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Review of INVISIBLE CHILD
What homelessness looks like in New York City
It’s hard to even figure out how to write a review about this book. Partly because so many people already have. But also because the book is so grand, 500 words seems almost useless to give this book the credit it is due. I honestly wasn’t sure of what to expect when I first came across this book. I had to check whether it was even non-fiction! But after it recently won the Pulitzer Prize, the book got back on my radar, and I’m grateful for the impromptu buy at the airport recently.
Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival, and Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott is an incredible, tragic, heart-wrenching story of homelessness in the most prosperous city in America, as told through the eyes of a child.
Poverty is a hard topic to write about. It’s a polarizing topic (but what isn’t today) where ideological battles rage as to whether the homeless need more public assistance or whether they need it taken away to motivate economic advancement. But beyond the debate occurring among primarily the elite, there are real people with real struggle – including nearly 15,000 homeless children in New York City alone.
This is why Elliott chose to write about homelessness from the perspective of a child and her family. Pundits on both sides the aisle can chastise homeless adults, but how do you blame a child for being homeless? A child that had no say in their situation. But is nonetheless permanently shaped by hunger, violence, drugs, and stress. The arguments of personal responsibility wane when it comes to children. This is what makes Dasnai’s story so powerful.
The decade of reporting by Elliott, which culminated in Invisible Child, is impressive not only for its length but also its depth. The trust built with Dasani’s family to allow a reporter into their lives to chronicle every detail, struggle, and change is remarkable. And the story that results is tragic and informative.
After the first chapter I had to take a breath — it’s so heavy right away. But it was so hard to put this book down because the reader is literally following nearly a decade of a girl’s life as she grows up in a desperate situation – living in a single shelter room (with seven siblings and her two parents) in a building deemed unsafe for human inhabitation.
From Dasani’s perspective, Elliott shows how the welfare and child protection systems work (or don’t), and how the cycle of poverty within families is perpetuated generation after generation. It shows how the crack trade devastated, mostly black, families beginning in the 1980s. And it shows how child protection services and foster care can cause far more damage than good for many kids, interrupting their education, development, and social relationships to a point where most kids cannot overcome the damage.
Indivisible Child is a remarkable book. One of the best I’ve ever read. It shows a tragic problem and system with context. It’s not political. The writing is spectacular. And it’s a book everyone should read. You won’t regret it.
Published: October 2021
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