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There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America is a 1991 biography by Alex Kotlowitz that describes the experiences of two brothers growing up in Chicago's Henry Horner Homes. It won the Carl Sandburg award.
The Rivers brothers, like many in the Henry Horner Homes, live with their mother, LaJoe. The boys' father, Paul, drifts in and out of the apartment, however his income mostly supports his drug habit and alcoholism. Together, they have eight children, their first being born when LaJoe was 14.
LaShawn and Weasel (the oldest son) are not close with the other children (despite living with them), and are mentioned very little in the book. The triplets occupy most of Lafayette's time, as he watches out for them when his mother does not. Though most members of the family are close, they each have different ways of expressing their love.
The projects offer few productive activities for Lafayette and Pharoah. A Boy's Club offers summer programs for troubled youths, but space and funding are extremely limited, and it is in a rival gang's territory. Apart from a playground and a few arcades, there are few safe spaces within the Homes.
Gangs figure prominently in the neighborhood, and many youths work as drug or gun runners. Though neither Lafayette nor Pharoah join official gangs, Lafayette occasionally finds himself in a group of sketchy neighborhood boys, and is caught doing several petty crimes. He is prosecuted for one the book claims he did not participate, a robbery which he happened to pass by with a friend when police arrived. Pharoah steers completely clear of trouble throughout the book, as he has no interest in violating the law.
The story presents a dark part of American society. The story mentions that children as young as thirteen years old are already engaged in violence, gang membership, and drugs dealing. There are several points that are useful in understanding the social context of the urban youth in American society.
First, the story explores the causes of domestic violence. Kotlowitz points out that the young people are robbed of their innocence by their dysfunctional social environments. Their attitudes are molded by the violence that they encounter day to day and the kind of life they are born into in the projects. Any fear of committing violent actions is replaced by their desire to maintain their own safety and fulfill their own needs.
Secondly, the story presents the idea that the children could succeed if given a chance. Pharaoh exemplifies this by excelling when given the chance to study.
The story also reveals gross violations of human rights, depriving most of the youths of chances of successful futures. The city officials who are supposed to maintain peace and order as well as look after the welfare of the people in the project are the ones who corrupted the budget intended for the betterment of the building occupants. The Chicago Housing Authority personnel are depicted as largely responsible for the horrendous living conditions in the housing project, particularly in the Rivers' building.
Kotlowitz spent three years with Lafayette and Pharoah and their family and friends. Through numerous interviews, discussion, and reflections he compiled, There Are No Children Here brings the different views, worries, and opinions from the members of the Rivers family. There Are No Children Here is a combination of reporting, urban nonfiction, and biographical writing.
The title comes from a quote by LaJoe Rivers commenting on the bleakness of her children's livelihood.
|“||But you know, there are no children here. They've seen too much to be children.||”|
- LaJoe Rivers, 1988
Alex Kotlowitz was recognized for his work on the book, which was universally praised. The book won the following awards: