Summary and book reviews of An American Summer by Alex Kotlowitz

An American Summer

Love and Death in Chicago

by Alex Kotlowitz

An American Summer by Alex Kotlowitz X
An American Summer by Alex Kotlowitz
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  • Published:
    Mar 2019, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rose Rankin
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About this Book

Book Summary

A richly textured, heartrending portrait of love and death in Chicago's most turbulent neighborhoods.

The numbers are staggering: over the past twenty years in Chicago, 14,033 people have been killed and another roughly 60,000 wounded by gunfire. What does that do to the spirit of individuals and community? Drawing on his decades of experience, Alex Kotlowitz set out to chronicle one summer in the city, writing about individuals who have emerged from the violence and whose stories capture the capacity - and the breaking point - of the human heart and soul. The result is a spellbinding collection of deeply intimate profiles that upend what we think we know about gun violence in America. Among others, we meet a man who as a teenager killed a rival gang member and twenty years later is still trying to come to terms with what he's done; a devoted school social worker struggling with her favorite student, who refuses to give evidence in the shooting death of his best friend; the witness to a wrongful police shooting who can't shake what he has seen; and an aging former gang leader who builds a place of refuge for himself and his friends.

Applying the close-up, empathic reporting that made There Are No Children Here a modern classic, Kotlowitz offers a piercingly honest portrait of a city in turmoil. These sketches of those left standing will get into your bones. This one summer will stay with you.

An American Summer

Excerpted from Prelude to a Summer

Near midnight on August 19th, 1998, the phone rang, an unusual occurrence at my parents' home in upstate New York where I was visiting with my wife and infant daughter. I got out of bed, and scrambled to the hallway to grab the phone. The voice on the other end sounded familiar but I couldn't quite place it. "It's Anne Chambers," she said. Anne was a Chicago violent crimes detective whom I knew. She told me she was calling from the kitchen in our home in Oak Park, a suburb bordering Chicago. She told me that Pharoah was there with her, and that he may have been involved in a murder. My legs buckled. I sat down to catch my breath.

This was the Pharoah from my book There Are No Children Here, a boy who tread cautiously, who loved school and who was so charming and vulnerable that adults went out of their way to protect him. Shortly after the book came out, Pharoah, who had grown up in one of the city's housing projects, had moved in ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

In An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago, Alex Kotlowitz patiently takes the reader through the streets, neighborhoods and institutions that are both the cause and the result of ongoing violence. More importantly, he humanizes the problem through personal stories and deep immersion in the lives of real people who have been affected.   (Reviewed by Rose Rankin).

Full Review Members Only (1072 words).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A fiercely uncompromising - and unforgettable - portrait.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Kotlowitz has a ruminative, almost poetic sensibility ... The violence is made palpable but never romanticized. Kotlowitz's approach is empathetic in this a bold, unflinching depiction of an ever-lengthening crisis.

Library Journal
Starred Review. Kotlowitz weaves a message of survival and remembrance that encourages readers to take a hard look at violence and justice in America. A powerful selection for anyone interested in social policy, gun violence, and social justice.

Author Blurb Sarah Koenig, host of Serial
An American Summer is an archive of the war - like finding a shocking but beautiful bundle of letters and photographs in the attic. Except that these dispatches reflect the daily violence that many Americans are experiencing, right now, in too many of our cities. Alex Kotlowitz dispenses with wooden categories of criminal and victim. With his uncommon warmth and sensitivity, he makes us understand that violence doesn't happen in a moment; it's a state of affairs.

Author Blurb Wes Moore, bestselling author of The Other Wes Moore and CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation
This book is revelatory and brilliant. There Are No Children Here changed me when I read it years ago. An American Summer has done it again.

Author Blurb Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Evicted
A masterpiece of real-life storytelling. With each unforgettable story, Kotlowitz draws us into the lives of people living and working in some of Chicago's most abandoned communities. The stories of suffering and revenge unsettle and enrage; those of grace and forgiveness warm and inspire. Together, they dispel with cheap explanations, offering deeper sense to acts thought senseless and revealing people's depth and humanity lost in the headlines.

Author Blurb Maaza Mengiste, author of Beneath the Lion's Gaze
What remains after the deaths, the funerals, the court hearings, the jail sentences, the mourning? This is the question at the heart of Alex Kotlowitz's compassionate and unflinching new book, and what emerges speaks to a stubborn, immovable, singular drive towards hope and forgiveness. Kotlowitz reminds us again and again that what happens in Chicago reflects the best and worst of our nation. This spectacular book is an urgent call to bear witness, not to the dying that violence breeds, but to the love that stands tall amidst the debris.

Author Blurb Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels
An American Summer is at turns shocking, heart-rending, and deeply moving. But it is always important. This is about the soul of our country.

Author Blurb Sara Paretsky, New York Times bestselling author of Shell Game
Alex Kotlowitz, America's pre-eminent narrative journalist, has written a searing, profound and profoundly human book about the gun violence that plagues American cities. Everyone who cares about the future of our cities and of our country will come away deeply moved, and with a deepened understanding of the long shadow cast by substandard schools, housing and job opportunities. It's not a call to action, but the stories Kotlowitz tells cry out to all readers to start acting.

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Beyond the Book

The Role of Race Relations in the 2013 Chicago School Closings

Teachers and parents protesting the closure of Chicago public schoolsWhen people talk about Chicago, the endemic violence inevitably comes up, along with a sense of helplessness about how to stop it. That helplessness leads to apathy, and the feeling that the neighborhoods torn apart by gun violence are forsaken, failed places. But this attitude is as much a cause as it is an effect of crime and violence. In her memoir Becoming, Michelle Obama articulated the connotations of failure with Black neighborhoods: "There were predatory real estate agents roaming South Shore all the while, whispering to home owners that they should sell before it was too late, that they'd help them get out while you still can. The inference being that failure was coming, that it was inevitable, that it has already half arrived. You...

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