Friday, December 10, 2010

Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence

This story begins in 1958 when Geoffrey was 4 years old and starts to learn about violence. One of his brothers' jackets gets stolen, and his mother sends the boys out to retrieve it themselves. She wants them to learn to take up for themselves and not live as victims. From this beginning, Geoffrey has to deal with escalating situations that come with living in a single-parent home in a rough neighborhood in the South Bronx. What follows is a series of lessons in survival. As he grows up and he comes into contact with more people, Geoffrey learns to navigate among the neighborhood kids, tough guys, schoolmates, and various shady characters.

Geoffrey Canada first told this story in novel form. He has been associated with the Harlem Children's Zone and played a prominent role in the education documentary Waiting for Superman. He presents his autobiography as a model to address social issues, and here he is aided by Jamar Nicholas, an artist and educator who is also very involved with social justice. He is perhaps best known for his work with author Annie Auerbach on the Grosse Adventures series.

The good will that follows Canada's novel mostly extends to this version as well. The Library Journal's Martha Cornog highly recommended the book for tweens to adults and also added that Nicholas "has judiciously focused on the personal end, and his semirealistic black-to-grayscale art has just the right lived-in-yet-edgy feel." The San Francisco Book Review's Jamais Jochim remarked how well the flow of the story worked and also commented on the need for such personal narratives addressing gang violence. Reviewer Sean Kleefeld liked the book well enough but felt underwhelmed by an abrupt, hollow ending.

Chapter 1 is available here as a preview from the book's publisher, Beacon Press.

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