Master your Minecraft

Special Offers see all

Enter to WIN a $100 Credit

Subscribe to
for a chance to win.
Privacy Policy

Tour our stores

    Recently Viewed clear list

    Best Books of the Year | December 8, 2014

    Tracey T.: IMG Best Cookbooks of 2014

    As the cookbook buyer for Powell's Books, I am the lucky one who gets to choose every new cookbook that comes into our stores. This means I have a... Continue »

Qualifying orders ship free.
List price: $17.00
Used Trade Paper
Ships in 1 to 3 days
Add to Wishlist
Qty Store Section
1 Beaverton Sociology- American Studies
4 Hawthorne Sociology- General

This title in other editions

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx


Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx Cover

ISBN13: 9780743254434
ISBN10: 0743254430
Condition: Standard
All Product Details



Reading Group Guide

Random Family

Reading Group Guide

1. At the beginning of the book, the author writes that "chance was opportunity in the ghetto and you had to be prepared for anything." What opportunities did Jessica, Boy George, Coco, and Cesar consider significant, and how did they prepare for them? Did they have opportunities they could not see? Why?

2. Loyalty plays a crucial role in Random Family. What did it mean to each of the principal characters? How do their loyalties shape the course of their lives?

3. We are told that "For Jessica, love was the most interesting place to go and beauty was the ticket." Describe the relationship between romance and money in the lives of the book's female characters. Is this different, in degree or in kind, from the sexual economy in mainstream American life?

4. We meet Cesar as a young boy, sitting on "the broken steps of his mother's building, biding his time, watching the older boys who ruled the street." Who were his male role models? According to their example, what did becoming a man entail? How did this understanding of manhood prepare Cesar for prison? How did his definition of masculinity change over time?

5. For the teenage girls in Random Family, what are the attractions of being a mother? What sort of power and influence-real or imagined-is associated with the role?

6. Describe the role of social service agencies in Coco's life. Describe the ways in which their treatment of her enhanced or undermined her own sense of agency.

7. By conventional standards, Elaine and Iris are more successful than their sisters. What qualities and actions were instrumental in achieving that success? What price did they pay for it? How do their strategies confirm or challenge traditional notions about the supportive functions of families?

8. Explore the reasons why the households in this book are often in a state of flux. Why do people move? What are the advantages and disadvantages of relocation? Do men and women move for the same reasons?

9. Many of the characters in Random Family continue to be optimistic, even cheerful, despite extremely difficult lives and setbacks. When and how can hope be a sustaining force and when and how can it be a destructive one? Discuss.

10. The author writes, "The sexual threat men posed to little girls was so pervasive that even the warnings meant to avert it were saturated with fatalism." Explore the ways in which the ubiquity of sexual abuse in the world of the book affects the characters' attitudes about it.

11. None of the young people in the book blame their circumstances for the choices they made, yet much of the public discussion of the poor uses terms that infer moral and personal blame. Why do you think this is? Would you assign blame for the tragedies described here? To whom? Why?

12. Political activists often complain about society's "crisis approach" to poverty, how basic supports are only granted in emergencies. Are there examples of this in the book? What alternate strategies would improve the lives of children like Mercedes?

13. Have your ideas about poverty and privilege changed since reading Random Family? Were there moments when you particularly empathized with the people in this book? Were there moments that you felt particularly alienated? If so, when and why?

14. The author, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, interacted with/observed??? these families for over a decade and was witness to most of the events that took place, yet she is not present in the narrative. How might this have been a different book if she had included herself as a character? Why does she leave herself out?

15. In an interview about the title, the author described her ongoing interest in the families teenagers form among their friends and the appeal of self-created families. Have "random families" played an important role in your own life?

What Our Readers Are Saying

Add a comment for a chance to win!
Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Portia, January 8, 2010 (view all comments by Portia)
No comment, no context, no sociological musings: just the life of a family in their own words. THe most powerful book I have read in many years. For middle class person, this book gives us insight into a world we cannot imagine. And is a challenge to those of us who want to make the world more whole and more just. If we are to all work together to make the world better, we cannot just expect everyone to become like us. This book is a life-changing experience. And although non-fiction, a pleasure to read.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
dosgatosazules, August 29, 2006 (view all comments by dosgatosazules)
This is a gripping, heartbreaking book, written so creatively that every once in a while I would glance at the cover to remind myself this was non-fiction.

The central characters of this tale are children. Old before their time and given little chance to be children, but children all the same -- teenagers when we first meet them. The young women and their children contend with everything that comes down on young, poor, Puerto Rican women in this society: child abuse, drugs, jail, police brutality, bearing children when they are still children themselves, parental abuse and neglect, and a poverty that would wear down even the strongest of souls.

One fascinating thing I found when reading this was the way in which the oppression of these young women is a terrible mix of modern, American-style commodification, where women are treated as sex objects, and some women give up sex for shiny new sneakers so they won't look poor -- along with feudal-style type of oppression. Meaning that it's common for one boy to have a main "wife", and a string of secondary girlfriends, kind of like the old Chinese or Biblical model of main wife + concubines. Having a son can bump you up to the status of main wife; LeBlanc reports on one character this way: "One month later, [name omitted to prevent spoilers] gave [more name omitted] his first son. Her position as his wife was secure."

The choices these children are forced to make -- leaving their own children with questionable people, staying in bad relationships because there is no other way to manage motherhood alone -- can and do have terrible impacts on the people you meet in this book. This book will show you, in ways you likely have not read anywhere else, how the decisions these children make, however self-destructive or short-sighted or desparate they can be, are responses to a situation they did not create and and prevented from fundamentally changing. And a world in which they are trapped; just like in feudal villages, where it was common for serfs to spend their whole lives in a three-or-four mile radius, most of these people rarely leave the few square blocks of their neighborhood -- except when they are taken to or are visiting jail.

