Random Family Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 109-page guide for “Random Family” by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 44 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Calcified Gender and Sexual Norms.
Random Family was published in 2003 and is the product of a decade of research and interviews by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. It mainly focuses on two Puerto Rican teenagers, Coco Rodriguez and Jessica Martinez, who are fifteen and sixteen, respectively, when the narrative begins.
Jessica is the daughter of Lourdes, and when we are first introduced to her, she is a sixteen-year-old girl who lives on Tremont Avenue, a particularly desolate area in the Bronx. Simultaneously bright-eyed and calculating, Jessica uses her beauty and desirable body to attempt to secure her life’s dearest aims: a great romance, and the security that she believes that romance will provide. After bouncing from one thwarted romantic prospect to another—she is perpetually bound by the role of second-best, despite her great physical assets—she mothers a child, named Serena (nicknamed Little Star).
Her child’s father is Puma, a breakdancer whose fifteen minutes of fame, afforded to him because he is one of the subjects of a popular film, have already come to an end. Too young and busy trying to realize her own desires to truly be a mother, caretaking responsibilities for Serena quickly fall to Lourdes, Jessica’s embattled mother who herself struggles beneath the burden of motherhood and a cocaine addiction. Soon, Jessica meets Boy George, a twenty-year-old rising star in the illegal drug trade. Boy George grows to manage a multi-million-dollar heroin empire, and takes Jessica on as one of his mistresses. Although Jessica enjoys an occasional upgrade in living conditions, and Boy George’s extravagant gifts, the FBI and DEA are soon actively surveilling Boy George’s operations, and Jessica is subject to his volatile and violent whims. Jessica carries out her own affairs and gives birth to twin girls named Brittany and Stephanie. The twins are not fathered by Boy George. Due to an FBI wiretap, Jessica is charged and prosecuted as a co-conspirator in George’s many illegal enterprises, and sentenced to ten years in prison. Boy George, for his part, is sentenced to life in prison.
LeBlanc’s narrative follows Jessica’s prison experience closely, as she struggles with the separation from her family and the absence from her children’s lives. Her children are subsequently raised by a family friend named Milagros. In prison, Jessica grapples with the sexual violence she has endured, which started with her sexual abuse at the hands of her brother’s father when she was a young child. By the end of the book, Jessica has made it out of prison and reunited with Serena, the only child with whom she has been able to forge a lasting bond. She maintains her starry-eyed desire for romance while simultaneously grappling with her daughter’s burgeoning sexuality.
Coco Rodriguez is fifteen when we meet her, and she falls in love with Cesar Santos, Jessica’s brother, on sight. Their love shapes her life for years to come, as Cesar becomes engaged with various criminal exploits and eventually lands in a maximum-security prison for the accidental murder of Mighty, his best friend. Coco, whose defining characteristic is a sunny and joyful generosity, struggles against both the utter scarcity of her circumstances, the abusive and misogynistic demands that Cesar continually places upon her (even from behind bars), and the care of her own children. Ultimately, she mothers two children by Cesar (girls named Mercedes and Nautica), and three other children by different men (two girls,Nikki and Pearl, and a boy named La-Monté). Enduring homelessness, evictions, the inscrutability and illogic of state agencies, the behavioral issues of her “problem child” Mercedes, and the onerous medical care of Pearl, who is born prematurely, Coco manages to carve out conditions for herself and her family that allow them to survive.
The narrative also delves into detail about Cesar’s life, both pre-and post-prison. A neglected child who abides by the gendered norms of his community, he is quickly attracted to and then swept up in a life of crime, which escalates from the petty to the serious, as he ends up accidentally killing his best friend Mighty during a brawl. Cesar’s subsequent time in prison separates him from his family and children. There, he exercises his great intelligence and emotional sensitivity to come to the realization that his destiny has largely been shaped not only by the familial neglect he experienced as a young child, but also by the crushing neglect of larger society and the state, which only ever punished him for wrongdoing, rather than ushering him into an understanding of the root causes of his violent and criminal activities.
Through prodigious and careful research, detailed depictions of daily life, and the duplication of dialogue, LeBlanc provides an intimate and sprawling portrait of her chosen subjects, as they struggle to survive in a world that would rather ignore or brutalize them.