March 2020, Nonfiction

Broke by Jodie Adams Kirshner

Broke: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises by Tina Connolly. November 19, 2019. St. Martin’s Press, 342 p. ISBN: 9781250220639.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

A galvanizing, narrative account of a city’s bankruptcy and its aftermath told through the lives of seven valiantly struggling Detroiters

Bankruptcy and the austerity it represents have become a common “solution” for struggling American cities. What do the spending cuts and limited resources do to the lives of city residents? In Broke, Jodie Adams Kirshner follows seven Detroiters as they navigate life during and after their city’s bankruptcy. Reggie loses his savings trying to make a habitable home for his family. Cindy fights drug use, prostitution, and dumping on her block. Lola commutes two hours a day to her suburban job. For them, financial issues are mired within the larger ramifications of poor urban policies, restorative negligence on the state and federal level and―even before the decision to declare Detroit bankrupt in 2013―the root causes of a city’s fiscal demise.

Like Matthew Desmond’s EvictedBroke looks at what municipal distress means, not just on paper but in practical―and personal―terms. More than 40 percent of Detroit’s 700,000 residents fall below the poverty line. Post-bankruptcy, they struggle with a broken real estate market, school system, and job market―and their lives have not improved.

Detroit is emblematic. Kirshner makes a powerful argument that cities―the economic engine of America―are never quite given the aid that they need by either the state or federal government for their residents to survive, not to mention flourish. Success for all America’s citizens depends on equity of opportunity.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Criminal culture; Discrimination; Drugs; Strong language

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 5))
The city of Detroit was put into bankruptcy in 2013, weighed down by years of blight, urban flight, and fiscal mismanagement. The mortgage crisis of 2007 to 2008, the great recession, and the near insolvency of the “Big Three” automakers all factored heavily in the city’s problems. The city’s troubles began years before with the relocation of auto plants and outsourcing of jobs, and the financial crisis added an exclamation point to it. A research professor at New York University, Kirshner frames her narrative through the lives of various Detroit residents struggling to stay in the city they love. Miles is middle-aged, staring into financial oblivion while attempting to find work. Reggie aspires to own a home and settle down with his family. Determined Broadmoor resident Cindy seeks to clean up her neighborhood. These three are joined by others and united by the crushing onus of government oversight and misplaced intentions. While Detroit’s bankruptcy ended in late 2014, some glaring problems remain. This is a powerful view of the seldom-seen victims of financial calamity.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2019)
A deep dive into the daily living of low-income Detroit residents as well as real estate speculators. Kirshner  received permission from seven individuals to conduct on-the-ground research about what occurs when a city is stuck under the weight of often arcane bankruptcy law. The burdens fall most heavily on people of color. Four of Kirshner’s protagonists are black: Miles, an ambitious mid-40s construction worker bedeviled by mistaken law enforcement paperwork suggesting he is a felon; Lola, a mid-20s single mother who cannot find a conveniently located job commensurate with her college education; Reggie, a mid-40s buyer of residential properties in a city decimated by abandoned homes often emptied through fraud initiated by white lenders; and Charles, a 50-ish faithful Detroiter who earned a livable income when the automobile industry was thriving in the city. The three white protagonists are Joe, a tree surgeon business owner who optimistically relocated from New Jersey; Robin, a late 40s property developer from Los Angeles who sees moneymaking opportunities purchasing abandoned houses in certain Detroit neighborhoods; and Cindy, an early 60s Detroiter who hung on as her longtime neighborhood shifted from mostly white to nearly all low-income black, with abandoned and vandalized houses on every block. Kirshner is masterful at explaining the predatory banking and insurance industry practices that have led to impoverishment across the entire city (except for the white establishment downtown), the heartlessness of white politicians (mostly Republicans) who seemingly operate from racist viewpoints, a judicial system that offers little justice for the poor, and bankruptcy law, which was never meant to be applied to city governments. Although immersed in the lives of her protagonists, the author wisely keeps a low profile within her eye-opening and sometimes heartbreaking narrative, which ends with a brief call to action. “We cannot allow the country to fragment into areas of varying opportunity,” she writes. A significant work of social sciences and urban studies.

About the Author

Jodie Adams Kirshner is a research professor at New York University. Previously on the law faculty at Cambridge University, she also teaches bankruptcy law at Columbia Law School. She is a member of the American Law Institute, past term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and technical advisor to the Bank for International Settlements. She received a prestigious multi-year grant from the Kresge Foundation to research this book.

Her website is jodieadamskirshner.com/

Teacher Resources

Author Interview on C-Span’s BookTV

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February 2020, Nonfiction

Accused! by Larry Dane Brimner

Accused!: The Trials of the Scottsboro Boys: Lies, Prejudice, and the Fourteenth Amendment by Larry Dane Brimner. October 15, 2019. Calkins Creek, 189 p. ISBN: 9781629797755.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

This chilling and harrowing account tells the story of the Scottsboro Boys, nine African-American teenagers who, when riding the rails during the Great Depression, found their lives destroyed after two white women falsely accused them of rape. Award-winning author Larry Dane Brimner explains how it took more than eighty years for their wrongful convictions to be overturned.

In 1931, nine teenagers were arrested as they traveled on a train through Scottsboro, Alabama. The youngest was thirteen, and all had been hoping to find something better at the end of their journey. But they never arrived. Instead, two white women falsely accused them of rape. The effects were catastrophic for the young men, who came to be known as the Scottsboro Boys. Being accused of raping a white woman in the Jim Crow south almost certainly meant death, either by a lynch mob or the electric chair. The Scottsboro boys found themselves facing one prejudiced trial after another, in one of the worst miscarriages of justice in U.S. history. They also faced a racist legal system, all-white juries, and the death penalty. Noted Sibert Medalist Larry Dane Brimner uncovers how the Scottsboro Boys spent years in Alabama’s prison system, enduring inhumane conditions and torture. The extensive back matter includes an author’s note, bibliography, index, and further resources and source notes.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Mild language, Racism

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 1))
Grades 9-12. Brimner, who won the 2018 Sibert Award for his book Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961, now looks at the case of the Scottsboro boys, nine black teenagers who were arrested and falsely accused of raping two white women in 1931. The teenagers were riding the rails, hoping to find work in Alabama. Instead, they got into a fight with some white boys and were arrested when the train was stopped. But the fight wasn’t the only trouble they found—two white women who had been aboard the train accused them of rape. Brimner has his work cut out for himself in telling this complicated story. There are numerous accounts from defendants, witnesses, and lawyers; the perspective switches between the accused young men, who at times turn on each other; and the story contains important political and social elements, including an exploration of racism and the willingness of a Communist organization to defend the nine to promote its ideology. Not all the plates are kept in the air, but Brimner gives the narrative both heft and heart. The book’s design uses black-and-white photos to good advantage. A solid look at a noteworthy event that touched upon many aspects of U.S. society.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2019)
Brimner (Blacklisted!, 2018, etc.) revisits the history of injustice in America. Brimner has extensively researched the heartbreaking story of the suffering and stolen futures of nine African American teens falsely accused of the rape of two white women in Alabama in 1931, laying all the facts on the table in a concise, gripping volume. The engaging, easy-to-follow text will draw readers into a historical account that mirrors many of today’s headlines. Ultimately, it took over 80 years for justice to finally be served for these young men; they were not fully exonerated until 2013. In the meantime, they were nearly lynched, attacked and beaten by guards, and faced execution. Even after they were released from prison, their lives were ruined, and they were never able to fully recover. The text is enhanced with primary sources including photos, newspaper clippings, ephemera, and court documents that give readers a sense of immediacy. The author’s note provides context about the enduring impact of the trials. This volume stands as a reminder to readers that lies have consequences and that no matter how long it takes, “We need to right the wrongs that have been done in the past.” The parallels between the perils the Scottsboro Boys endured and current news stories show the continued relevance of this history, making this a must-have for both school and public libraries. Engaging and historically accurate; highly recommended. (author’s note, bibliography, source notes, index, picture credits) (Nonfiction. 13-adult)

About the Author

Larry Dane Brimner is the recipient of the 2018 Robert F. Sibert Award for the most distinguished informational book for children for his title Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961. He is known for his well-researched, innovative, and award-winning nonfiction for young readers, and is the author of multiple acclaimed civil rights titles, including Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights; and Black & White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor.

His website is www.brimner.com.

Teacher Resources

Scottsboro Boys Lesson Plan

Around the Web

Accused! on Amazon

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Accused! on Goodreads

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Accused! Publisher Page

Nonfiction, November 2019

Gun Violence by Matt Doeden

Gun Violence: Fighting for Our Lives and Our Rights by Matt Doeden. October 1, 2019. Twenty-First Century Books, 112 p. ISBN: 9781541555549.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1080.

In early 2018, teen-led March for Our lives events across the United States protested gun violence, demanded change to save lives, and registered voters toward that end. This authoritative exploration of guns, gun violence, and gun control explores the Second Amendment, the history of guns and gun laws in the United States, legal restrictions to gun ownership, and the devastation of mass shootings. Through an objective look at individual versus collective rights, readers will be able to offer well-informed answers to questions such as should young people own assault rifles? What about terrorists and the mentally ill? Read the book to make an informed argument and support your point of view.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, including discussion of mass shootings

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 1))
Grades 9-12. Accounts of gun violence, particularly in the U.S., are too often news headlines these days, and in their wake come polarized debates over gun control. This is especially true of mass shootings that number children and young adults among their victims. While examining escalating gun violence and mass shootings, Doeden presents a balanced approach to the debates concerning gun control and differing interpretations of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. He offers the perspectives and arguments from one side and immediately follows with the other, raising tough questions on both fronts. This structure effectively allows readers to consider the merits of the pro and con arguments. After giving the historical background of the Second Amendment, Doeden integrates dates and statistics into accounts of shootings from Columbine to 2018. Captioned color photographs, maps, diagrams, and special features provide enhancements (and breaks) in the text. Back matter offers a multitude of resources: a time line, chapter-by-chapter source notes, bibliography, and further information that includes books, films, and websites. A timely resource for young adults.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2019)
This compact introduction confronts head-on the highly controversial issue of gun ownership in the United States. Examining how gun ownership became a way of life in the Colonies, which in turn paved the way for the Second Amendment, this volume presents both the historical context for and contemporary concerns surrounding gun ownership. As gun technology became more compact and sophisticated, and automatic weapons became standard issue for organized crime, it became clear that some control was needed. However, legislative attempts in the 1930s and ’60s failed to stop gun violence. Subsequent years saw the rise of powerful gun lobbies such as the National Rifle Association and legislation that further protected the rights of individuals to use firearms for self-defense. Single-page features describe specific mass shootings as well as the murder of Trayvon Martin. The author reviews statistics to analyze the impact of gun legislation on civilian safety, among other subjects. One tremendous oversight in a guide focusing heavily on current events is the lack of mention of public outcry around police shootings of black and Indigenous people or the Black Lives Matter movement. Stock photographs predominantly portray white mourners and victims of gun violence, while a photo illustrating gun sales without background checks features a black customer, possibly sending an unintended message to readers A detailed analysis of America’s gun culture that unfortunately omits important context around racial bias. (timeline, glossary, source notes, selected bibliography, further information, index, photo credits) (Nonfiction. 13-18)

About the Author

Matt Doeden was born in southern Minnesota and lived parts of his childhood in Golden Valley, Minnesota, and Madison, Minnesota. He studied journalism at Mankato State University, where he worked at the college newspaper for three years. In his senior year, he served as the paper’s Sports Editor, which put him in charge of the entire sports section, the sports writers, and the photographers. He covered mostly college sports, but also the Minnesota Vikings, who held training camp at MSU.

His work allowed him to meet and interview people like Dennis Green, Cris Carter, Robert Smith, and more. Matt went on to work as a sports writer for the Mankato paper, and then he got a job as an editor with a small children’s publisher called Capstone Press, and in 2003 he decided to start his own business as a freelance writer and editor.

Since then, Matt has written and edited hundreds of books. Lots of them are on high-interest topics like cars, sports, and airplanes. He also writes and edits on geography, science, and even math.

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Gun Violence on Amazon

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