Summary and book reviews of The Holly by Julian Rubinstein

The Holly

Five Bullets, One Gun, and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood

by Julian Rubinstein

The Holly by Julian Rubinstein X
The Holly by Julian Rubinstein
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  • Published:
    May 2021, 400 pages

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Book Summary

An award-winning journalist's dramatic account of a shooting that shook a community to its core, with important implications for the future

On the last Friday evening of the summer of 2013, five shots rang out in the parking lot of a new Boys & Girls Club in a part of northeast Denver known as the Holly. Long a destination for African American families fleeing the Jim Crow South, the Holly had become an "invisible city" within a historically white metropolis. While shootings weren't uncommon, the identity of the shooter that night came as a shock. Terrance Roberts was a revered activist. His attempts to bring peace to his community had won the accolades of both his neighbors and the state's most important power brokers. Why had he just fired a gun?

In The Holly, the award-winning journalist Julian Rubinstein, who grew up in Denver, reconstructs the events leading up to the fateful confrontation that left a local gang member paralyzed and Terrance Roberts on trial, facing a life in prison. Much more than the story of a shooting, The Holly is a multigenerational crime story that explores the porous boundaries between a city's elites and its most disadvantaged citizens, as well as the fraught interactions of police, confidential informants, activists, gang members, and ex-gang members trying―or not―to put their pasts behind them. It shows how well-intentioned urban renewal may hasten gentrification, and what happens when overzealous policing collides with gang members who conceive of themselves as defenders, however imperfect, of a neighborhood.

In the era of Black Lives Matter and urgent debates about the future of policing, Rubinstein offers a nuanced and humane illumination of what's at stake.

ACT I
1

Terrance's grandmother, Ernestine Boyd, was nineteen when she decided to run away. It was 1955. The eldest of ten, she was living with her parents and nine siblings in a small cabin on a cotton plantation in Bradley, Arkansas, where the family worked. She had just been promoted to cook, which seemed to be a blessing. She hadn't enjoyed picking cotton in the baking sun, for two dollars a day. In the kitchen, she'd make three dollars, and the plantation owner and his wife, on whose property she'd lived since she was six, loved her cooking.

But a few days into the new job, Mr. Pearson, the plantation owner, came into the kitchen and grabbed Ernestine from behind. He tried to kiss her. When she pushed him away he said something that kept her up all night. He asked if she would like to see the "nigger" who'd recently come by on his bike to pick her up "lying in a ditch."

Ernestine wasn't sure yet if she was in love with the man on the bike. Tall, lithe, and spirited, she had many ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A]n engrossing investigation...with expert sociological and historical context. This vivid story of redemption and loss offers profound insights into the forces that plague America's inner cities.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[A] haunting story...The author offers especially sharp and well-developed scrutiny of the use of active gang members as confidential police informants...[An] important book.

Booklist (starred review)
Rubinstein...has constructed a shattering piece of investigative journalism involving street gangs, race relations, and law enforcement...This is a gripping deep dive into media underreporting and too-quick judgment, and, most shockingly, into how the criminal-justice industrial complex may be invested in systemic corruption designed to keep drug wars going. Dramatic and wrenching.

Author Blurb Davarian L. Baldwin, author of In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities are Plundering Our Cities and Chicago's New Negroes
Julian Rubinstein dives deep beneath the deafening sound of a gunshot to reveal the layers of violence that America reaps on its inner cities. Through the compelling life story of Terrance 'ShowBizz' Roberts, the Apostle Paul of Park Hill, The Holly forces us to bear witness to a series of underground wars in the invisible parts of our cities that have been left to die for too long. Rubinstein just wanted to 'pay attention' to his hometown's gang violence but uncovered a rich and tragic history of gangsterism that connects the street corner with the courthouse and the boardroom. This gripping story of political collusion, murder, and redemption is a page turner with a propulsive weight of urgency.

Author Blurb Brendan I. Koerner, author of The Skies Belong to Us and Now the Hell Will Start
Seldom have I encountered a feat of storytelling as memorable or richly textured as The Holly. With the utmost skill and empathy, Julian Rubinstein weaves together the absorbing tales of a city roiled by breakneck growth and a man determined to elude the ghosts of his destructive past. The result is a book that poignantly illuminates the joys and pitfalls of reinvention in America, a country forever struggling to live up to its mighty promise.

Author Blurb Tom Zoellner, author of Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire and The National Road: Dispatches from a Changing America
Every city has a parallel society that many residents choose not to see. Julian Rubinstein digs deep into what he calls the 'invisible Denver' of his hometown to find astounding cross-currents of trouble, heroism and love. Only through his careful reporting could the redevelopment of a shopping center resemble a Colorado mining boom and the leadup to a ribbon-cutting at a Boys and Girls Club assume the drumbeats of a march to the executioner.

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