother and younger triplets. We witness the horrors of growing up in an ill-maintained housing project tyrannized by drug gangs and where murders and shootings frequently occur. Lafayette tries to cope by stifling his emotions and turning himself into an automaton, while Pharoah first attempts to regress into early childhood and then finds a way out by excelling at school. Kotlowitz’s affecting report does not have a “neat and tidy ending. . . . It is, instead, about a beginning, the dawning of two lives.” These are lives at a crossroads, not totally without hope of triumphing over their origin. ~ Publisher Weekly