Book review: Invisible Child by Andrea Elliott

Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me by a mentor of mine, and I am so glad she made the recommendation. The author, who is a reporter at the New York Times, follows one family and, in particular, one girl in the family, as the family navigates being on the bottom rung of the socioeconomic scale. The daughter who is profiled is mentored by various adults along the way, is admitted into the Hershey School–a school designed to help poor children by providing them with educational opportunities–and then, sadly, returns to NYC without completing her education at the school. The author illustrates with sensitivity and understanding many of the obstacles the poor have in navigating life and the system, even when given opportunities to break out of the poverty cycle. Sub-optimal choices are made more understandable and, overall, by profiling this specific girl and her family, the book is a powerful depiction of the systemic and psychological obstacles that are placed in the way of individuals to move upward socioeconomically.
That being said, I do have one major criticism: not surprisingly as a NYT reporter, the author has her political biases. Those biases in themselves need not detract from the story, but she felt it necessary to indulge in criticism of political leaders throughout the book. The book would have been even more powerful had the author been content to limit her criticism to the limitations and obstacles of the system that is designed to help the poor but often hinders the poor’s ability to create a better life for themselves. Her description of the bureaucratic and life obstacles to performing even simple tasks (such as getting to school on time) are immensely powerful. Criticism of NYC’s political leaders just comes across as gratuitous and petty and detracts from the emotional resonance of the story.
Despite this limitation (and the author is not subtle, so the criticisms are easy to spot), the book is a powerful statement on the limitations of government intervention (although perhaps not in the way the author intended) and the limitations constraining society’s most vulnerable. It’s definitely a worthwhile read.

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