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The Good, The Bad, The Past, The Future

December 4, 2021

“Good and bad things have occurred. But the good – young people changing their lives, the growth of organized urban peace efforts, the expansion of spiritual-based practices and the intensifying debate on how to address violence in this country – have far outweighed the bad.”

These words of author Luis J. Rodriguez in the foreword of the 2005 reprint of his classic book about his early years in gang life – and triumphant escape from it – summarize the value of this work for the past as well as the future, and at the same time rebuff those who condemn the raw reality with which his story is told.

Substance and style have made this book one of the 100 most challenged books in the United States – according to the American Library Association. Conversely, it is one of the most staunchly defended – according to many others, including librarians, social workers, and teachers of marginalized and troubled teens, as well as these students themselves.

What critics object to is precisely what defenders praise. The raw reality is what grips young readers. They feel the visceral truth of it. They recognize themselves and their world in it. They are inspired by the hope it holds out for a better life, a brighter future.

The power of this book to do this for young people may explain why even some court judges have made reading this book “part of offenders’ sentences.”

To buy or not to buy? To read or not to read? You be the judge.