Review: The Triangle: A Year on the Ground with New York’s Bloods and Crips

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Review for "The Triangle: A Year on the Ground with New York's Bloods and Crips" by Kevin Deutsch (2014)
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Good Lord this book sucks…where do I start?

“The Triangle” is a reporter’s ‘first hand’ account of a year in the lives of Crips and Bloods gang members in the community of Hempstead, Long Island, NY. Both gangs, long associated with the urban center of NYC, have now moved out into the suburbs. Priced out of their former boroughs through gentrification, the suburbs of Long Island and its surrounding towns are now the setting of murders and gang warfare, as well as open air drug markets run by both gangs.

Much of this book takes place during a gang war between the two sets. It’s not a pretty picture. There are accounts of beatings, rapes, and murders on both sides, reported with the same mind-numbing, casual tone as one would describe a routine activity such as making a sandwich. The Crips strike the Bloods by gunning down one of their high ranking members, Bloods then retaliate by kidnapping and raping a Crip female associate. The circle repeats itself over and over as each gang goes back and forth, back and forth. By page 75, I was completely annoyed with this.

Which brings me to the major problem here: the tone of this book. There’s nothing here. For narrative-style nonfiction to be effective, there has to be emotion conveyed, somehow. Yeah it’s a true story, but it’s still a story–the people in it have to live outside the page. Otherwise, reading about them is just boring, pointless facts. This book is just boring pointless facts.There’s no emotional investment in this story by the author or by me in reading it. Here, the main players sling drugs, smoke weed, terrorize their community, then die in a hail of bullets. An awful lot. At no point did I feel any emotion over this, just irritated at the voyeuristic nature of the violence.

Another problem: much of the action of this book takes place through dialogue. In a note at the end, the author mentions that only about 40-50% of the events were witnessed by him first hand. This means that the majority of this book’s events were constructed or inferred by the author, or solely based on the verbal accounts of the subjects (even the author admits that gang members have a tendency to lie or embellish details to bolster their reputation on the street). How much, then, of this story is really true? A quick Google search of the author’s name turns up several accusations of suspicious journalism practices for work he did on a later book. For all we know, this book could be mostly fiction too, passed off as nonfiction with the use of fake/nonexistent sources.

I don’t recommend this book at all. If you really want in-depth, emotionally gripping stories of gang related violence and the urban drug culture beyond just play-by-play tales of violence, I would check out the work of David Simon. He’s written “Homicide: Life on the Streets,” “The Corner,” and, of course HBO’s show “The Wire.” Much better writing too. Check those out. Not this.

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Review: My Name is Venus Black

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Review for "My Name is Venus Black" by Heather Lloyd (to be published on 27 February 2018)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Meh, I didn’t care for this book.

“My Name is Venus Black” opens with 13-year-old Venus locked up for a crime that she refuses to elaborate on. For the sake of not spoiling the novel I won’t tell you what the crime is either, other than to say that she spends a little over five years in a juvenile facility for it. During Venus’ incarceration, her younger brother Leo, who is developmentally disabled, is kidnapped by a family member (this is not a spoiler–part of the novel is told from his perspective). Her mother Inez, with whom Venus has a contentious relationship, blames her for Leo’s disappearance and the police do not succeed in locating him. Eventually, Venus emerges as an adult from juvenile prison. She proceeds to get a fake name, a job, rents a room in a boarding house, and tries to acquire some sense of normalcy. She does not get past her longing to find her brother, which grows as the story goes on.

This is a novel about moving on from the past and finding forgiveness. There are problems here though, and none of them have anything to do with the plot. First, this book has an identity problem. The publisher is clearly marketing it as literary/general fiction, but the tone, characterization, the language (and yes, the plot) very much read like a YA novel. Not that I have a problem with YA–I love YA–but this book does not seem as if it were written for adults. As a matter of fact, I could put this book and pretty much any YA novel out right now side by side and find about 10 points of similarity to rest my case on. The categorization of this book seems like an glaring error, like maybe it was originally intended as YA and someone stuck it in the general lit category at the last minute.

There’s also strange shifts in points of view here. Venus’ POV is always first person, but everyone else’s thoughts are presented in a third person omniscient voice, which changes often–sometimes in the same chapter. And oddly enough, at least 3 of the perspectives told consistently here are of adults. Which brings me back to the genre problem I was just talking about. Could it be that some editor made a suggestion and stuck this in the general lit category just because of the inclusion of adult perspectives? If so, that was an ill-advised decision.

