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Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival, and Hope in an American City

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The riveting, unforgettable story of a girl whose indomitable spirit is tested by homelessness, poverty, and racism in an unequal America—from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Andrea Elliott of The New York Times Invisible Child follows eight dramatic years in the life of Dasani Coates, a child with an imagination as soaring as the skyscrapers near her Brooklyn homeless sh The riveting, unforgettable story of a girl whose indomitable spirit is tested by homelessness, poverty, and racism in an unequal America—from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Andrea Elliott of The New York Times Invisible Child follows eight dramatic years in the life of Dasani Coates, a child with an imagination as soaring as the skyscrapers near her Brooklyn homeless shelter. Born at the turn of a new century, Dasani is named for the bottled water that comes to symbolize Brooklyn’s gentrification and the shared aspirations of a divided city. As Dasani grows up, moving with her tight-knit family from shelter to shelter, this story goes back to trace the passage of Dasani’s ancestors from slavery to the Great Migration north. By the time Dasani comes of age, New York City’s homeless crisis is exploding as the chasm deepens between rich and poor. In the shadows of this new Gilded Age, Dasani must lead her seven siblings through a thicket of problems: hunger, parental drug addiction, violence, housing instability, segregated schools, and the constant monitoring of the child-protection system. When, at age thirteen, Dasani enrolls at a boarding school in Pennsylvania, her loyalties are tested like never before. As she learns to “code switch” between the culture she left behind and the norms of her new town, Dasani starts to feel like a stranger in both places. Ultimately, she faces an impossible question: What if leaving poverty means abandoning the family you love? By turns heartbreaking and revelatory, provocative and inspiring, Invisible Child tells an astonishing story about the power of resilience, the importance of family, and the cost of inequality. Based on nearly a decade of reporting, this book vividly illuminates some of the most critical issues in contemporary America through the life of one remarkable girl.


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The riveting, unforgettable story of a girl whose indomitable spirit is tested by homelessness, poverty, and racism in an unequal America—from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Andrea Elliott of The New York Times Invisible Child follows eight dramatic years in the life of Dasani Coates, a child with an imagination as soaring as the skyscrapers near her Brooklyn homeless sh The riveting, unforgettable story of a girl whose indomitable spirit is tested by homelessness, poverty, and racism in an unequal America—from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Andrea Elliott of The New York Times Invisible Child follows eight dramatic years in the life of Dasani Coates, a child with an imagination as soaring as the skyscrapers near her Brooklyn homeless shelter. Born at the turn of a new century, Dasani is named for the bottled water that comes to symbolize Brooklyn’s gentrification and the shared aspirations of a divided city. As Dasani grows up, moving with her tight-knit family from shelter to shelter, this story goes back to trace the passage of Dasani’s ancestors from slavery to the Great Migration north. By the time Dasani comes of age, New York City’s homeless crisis is exploding as the chasm deepens between rich and poor. In the shadows of this new Gilded Age, Dasani must lead her seven siblings through a thicket of problems: hunger, parental drug addiction, violence, housing instability, segregated schools, and the constant monitoring of the child-protection system. When, at age thirteen, Dasani enrolls at a boarding school in Pennsylvania, her loyalties are tested like never before. As she learns to “code switch” between the culture she left behind and the norms of her new town, Dasani starts to feel like a stranger in both places. Ultimately, she faces an impossible question: What if leaving poverty means abandoning the family you love? By turns heartbreaking and revelatory, provocative and inspiring, Invisible Child tells an astonishing story about the power of resilience, the importance of family, and the cost of inequality. Based on nearly a decade of reporting, this book vividly illuminates some of the most critical issues in contemporary America through the life of one remarkable girl.

30 review for Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival, and Hope in an American City

  1. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I am finding it somewhat difficult to write a review of this book without falling into a black hole of condemning our welfare/social services system. It is broken. It is incredibly horribly broken. I knew that before starting to read this book and can't imagine that anyone reading this book wouldn't finish feeling the same way. The dreaded feeling of wondering what bad thing would happen every time Dasani or something in her family got a step ahead was incredibly stressful. Knowing that this boo I am finding it somewhat difficult to write a review of this book without falling into a black hole of condemning our welfare/social services system. It is broken. It is incredibly horribly broken. I knew that before starting to read this book and can't imagine that anyone reading this book wouldn't finish feeling the same way. The dreaded feeling of wondering what bad thing would happen every time Dasani or something in her family got a step ahead was incredibly stressful. Knowing that this book was nonfiction and would not necessarily provide even a glimpse of a happy ending sometimes made it hard to continue. The whole situation was very overwhelming. And I was only reading the book, not living the life. I wish the right people would read books like this and realize that no the people on public assistance are not bilking the system and living some easy lazy life. Perhaps a look into the system we have forced on someone asking for a little assistance would change this country's mindset and result in some actual solid productive change? Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for a copy of the book. This review is my own opinion.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Vickie

    This was a really good read as the author did a wonderful job with her writing (except for a couple location errors). It didn't feel like you were reading a heavy, statistical non-fiction book. The content is tough to read...sad and heartbreaking at times and very frustrating other times. This was a really good read as the author did a wonderful job with her writing (except for a couple location errors). It didn't feel like you were reading a heavy, statistical non-fiction book. The content is tough to read...sad and heartbreaking at times and very frustrating other times.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Candace

    You will experience every emotion imaginable at one point or another in this book. Andrea Elliott picks up the story or Dasani Sykes and her family where her New York Times 2014 series left off. Them Dasani was 11, living in a single room in Brooklyn homeless shelter with her mother, stepfather, and seven siblings. As the oldest girl, she is "parentified" (a word I learned from this book)--acting as the mother of her siblings, getting them up, getting them dressed, getting them to the shelter's You will experience every emotion imaginable at one point or another in this book. Andrea Elliott picks up the story or Dasani Sykes and her family where her New York Times 2014 series left off. Them Dasani was 11, living in a single room in Brooklyn homeless shelter with her mother, stepfather, and seven siblings. As the oldest girl, she is "parentified" (a word I learned from this book)--acting as the mother of her siblings, getting them up, getting them dressed, getting them to the shelter's free breakfast, getting them to school on time. All the kids have promise, but Dasani is special, she has drive, she is happy to be mentored by her teachers and coaches. She's eighteen at the end of the book. Will she be able to realize some or any of her potential? "Invisible Child" should be read by everyone. Andrea Elliott's writing is tough and poignant, a terrific piece of reportage. This story will stick with you. Read it. Many, many thanks to Random House and Netgalley for access to this remarkable book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    Thank you Netgalley and Random House for sharing this stunning book. I was not familiar with the 2013 NYT series on Dasani and her family, who are the focus of this book. Similar to books like Evicted or Just Mercy, this opened my eyes to the systemic problems faced by poor families in a new way. Prior to reading this, I understood these problems existed but in such an abstract way. The immediacy of this reporting expanded my understanding and put my empathy into a type of hyper-drive. I was eng Thank you Netgalley and Random House for sharing this stunning book. I was not familiar with the 2013 NYT series on Dasani and her family, who are the focus of this book. Similar to books like Evicted or Just Mercy, this opened my eyes to the systemic problems faced by poor families in a new way. Prior to reading this, I understood these problems existed but in such an abstract way. The immediacy of this reporting expanded my understanding and put my empathy into a type of hyper-drive. I was engaged from the first page, going to bed anxious every evening wondering what was next and what the outcome of the family would be. As another reviewer said, you will experience every emotion while reading this. At the conclusion, I feel angry and sad over aspects of our broken social welfare system. Towards the end of the book, Chanel (the family’s mom) looks through a window at a list of other names and cases waiting for social services and wonders about their stories, and that was the thought I had as well. I wholeheartedly recommend this and I hope everyone reads it, especially those with the power to change things. And lastly, thanks to Michael Kindness for recommending this.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ollie

    This book is a masterpiece. There, I said it. The sheer feat of reporting this must have taken is Herculean, and the product is masterful. Written in a matter-of-fact tone, Elliott chronicles the life and trials of Dasani (and her family) over her formative years, detailing both general happenings and minute thoughts. Like most others, I first read of Dasani in the NYT series many moons ago, and I never forgot her story. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Elliott’s initial feature chang This book is a masterpiece. There, I said it. The sheer feat of reporting this must have taken is Herculean, and the product is masterful. Written in a matter-of-fact tone, Elliott chronicles the life and trials of Dasani (and her family) over her formative years, detailing both general happenings and minute thoughts. Like most others, I first read of Dasani in the NYT series many moons ago, and I never forgot her story. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Elliott’s initial feature changed my worldview and my life. I was in j-school at the time, and seeing how powerful reporting could be in real time was important for an aspiring journalist wanting to make her mark in this world. And that’s why this book was such a triumph. Elliott herself states that the most remarkable thing she learned while reporting this story was how little had changed. Even after fame and recognition by the NYC mayor, the family never gets the happy ending we think would come. Life does not get better, in fact, it gets worse. Good things happen. Then bad, then terrible, then unthinkable. But ultimately this is a story of a familial love different from what is considered “typical” or acceptable to the general public. They might have atypical values, support systems or ways of expressing their feelings, but that doesn’t make them any more different or unworthy. Although this was written plainly, it was organized and paced so well that I was at the edge of my seat, wanting to know what happened to Dasani at the end. I appreciated how we heard perspectives from many sides, and Elliott did a good job presenting a fair and balanced view of what happened. Nothing is as simple as it seems. Stealing, drug-dealing, fighting are all symptoms of a disease. I struggled a lot with assigning “blame” even as a reader, and I’m sure Elliott must have had her opinions and feelings while spending time with the family. I wonder if she ever shared them with her subjects. The author afterword was tremendous. The statement on why the Coates/Sykes family continuously let her in during the worst times of their lives rings true - because she kept showing up, and they needed and trusted people who showed up. I still have so many feelings that I will need to process. But know that this book is a must read. Rarely have I read something that is both so easy and incredibly difficult to digest. It is a masterpiece.

  6. 4 out of 5

    CJ

    Elliott deserves a second Pulitzer for this book, which Ayad Akhtar accurately describe's on the cover as "a future American classic." Invisible Child builds on a series of articles that Elliott wrote for the New York Times in 2013 about the life of Dasani, a homeless girl living in NYC, and her family. Elliott continued to follow the family for the next eight years, as Dasani goes away to private school in Pennsylvania for a shot at a better life and returns to NYC as a foster child. She also g Elliott deserves a second Pulitzer for this book, which Ayad Akhtar accurately describe's on the cover as "a future American classic." Invisible Child builds on a series of articles that Elliott wrote for the New York Times in 2013 about the life of Dasani, a homeless girl living in NYC, and her family. Elliott continued to follow the family for the next eight years, as Dasani goes away to private school in Pennsylvania for a shot at a better life and returns to NYC as a foster child. She also goes back in time to detail the lives of Dasani's ancestors, showing how the brutal legacies of slavery, redlining, the crack epidemic and other systems of poverty and racial discrimination entwined to lead the family to where they were. This is undoubtedly one of the best nonfiction books of the year, and I'm hard pressed to think of a book of narrative journalism that measures up to its rigor and scope except for The Warmth of Other Suns, which Invisible Child feels like a spiritual successor to (Dasani's relatives were part of the Great Migration). The most breathtaking aspect of the book is the way it shows time after time how poverty is criminalized in this country. There were so many instances where being given material resources could have helped Dasani's family, but instead the government chose to penalize them--up to taking the parents' children away from them simply for the crime of being poor and homeless. The insights of this book--that we live in a profoundly unequal society, that racism is deeply intertwined with other systems of oppression, that breaking the cycle of poverty is extremely difficult--will probably not be new to many of its readers. However, it's one thing to hear something stated as a fact and another entirely to read about its real-life effects for 400+ pages (another thing: while this book is long the way it is written makes it almost impossible to put down). As our country is once again discussing racism and inequality, I hope that many people will read this.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bryn

