From the author of There Are No Children Here, an examination of the epidemic of violent crime in Chicago through the events of the summer of 2013, narrating the stories of victims and their families, social workers, and perpetrators.
Kotlowitz writes with masterful economy and concreteness, and from his meticulous narrative springs a rich spectrum of emotions like light reflecting off high-rise window ... Kotlowitz’s hard-hitting and powerfully clarifying dispatches bring into the light people who love their families and friends and who work hard to take care of others, yet who are undermined, betrayed, and brutalized by violence, racism, poverty, and an unconscionable lack of understanding, caring, resources, and social and political will.
Like Kotlowitz’s now classic 1991 book, There Are No Children Here, about two boys growing up in a Chicago housing project, An American Summer forgoes analysis and instead probes the human damage that stems from exposure to violence. What he finds is important ... Kotlowitz, however, depicts the question of what causes urban crime to rise and fall as essentially unanswerable. 'Anyone who tells you they know is lying.' This is a curious position, especially given the trend (hardly mentioned in An American Summer) that criminologists consider the most important fact about urban violence in recent decades: Most American cities have experienced far less of it than anyone predicted, and national experts feel more confident than ever about what works ... President Trump, who called Chicago a 'war zone' and threatened to send in the National Guard, and Spike Lee, who named his 2015 film Chi-Raq, have helped make Chicago the national symbol of murderous violence. Kotlowitz, despite good intentions, has reinforced this view ... An American Summer is a powerful indictment of a city and a nation that have failed to protect their most vulnerable residents, or to register the depth of their pain. It is also a case study in the constraints of a purely narrative approach to the problems of inequality and social suffering.
An American Summer isn't a classic research narrative. It doesn't have copious footnotes. It doesn't include a bibliography at the end. Instead, Kotlowitz presents the human side of tragedy, the stories of those left behind. He paints an honest picture of the constant tug-of-war between families, communities, and schools on one side and the streets on the other. He gives readers an unflinching look at the lives of grieving mothers — and of social workers with too much on their plates who work stuffed in windowless cinder-block rooms the size of walk-in closets ... This makes An American Summer an uncomfortable read that cuts to the marrow of one of country's most violent cities and exposes the inequities, economic factors, and psycho-geographic elements that make it what it is ... There are no answers in these pages, but sometimes getting a good look at something is the first step in finding a solution.