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Review: Fist Stick Knife Gun (Geoffrey Canada)

Title: Fist Stick Knife Gun: a personal history of violence
Author: Geoffrey Canada
Genre: Non-fiction, graphic novel, YA
Pages: 124
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Challenges: PoC; Awesome Authors, What's in a Name (evil)
FTC Disclosure: I bought this from my school's library
Summary (from the back of the book): Long before President Barack Obama praised his work and First Lade Michelle Obama called him "one of my heroes," Geoffrey Canada was a small, scared boy growing up in the South Bronx. His childhood world was one where "sidewalk boys" learned the codes of the block and were ranked through the rituals of fist, stick, knife, and, finally, gun. in a stunning pairing, acclaimed comics creator Jamar Nicholas presents Canada's raw and riveting account, one of the most authentic and important true stories of urban violence ever told.

Review: I read this book because I had heard about how good it was through reading Yummy: Tales of a South Side Shorty by Greg Neri. When I went to check it out from my school's library I discovered our copy was missing so we immediately bought another copy at our local independent bookstore. Boy am I glad I did! Like Yummy, this book is a true story of violence on the streets of America. The format of a graphic novel really lends itself to telling these stories of grit, intensity, poverty, fear, and violence.

The author narrates his story from being a little kid, a "sidewalk boy" where they had to fight whomever the older boys instructed. What's interesting is that the act of fighting was what was important, not who won or lost. Just the fact that he didn't back down mattered. Standing up to fight created a reputation which then had to be won again when they entered school. And, each time they changed schools (elementary to junior high, for example) the reputation had to be re-proven and re-earned.

Canada is lucky, even though he was living in a world of violence, his mother emphasized education. He went on to go to college at Bowdoin College and Harvard's Graduate School of Education. What's interesting is that when he was in college he bought his gun. He felt he needed it when he returned to his old neighborhood since the level of violence was growing. Carrying a gun gave him confidence to walk the streets and not avoid the teenage gang members. Though he says he didn't want to use the gun, he realized that simply carrying it meant that he took unnecessary risks. He eventually threw the gun away.

After the graphic novel ends there are a few pages of regular text written by the author that talk about the issue of violence, his thoughts on the issue and how we can solve some of the problems facing the urban poor in America. I hadn't really paid attention to who Geoffrey Canada is until I finished this book. When I finally looked at his photograph I thought he looked familiar. He was featured in the documentary Waiting for Superman and is the head of the Harlem Children's Zone, which is an amazing school in New York. They are an urban boarding school that has wonderful results with inner-city students. Totally cool.

Geography Connection:
(Photo credit for left photo)
I just don't have the experience of living in fear on the streets. I am not poor, don't live in a city, and I am not male, all factors that contribute to living on the edge in America. Along with this book I definitely recommend Yummy by Greg Neri, which covers a similar topic. Click to see my updated Google Map.


Aarti said...

Oh, I'm glad you enjoyed this one, Helen! And that you got it back in your library :-) Canada is certainly an inspirational figure, and I think what he's doing in Harlem is great. I hope his school's success really motivates others.

Athira said...

I just read this two nights ago, and agree with you. The book was well-done in terms of showing the nitty-gritty nature of the streets. It was certainly eye-opening. I did feel as though it was too wordy initially, but then it made up for it.

christina said...

I received this book from LT's Early Review program and was deeply impressed, both with the writing and the graphics. He was lucky to have removed himself from the 'hood and I praise him for his devotion to change.

Stephanie @ Read In a Single Sitting said...

This sounds like a fabulous read, Helen--how inspirational, and by the sounds of it, eye-opening.

Helen's Book Blog said...

Aarti--Canada is amazing. He is someone who is dedicated to making a difference in education and actually did something about it. Wouldn't it be great if the idea could be replicated elsewhere

Aths and Christina--Funny that we're both reading it within days of one another! Paired with Yummy it really gives a good picture of life for a certain group of inner city kids

Stephanie--As you can see from the commenters above you, this is really a book worth reading!