    Read it. If you haven't already, also read Random Family, by Nicole LeBlanc. Reframe any bootstraps narrative you may have by following these hard-working, dogged, resilient children who have no boots. Read it. If you haven't already, also read Random Family, by Nicole LeBlanc. Reframe any bootstraps narrative you may have by following these hard-working, dogged, resilient children who have no boots.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Unforgettable true story of a girl raised in poverty in NYC. She gets a scholarship to a boarding school at age 13, but can’t overcome the lessons of violence taught by her mother and the trauma of being separated from her siblings. Heartbreaking and frustrating as you watch the family collapse into violence and addictions.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    I have insufficient words to comment on this outstanding book. It is a journey of approximately 8 years sharing the lives of a poor, sometimes homeless, family in New York City with special emphasis on the oldest, gifted daughter. The author has created a flawless and memorable look at the bureaucracy we’ve created to “help” the poor, the jobless, and/or the homeless people in our midst. Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC to read and review.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sue Trav

    This was a long read and I found lots of it repetitive. I understand the author was making a point about the system being broken and she sure did with this story. This book was sad and depressing but necessary. Homelessness, drug use, abuse, poverty, neglect, mental health struggles and more are all connected with this family. I could easily see how the cycle of poverty and lack of parenting lead to MORE poverty and lack of parenting. I was hoping for more of a story and less of a report. This w This was a long read and I found lots of it repetitive. I understand the author was making a point about the system being broken and she sure did with this story. This book was sad and depressing but necessary. Homelessness, drug use, abuse, poverty, neglect, mental health struggles and more are all connected with this family. I could easily see how the cycle of poverty and lack of parenting lead to MORE poverty and lack of parenting. I was hoping for more of a story and less of a report. This was a factual, detailed report of Dasani's life and the struggles of her family. It saddens me to think that there are so many other families in the same situation in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Ng

    Here is a tremendous book - a story poignantly told, but I wish need not be written, only because I wish these issues around poverty, socioeconomic gaps and systemic failures didn't exist. While Dasani and her family's experiences speak volumes of a fractured social services system and a lack of political leadership, the book also does not shy away from how the individuals' actions may have partly led to them being stuck in this revolving cycle of poverty. The poverty trap is complex, and this b Here is a tremendous book - a story poignantly told, but I wish need not be written, only because I wish these issues around poverty, socioeconomic gaps and systemic failures didn't exist. While Dasani and her family's experiences speak volumes of a fractured social services system and a lack of political leadership, the book also does not shy away from how the individuals' actions may have partly led to them being stuck in this revolving cycle of poverty. The poverty trap is complex, and this book illustrates how it's hard to pin the blame on that one thing or person. What's especially heart-rending – but also remarkable, in a journalistic sense – is Andrea Elliott's telling of the story largely from the children's perspectives (i.e. Dasani and her seven siblings), because these are the voices typically neglected and underplayed, but often the ones most deeply scarred. It was painful for me to read how several of these kids chose time and again to go back on the streets, shoot up on their parents' dose of crack, or pull punches at someone else, sometimes unprovoked, just because there appears to be no better alternative. But there also are moving scenes depicting deep love among the family members, the parents for their kids, and from the few educators (many of them, having lived through similar circumstances themselves) who believed in these "shelter kids". This book comes eight years after the New York Times first ran Elliott's seminal series on Dasani's family, and is testament to her journalistic grit and persistence in following through with a story. I found her Afterword thought-provoking, where she discusses the lines between ethical dilemmas, privilege, and well, just... care and compassion. For two years I lived in New York City, where this family/story are based. I had the opportunity to hear Elliott speak in person once, during which she also spoke about how she as a woman of privilege could and had to cover this story. As she writes in the book, "If I did anything in my eight years with Dasani, it was to stand in the midst of her life... Almost nothing counts more than the person who shows up."

