Review: Ghettoside

Ghettoside: A Story of Murder in America, Jill Leovy


Published January 27th 2015 by Spiegel & Grau

Hardcover, 384 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley


From Goodreads

On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man was shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of hundreds of young men slain in LA every year. His assailant ran down the street, jumped into an SUV, and vanished, hoping to join the vast majority of killers in American cities who are never arrested for their crimes. But as soon as the case was assigned to Detective John Skaggs, the odds shifted. Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential American murder–one young black man slaying another–and a determined crew of detectives whose creed was to pursue justice at all costs for its forgotten victims. Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of murder in America–why it happens and how the plague of killings might yet be stopped.

The sad numbers of murders in Los Angeles are not the highest in the country-that goes to my own beloved Chicago.  I wanted to read Ghettoside in part to learn the one murder story Leovy focuses on, but also  to think about what could be applied from LA to the heartbreaking stories here.  This book kept me engaged throughout despite the heavy topic and the statistics.

Ghettoside takes us through the random murder of one young black man in LA, Bryant Tennelle, and also delves into the city’s murder epidemic itself.  Leovy learned the term ghettoside from a homicide detective who picked it up from a Watts gang member to describe his neighborhood:

The term captured the situation nicely, mixing geography and status with the hustler’s poetic precision and perverse conceit.  It was both a place and predicament, and gave a name to that other wordly seclusion that all the violent black pockets of the county had in common…There was a sameness to these places, and the policing that went on in them.  

Leovy looks at the LA police department and its individual homicide investigators, as well as at the offenders, their victims and at witnesses.  Tennelle’s murder is terrible but it is not the only sad story you read about. The men shot everyday in LA each have a story- and Leovy recounts as many as she can as the investigation goes on.  Its just overwhelming how many lives are lost over the course of this book.  I appreciated that Leovy discusses not only the great homicide investigators, but those that have also kind of given up to the “Monster” that is destroying communities.

Leovy makes the reader think about how deep the roots of the ghettoside epidemic go, both in distance and in time.  One must consider the distrust the marginalized have for the police as well as the frustration the police have from community members who won’t help or are unable to help them due to fear of retribution.  The facts that Leovy cites are staggering at times:

From 1994 to 2006, a suspect was arrested in 41% of the 3,300 killings involving black male victims in the city of Los Angeles according to the police department’s own data.

41%!  It not hard to see why communities feel they should be policing their own rather than going to the city.  One of the things that really struck me was a quote about a shooter – I don’t want to say who, but–

If ***** had been your average high school student somewhere else, he might have just been another misfit…  

So many young people aren’t allowed the chance to be an average high school ANYTHING.  This young man ruined his life-and so many others – without maybe ever understanding what he was getting into when he began.  Where are the answers to the ghettoside problems?  Education?  Gun control?  More money to our police departments?  Definitely in better discussions about race and violence.  Ghettoside is definitely one to read and think about.

If you want to read more about Leovy here is a link to an interview with Fresh Air.

Have you read Ghettoside?  Give me your thoughts!

4 stars!

Thank you to Spiegel & Grau and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

All quotes are taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version of the book.

Review: Into Thin Air 2015 TBR Challenge

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster, Jon Krakauer


Paperback, 333 pages

Published October 19th 1999 by Anchor (first published 1997)

Source: Purchased


From Goodreads…

Into Thin Air is a riveting first-hand account of a catastrophic expedition up Mount Everest. In March 1996, Outside magazine sent veteran journalist and seasoned climber Jon Krakauer on an expedition led by celebrated Everest guide Rob Hall. Despite the expertise of Hall and the other leaders, by the end of summit day eight people were dead. Krakauer’s book is at once the story of the ill-fated adventure and an analysis of the factors leading up to its tragic end. Written within months of the events it chronicles, Into Thin Air clearly evokes the majestic Everest landscape. As the journey up the mountain progresses, Krakauer puts it in context by recalling the triumphs and perils of other Everest trips throughout history. The author’s own anguish over what happened on the mountain is palpable as he leads readers to ponder timeless questions.

Holly and I signed up for the Roof Beam Reader’s 2015 TBR Pile Challenge and this is my first book off the list.  I bought my copy so long ago that my husband and I actually got into an argument over who the book belongs to – though neither of us had read it.  Also- don’t you agree its all marital property anyway?!

Anyway, I knew that Krakauer tells a good story from reading Under the Banner of Heaven and I knew that he had actually been a part of this disastrous expedition.  What I didn’t realize was that  this book was also a confessional of the experience on the mountain and Krakauer’s own role in the loss of life.

