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« There Is More Than One Way to Get to Heaven | Main | Daily roundup »

February 02, 2009

Chasing the Rainbow

Rainbow I just finished Alex Kotlowitz's (1991) bestseller There Are No Children Here, a sobering look at two boys growing up in one of Chicago's worst projects in the '80s. Unlike many books that attempt to "get inside" life in the ghetto, this one actually does...because Kotlowitz did the journalist's hard work, gathering the story slowly and patiently. For three years, he spent almost every weekend with Lafayette and Pharoah Rivers (10 and 7, respectively, at the beginning of the book).

He saw their lives at the rawest points--the days when they huddled inside their grotto-like apartment while bullets from gang wars riddled the hallways outside; the days they visited their big brother in jail; the day they discovered that one of their best friends had been shot by the police. Kotlowitz watched Lafayette and Pharoah fight for survival in their unique ways--Lafayette retreating into his room or into the silence of his thoughts, once in a while admitting that "I'm tired," tired of life; Pharoah stuttering through spelling bees, hoping some day to graduate from college and move out of the projects.

He saw their premature adulthood, but, once in a while, he caught a glimmer of their unadulterated childlikeness--like the day that the boys saw their first rainbow. Enchanted by thoughts of gold and leprechauns, the less-jaded Pharoah urged his older brother to chase the rainbow with him. Lafayette couldn't move, mentally trying to reconcile his lost childhood with the urge to follow the rainbow to his forgotten dreams. Kotlowitz tried to make sense of Lafayette's thoughts:

Heaped with disappointments, fourteen-year-old Lafayette wanted to believe. He wanted to be allowed to dream, to reach, to imagine. He wanted another chance to chase a rainbow.

Is it worse never to see the rainbow in the first place, or to see the rainbow only to realize that you're too old to chase it? In that question lies the tragedy of lost innocence, whether for the boy who survived the Rwandan genocide, the girl who endured sexual abuse, or the child who grew up on the darker side of town.

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