There Are No Children Here Summary

Alex Kotlowitz

There Are No Children Here

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There Are No Children Here Summary

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There Are No Children Here, written by Alex Kotlowitz, is the true story of the Rivers family, struggling to overcome the adversity of living in Chicago in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Different chapters of the book focus on individual members of the family, with the lion’s share of attention going to three male children in the family Rivers: Pharoah, Lafayette, and Terence. There is also continual reference to their mother, LaJoe, which serves to unify the narrative of the book despite the fact that each of the sons has a very different way of experiencing and reacting to the hardship that surrounds all of them.

Although the boys’ father Paul lives with the rest of the family, LaJoe is, for all intents and purposes, a single mother. This is because during the time that the events described in the book take place, Paul has become a drug addict, working merely to support his habit, and contributing nothing towards raising his children nor providing for the family. LaJoe, by contrast, is deeply committed to her maternal responsibilities and works tirelessly to ensure that her children are provided for and to prevent them from getting caught up in the gang culture that was dominant in the neighborhood where they lived. Kotliwtz does a superb job in making the reader feel as if he or she is witnessing the events in the lives of Pharoah, Lafayette, and Terence through LaJoe’s eyes. We share her experience of worry for her children throughout their childhood and early adolescence of the horror she experiences when, despite her best efforts, her children become involved in criminal activities or suffer as a result of them.

Terence, the youngest of the three, experiences his fall from grace after being wrongly convicted of a crime. Since he was a criminal in the eyes of the community, or at least felt like one after his run-in with the law, he decided he might as well act like one. Although racked with guilt for defying LaJoe and embracing the criminal lifestyle, Terence felt as though he no longer had a choice in the matter. Over time, Terrence’s offenses grow more and more serious, culminating in his committing an armed robbery, a crime for which his was arrested and convicted. As a result of his crime, Terrence would spend the next eight years behind bars.

Lafayette, like Terence, also has his course in life drastically affected by actions taken by the police. Like his brother, Lafayette was also wrongfully arrested. Even worse, he was physically abused by the police, who threw Lafayette to the ground and kicked him repeatedly. However, this was not the critical moment in Lafayette’s life. Rather, what changed Lafayette was the death of a close friend, Craig Davis, who was murdered by the police even though he had done nothing wrong. Craig was one of the few people living in the same neighborhood as the Rivers to graduate high school. He also looked forward to a future earning an honest living working as a deejay. Lafayatte looked to Craig as a kind of role model and source of hope for the future. After Craig was killed, Lafayette losses all hope. He is not driven to a life of crime like his brother; rather the experience of Craig’s death led to his developing paranoia and becoming withdrawn from the outside world.

Pharoah is also deeply affected by the death of Craig. Although earlier events contributed towards Pharoah developing a speech impediment and problems with generalized anxiety, he is able to overcome these issues and build up his confidence by dedicating himself to his schoolwork. Pharoah takes a special interest in spelling, competing each year in the school’s spelling competition. After being disqualified because of his stutter one year, Pharoah makes it his mission to overcome his speech impediment. While he wins the spelling competition the following year, his victory is overshadowed by the death of Craig, which happens on the same day. Pharoah begins to reflect on whether educational success is enough to give one what it takes to escape the violence and uncertainty of the neighborhood where the Rivers live.

Later on, Lafayette is again wrongfully accused of a crime by the police. Although LaJoe, along with the public defender, testify in Lafayette’s defense, the judge finds Lafayette guilty and sentences him to one hundred hours of community service. Lafayette tries his best to stay out of trouble and focus on his education, but academics do not come easy to him and he falls into drug use. But after some encouragement from LaJoe, Lafayette promises to redouble his efforts and return to school.

At the end of the book, the future of the Rivers children is far from certain. Terence is still serving his prison sentence. And although Lafayette pledges to pursue his education and avoid trouble with the law, it is far from clear whether he will succeed. Pharoah, on the other hand, has resumed his studies and is showing promise for the future. But it is unclear even for him whether he will be able to avoid having his future taken from him by one of the senseless acts of violence that the Rivers family have come to accept as parts of everyday life.