  12. 4 out of 5

    vanessa

    Hmm, it might be 4.5… I have to sit with it. This book is painful and touching, as any investigative book wherein the reporter focuses on one person or family can be. You get to know Dasani’s family intimately and you both root and sigh in exasperation learning the choices the family makes/the choices imposed on them by the welfare system. There is hope (Dasani’s educational prowess, new apartments, vouchers that actually help) and utter loss (Khaliq’s life, the temperament and addiction of the Hmm, it might be 4.5… I have to sit with it. This book is painful and touching, as any investigative book wherein the reporter focuses on one person or family can be. You get to know Dasani’s family intimately and you both root and sigh in exasperation learning the choices the family makes/the choices imposed on them by the welfare system. There is hope (Dasani’s educational prowess, new apartments, vouchers that actually help) and utter loss (Khaliq’s life, the temperament and addiction of the parents, poor Papa, and Lele, and Nana). I loved this book for all the same reasons I loved Evicted by Matthew Desmond: it mixes the sociology and lived experience with the casework and governmental systems. (I can’t get over how it would have been cheaper to have an in-home aide employed by the city than the stipends given to foster families after separating the children - and it would’ve kept the family intact.) This book would benefit being 100 pages shorter and having less repetition. I also would have loved seeing photographs in the book from the NYT. I spent a long time yesterday trying to find pictures of Papa, Khaliq, and Supreme.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    A beautiful, though frustrating and sad, telling of the complete failures of our social service systems. I had to read Andrea Elliott’s original series for a class in undergrad, and it was a story that deeply moved me. I had no idea that the book was to be released, so I was thrilled to find out about it a few days before it was scheduled for shelves. I preordered it and consumed it relatively quickly, despite its thickness. Dasani is a special kid. Yet, Dasani and her family are the perfect cas A beautiful, though frustrating and sad, telling of the complete failures of our social service systems. I had to read Andrea Elliott’s original series for a class in undergrad, and it was a story that deeply moved me. I had no idea that the book was to be released, so I was thrilled to find out about it a few days before it was scheduled for shelves. I preordered it and consumed it relatively quickly, despite its thickness. Dasani is a special kid. Yet, Dasani and her family are the perfect case study of how our social service systems don’t actual help the most vulnerable children. What began as an unfortunate study of homelessness turns into a major frustration of children’s services and the breaking of a family, which permeates through every layer. Dasani remains visible only through the words of Andrea Elliott, while many, many other children and family’s stories continue to remain hidden. I liked that Elliott weaves history through the case study, creating the perfect mix of fact, records, and personal testimony. I appreciated that I feel an even deeper connection to the family than I did in 2015, and it means a lot to know that proceeds from this book will go towards a trust to the family. One of the most important things to note is Elliott’s Afterward. We live in a time where we must consider our various identities and positions and see how they show up in the world. I was surprised and deeply thankful to see Elliott put such reflective thought behind her identity and positions in this book. I hope that Dasani and her family end up getting the justice they deserve. As the title says, there does still seem to be hope. And I hope that that hope can be achieved by them and even more families touched by our social systems.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Khalia