And oh yeah, the ending. The details of Venus’ crime aren’t revealed until the last few pages of the book. By then, with all the hints dropped, I pretty much already knew what had happened anyway. This delay seemed unnecessary, like bad suspense. The end was also kinda Lifetime movie-ish. You know, like when you’ve watched the drama go down and then all the so-angry-at-each-other characters end up sitting around drinking lemonade together while the credits roll? Zzzz.

Overall, it’s not a bad book, but there were too many issues here to give it more than 2 stars.

This book has a pretty cover. I like stars.

[Note: An advance electronic copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, Dial Press, as well as NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: Green

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Review for "Green" by Sam Graham-Felsen (2018)

Rating: none

No rating. I DNF’d this. I just couldn’t take the main character anymore. And it’s totally not the character’s fault, he’s a 12 year old boy. The tragedy of this one is 100% on the author.

David Greenfeld is a white, middle class kid living in Boston in 1992. His Jewish, hippie parents are gentrifiers, living comfortably on the borders of a mostly Black housing project. They decide that Dave should go to the local middle school instead of a private school to be exposed to all of life’s “perspectives.” Dave explains all of this in the first few pages of the book, and I admit that his POV interested me immediately.

As far as Dave himself goes, he is socially inept, attempting to survive in a school environment where he is an outsider. His younger brother does not talk (there’s a strong suggestion that he’s on the autism spectrum) and his parents refuse to buy him the latest clothes. He succeeds in getting his Mom to buy him a trendy Charlotte Hornets tracksuit, only to get robbed near his neighborhood. He’s teased about the robbery at school. He eventually takes up with a black student named Marlon, and they bond over their nerdiness and love of the Boston Celtics. Both want to get into prep school. Dave learns, however, that race and class are far more powerful forces in his friend and his own life than he imagined.

So let’s get to why I DNF’d this. THE LANGUAGE. Dave speaks with a over the top, 90’s hip hop slang that’s reminiscent of corny minstrel movies such as “Malibu’s Most Wanted.” Clothes are “gear,” items are “rocked,” shit is “wack,” girls are “shorties,” and so on. It’s all over the book, even Dave’s thoughts are presented this way. It has no authenticity whatsoever. I was in the 8th grade in ’92 and I don’t remember the slang we used being as pervasive as this book makes it out to be, to the point to where it was in every. single. line. of our speech. I can certainly understand what the author was TRYING to do by showing us that Dave is trying too hard by performing what he thinks is a display of “blackness,” if you will, but it’s just too much. At first I skimmed, then I stopped reading after 200 pages. Plus it wasn’t like there was anything happening anyway (plotwise, that is) to compel me to read any further.

Also, even though this book is about a 12-year-old boy, it is not a YA book. You’ve been forewarned.

This could have been one of the most important books of 2018 had it not been for technicalities, namely, its language execution. Read at your own risk.

Review: The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir

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Review for "The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir" by Ariel Levy (2017)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Much-hyped memoir of Ariel Levy, a NYC-based nonfiction writer who, like most of us gals, has been inundated with the feminist mantra that she can have it all–a happy marriage, a career, a family, success. By her late thirties she’s married and accomplished most of what she wants career-wise, but remains childless. Then surprisingly, she finds herself pregnant at 38. However, on a trip to Mongolia in her second trimester, she loses her baby in a devastating miscarriage. Later on when she returns home, she loses her marriage as well.

The writing here is good but I admit that my review is tainted because I didn’t care too much for Ms. Levy. For the insightful feminist that she claims to be, she came off as superficial and just plain selfish in the last half of the book. She readily admits that she cheated during her marriage, yet she’s awfully cold and unforgiving toward her wife, who she discovers was lying to conceal her alcoholism. She also writes with disdain toward people with money, but reminds us several times that her ‘baby daddy’ (her words, btw) is a wealthy man who takes care of her. And Levy’s final meditation behind the whole “you can have it all” premise of the book? We don’t always get what we want, and we’re all going to die someday.

*slaps forehead*

Isn’t this something you learn as a child?

Levy is damn near 40 years old when she finally figures out that the Universe is no respecter of persons and she cannot die with all the toys that she wants. I am certainly sorry for the loss of her baby, but her sense of entitlement to a illusory world of privilege is one that I simply could not relate to.

I had not heard of the author before this book. Honestly, I don’t think I would be upset if I did not hear from her again after this. The story was all over the place and as I said before, the writing was good but there are better memoirs out there. Read at your own risk.