Honestly, I found this book a bit depressing.  People are paying (in the late ‘90s) $65,000 to fight their way up a mountain that might kill them. And in doing so they’re ruining the mountain itself:

It seems to me that to want to climb mountains you have to have an appreciation for nature, right?  So why be a part of ruining what you’re going to see?  That’s not even getting into the dead bodies left on the mountain.

I just don’t understand why you’d willingly go into a situation where you know there’s a good chance you’ll have to decide between your life and someone else’s before you go home.  Or where there’s a fair chance you’ll die yourself.  These climbers walk past people that are dying and just leave them. Do people just think it can’t happen to them, I wonder?  Or are they so determine to say they’ve been to Everest that they don’t care?  It is beyond me.

This might sound silly, but what I really wanted in this book was more photos.  Krakauer talks about the Hillary Step as a significant waypoint-but I didn’t really understand how.  He talks about how perilous the Iceflow was to ascend and descend-but I wanted to SEE it.  So I spent a fair amount of time on Google images while reading.  [Beware if you do this you can also see a lot of the bodies left behind on the climb.] This is how you cross the Icefall in portions:

Who thinks that’s a smart thing to do?!

All that being said, this was a fascinating story.  Its a terribly sad story for the men and women who died both on Krakauer’s expedition and in climbs after.  I respect Krakauer for coming out and explaining his own role and for the addendum chapter addressing the version put out by another guide.  I might like to read other stories of this expedition some day, but for now I am more than satisfied with this version.  I’m thankful to the Roof Beam Reader Challenge for getting me to read this one!

Major takeaway from this book- Why in God’s name does anyone want to climb Mt. Everest?

4 stars!

Review: I am Zlatan: My Story On and Off the Field

I Am Zlatan: My Story On and Off the Field, by Zlatan Ibrahimović, Ruth Urbom (Translator), David Lagercrantz


Published June 3rd 2014 by Random House Trade Paperbacks

400 pages

Source: NetGalley


From Goodreads:

Daring, flashy, innovative, volatile—no matter what they call him, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of soccer’s brightest stars. A top-scoring striker with Paris Saint-Germain and captain of the Swedish national team, he has dominated the world’s most storied teams, including Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, and AC Milan. But his life wasn’t always so charmed.

Born to Balkan immigrants who divorced when he was a toddler, Zlatan learned self-reliance from his rough-and-tumble neighborhood. While his father, a Bosnian Muslim, drank to forget the war back home, his mother’s household was engulfed in chaos. Soccer was Zlatan’s release. Mixing in street moves and trick plays, Zlatan was a wild talent who rode to practice on stolen bikes and relished showing up the rich kids—opponents and teammates alike. Goal by astonishing goal, the brash young outsider grew into an unlikely prodigy and, by his early twenties, an international phenomenon.

Told as only the man himself could tell it, featuring stories of friendships and feuds with the biggest names in the sport, I Am Zlatan is a wrenching, uproarious, and ultimately redemptive tale for underdogs everywhere.

My husband is an insane soccer fan-to clarify he’s an insane Barcelona fan.  As a result I watch a fair amount of footie at home.  I became familiar with Zlatan Ibrahimovic when he played for Barcelona a few years ago.  He is compelling to watch on the field and his quotes to the media can be pretty outrageous.  In homage to the 2014 World Cup I thought I’d read Zlatan’s story.

This book read very quickly, almost like a magazine article.  No deep truths are uncovered, but there are some good stories.  Zlatan is honest about his unconventional upbringing as an immigrant in a rough neighborhood in Sweden.  He admits he had some wild experiences and could have ended up with a different life.  But he also comes across as thankful first for his family and then for the beautiful game that he’s able to excel at.

The guy clearly has an ego, and I understand that as an elite athlete you’re allowed that to a point.  This might be my favorite Zlatan story from after he became engaged for the first time.  A reporter asks “What did she get for an engagement present?”

    “Whaddaya mean, present?  She got Zlatan.”

She got Zlatan?  Amazing.  Zlatan is just such a fun name to say.  I’d throw out lines like that too if I were him.   

It was interesting for me to realize that its not just young American sports stars that are so underprepared for the contracts they sign and the salaries they earn.  I really appreciated Zlatan’s openness about how he had been hurt by the coach and mentor that he considered a second father and about how he never took things so lightly again.

This book definitely left me wanting to head to youtube to watch some of the plays Zlatan describes!  Read this to go along with the World Cup!

3 stars.

Thank you Random House and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

All quotes were taken from an uncorrected galley proof subject to change in the final edition