If you have ever seen young single mothers struggling to survive on minimum wage or welfare and asked yourself, "How do they manage?", this book will tell you -- and it will tell you what price they, and their loved ones, really have to pay.

My one quarrel with this book -- and this is not a spoiler -- is that the author rarely reports on what the characters think of the larger world. What do they think of why society got to be the way it is? Do they dream of changing it? How do they see the choices they are forced to make? The author gets to know her subjects very intimately and goes to greath lengths to report their actions, good and bad and ugly, objectively. But her view of them is somewhat limited by this omission.

Overall, however, this is a fascinating read.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(27 of 42 readers found this comment helpful)
View all 2 comments

Product Details

LeBlanc, Adrian Nicole
Scribner Book Company
Sociology - Marriage & Family
Sociology - Urban
United States - State & Local - General
General Social Science
Bestseller, New York Times Bestseller, Boy George, Cesar, Coco, Jessica, Bronx, Immersion journalism, Leominster, There Are No Children Here, Nickel and Dimed, American outlaw saga, Narrative nonfiction, Shelter, Tremont, Ghetto, National Book Critics Cir
Bestseller, New York Times Bestseller, Boy George, Cesar, Coco, Jessica, Bronx, Immersion journalism, Leominster, There Are No Children Here, Nickel and Dimed, American outlaw saga, Narrative nonfiction, Shelter, Tremont, Ghetto, National Book Critics Cir
Bestseller, New York Times Bestseller, Boy George, Cesar, Coco, Jessica, Bronx, Immersion journalism, Leominster, There Are No Children Here, Nickel and Dimed, American outlaw saga, Narrative nonfiction, Shelter, Tremont, Ghetto, National Book Critics Cir
Bestseller, New York Times Bestseller, Boy George, Cesar, Coco, Jessica, Bronx, Immersion journalism, Leominster, There Are No Children Here, Nickel and Dimed, American outlaw saga, Narrative nonfiction, Shelter, Tremont, Ghetto, National Book Critics Cir
Edition Description:
Publication Date:
February 2004
Grade Level:
8.40x5.48x1.07 in. .85 lbs.

Other books you might like

  1. The Only Girl in the Car: A Memoir Used Hardcover $7.95
  2. There Are No Children Here: The...
    Used Trade Paper $4.50
  3. Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self Used Hardcover $5.50
  4. Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale
    Used Trade Paper $2.50
  5. The Fortress of Solitude
    Used Trade Paper $6.50
  6. Your Money or Your Life:...
    Used Trade Paper $5.95

Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Music » Featured Titles
History and Social Science » American Studies » General
History and Social Science » Sociology » American Studies
History and Social Science » Sociology » Children and Family
History and Social Science » Sociology » General
History and Social Science » Sociology » Poverty
History and Social Science » Sociology » Urban Studies » General

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.50 In Stock
Product details 432 pages Scribner Book Company - English 9780743254434 Reviews:
"Review" by , ?Adrian Nicole LeBlanc brings to life a world often resisted. Writing in the tradition of James Agee and Walker Evans, she invites us to see in a new way people whose lives are often despised or dismissed. Random Family reads like a novel. This is a brilliant, original book.?
"Review" by , ?Random Family is a remarkable piece of reportage, an important, up-close window into a tucked-away corner of America. Watching Jessica's and Coco's lives unfold over the course of ten years is by turns unsettling and affecting, and their stories have stayed with me. Adrian Nicole LeBlanc has written a book that's epochal in scope and unflinching in its candor. It's one compelling read.?
"Review" by , ?This book has a fresh, even original quality. It is a family saga, but of a most unusual kind, an intimate and detailed portrait of a world that is shamefully hidden away. I read it compulsively, thankful for its candor and above all its fascination.?
"Review" by , ?What separates ?Random Family? from other accounts of inner-city ?pathology? is how vivid she makes her characters, in their faults as much as in their virtues?.It becomes a thick, dense, rich narrative: literary anthropology that reads like a novel.?
"Review" by , ?This book makes human the unrelenting problems of the ghetto?. Random Family does not spell out any analytic conclusions, but the reporting does illuminate the lived reality of our social policies.?The precarious world Random Family depicts, the fragility of life and relationships, is probably more like the sweep of human history than most of us realize. It is a sobering thought.?
"Review" by , ?Somehow managing to be both journalistically objective and novelistically passionate, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc has made a singular contribution to the literature of the American underclass. An unforgettable and intimate portrait of life in the urban trenches, as much about love and longing as it is about the statistics of despair.?
"Review" by , ?I know no other writer who has dug in as deep as Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. She didn't just report; she burrowed for years into a world she came to know so well that it lost every speck of foreignness. That astonishing intimacy allowed her to view this book's random family as one might view one's own family: with a mixture of exasperation and respect, disappointment and love. If God is in the details, this is a holy book.?
"Review" by , ?The artistry of this frank, enthralling book lies in the utter simplicity - and careful, subtle selectivity - with which she plainly describes the determining events in what will now be unforgettable lives....[W]hat might have been a lurid, discouraging story winds up with backbone and hope?..Random Family reveals more about what keeps people together than what drives them apart.?
"Review" by , "In the richness, vitality, and visceral power of its prose, Random Family struck me in the same way that Hubert Selby's classic Last Exit to Brooklyn did — with detail-driven force. The stories recounted here, of careening lives and urban struggle, seem both familiar and exotic, for this straightforwardly written, often gripping book reads like a fantastic tale from another world — which happens to be the Bronx. Well done."
  • back to top


Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at