Alex Kotlowitz's book, There are no Children Here, deals with the subject of race, values, and community responsibility of the urban underclass. The American inner city deals with the issues such as violent crime and drug wars. With these two explosive issues, the neighborhood experiences the downward spiral of social separation, unemployment and welfare dependence. The lives of two black boys, Lafayette, 10 and Pharaoh, 7 are followed as they struggle to grow up in one of Chicago's worst housing projects.
Lafayette and Pharaoh are not any different than many of their neighbors. Their mother is welfare dependent. Their father is an alcoholic and drug abuser. In the home, there are other siblings, an older brother and sister along with younger triplets, just like so many other families in the area. Kotlowitz takes you into an offensively maintained housing project infested with gangs, where murders and shootings are an everyday thing. The image of the devastation and the despair of no hope of the people living inside the project are vivid. One can truly sense the hopefulness, grasping the loss of family and ardently desire a new life for the boys. You hold out hope that things will work out for the boys.
In America's minefield of urban life, Lafayette and Pharaoh are surrounded by violence and poverty through their lives. The neighborhood had no banks, no public libraries, no movie theatres, no skating rinks, or bowling allies. The lack of respectable businesses only contributes to the demise of the neighborhood and unemployment in the area. With the drug lords keeping shop in an abandoned building, drug abuse is rampant and shooting is common. There were no drug rehabilitation programs or centers to help combat the problem. Police feared going into the ghetto for their own safety.
There are no Children Here embraces Lafayette and Pharaoh over a two-year period in which they struggle with school, attempts to resist the lure of gangs, mourn the death of close friends, and dare to have the courage to search for a quiet inner peace that most people take for granted.