    I still feel optimism for this family. After all the strife, they managed to keep some sort of unit. I was disappointed at Dasani's actions at the boarding school. I hoped it would lead her on a path to prosperity. Then she could help heal her family. But she had short eyes. I thought since her mom and dad supported her, she would choose to excel. But Dasani accepted too much responsibility for her family's behavior and not enough for her own. I think these people can still prosper. I still feel optimism for this family. After all the strife, they managed to keep some sort of unit. I was disappointed at Dasani's actions at the boarding school. I hoped it would lead her on a path to prosperity. Then she could help heal her family. But she had short eyes. I thought since her mom and dad supported her, she would choose to excel. But Dasani accepted too much responsibility for her family's behavior and not enough for her own. I think these people can still prosper.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    Dasani Coates’ classmates called her “Homeless Girl of the Year” when her story exploded onto the New York Times in 2013, and they were right - but girls grow up, and just as soon as politicians feted her as “my new BFF” and promised to reform homelessness solutions in NYC, she vanished from the public eye. This book tells the story of her family before, during, and after she became a household name. If you are looking for an uplifting story of the girl who broke the cycle of poverty, this is no Dasani Coates’ classmates called her “Homeless Girl of the Year” when her story exploded onto the New York Times in 2013, and they were right - but girls grow up, and just as soon as politicians feted her as “my new BFF” and promised to reform homelessness solutions in NYC, she vanished from the public eye. This book tells the story of her family before, during, and after she became a household name. If you are looking for an uplifting story of the girl who broke the cycle of poverty, this is not it. And that’s the point. The word that kept coming into my mind as I read this book was “enmeshed.” Even when Dasani physically got away from her troubled family, she couldn’t help but feel responsible for their well-being, the parentified oldest child. Her identity is tied up in all the factors keeping her in poverty. Being a teenage girl is hard even for the most fortunate among us, let alone for one who feels responsible for seven other children as she grasps for a solid education and tries to master code-switching. I cringed every time I saw her mother sabotaging her success, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Failure has many fathers (and mothers), and Andrea Elliott excels in showing how the seeds of Dasani’s problems were planted generations ago, in the American legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and all the other manifestations of racism. The chaotic, Byzantine bureaucracy of the welfare system undermines every attempt for the family to find stability. While Dasani’s parents clearly make many terrible decisions, one safety net after another fails to meet the children’s needs. You’re left with the awful realization that some kids just never have a chance even when mentors try to move heaven and earth for them, and some systems are broken beyond repair. And if the girl who captivated the Mayor, the Public Advocate, and Hillary Clinton doesn’t have a chance, then what about all the others hidden in shelters and section 8 housing? There are some stylistic quirks of the writing that irritated me - namely, Elliott’s incessant repetition of certain details. Yes, we know Grandma Joanie cleaned the A train! We know the Auburn Shelter used to be Cumberland Hospital! You can also feel the author’s opinions spilling in a bit more intrusively than necessary - her contempt for one ACS caseworker is particularly obvious, and it’s clear what she thinks about charter schools. I would have preferred a more detached, omniscient narrator to let the facts sing for themselves. But this is still a remarkable work of ethnographic journalism. Dasani is 20 now, and at community college. Her story is still unfolding, and there are an infinite number of paths it can take. I hope for the best for this bright young woman, while at the same time I fear for her and know just how many thousands there are like her in this city.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Penny Adrian

    I had to give this book a 5 star review because it is magnificently written, reads like a thriller, and exposes the Poverty Industry for what it is: a source of middle class jobs for people who vampire off the poor. The last thing people in social services want to do is end homelessness and poverty. Why would they? They'd be out of a job if they did. Dasani and her family were brutally exploited by everyone from whom they sought help (including the author of this brilliant book). Mayor deBlasio, Le I had to give this book a 5 star review because it is magnificently written, reads like a thriller, and exposes the Poverty Industry for what it is: a source of middle class jobs for people who vampire off the poor. The last thing people in social services want to do is end homelessness and poverty. Why would they? They'd be out of a job if they did. Dasani and her family were brutally exploited by everyone from whom they sought help (including the author of this brilliant book). Mayor deBlasio, Letitia James, the New York Times, the shelter system, and CPS (to name just a few) ALL exploited the Coates family for their own benefit, while doing absolutely nothing to help them. The Coates family is worse off now than they were when the NYT first published the article on Dasani 8 years ago. We as a society promote the cruel misconception that we help the poor, when in reality the poor provide the professional class with jobs, cheap services, and entertainment. It is the poor who help us, not the other way around. This is Dasani's story, but I fear she will not benefit from it. My hope is that one day Dasani will write her own story, and that she will receive as much money and as many accolades as Andrea Elliott has received (and deserves). We are all exploiting the Dasani's of the world. We owe it to them to recognize how much we have taken from them.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Molly

    When Invisible Child first came out in The NY Times in 2013, I spent an entire day at my work cubicle engrossed in the story. I have thought about Dasani and her family often over the years, and when I saw Andrea Elliott had transformed their story into a book, I knew it would be a hard but important read. This book is a gut wrenchingly sad portrayal of poverty and generational trauma. Everyone should read this, but be warned - it’s raw and devastating at times, and it’s going to leave you frustr When Invisible Child first came out in The NY Times in 2013, I spent an entire day at my work cubicle engrossed in the story. I have thought about Dasani and her family often over the years, and when I saw Andrea Elliott had transformed their story into a book, I knew it would be a hard but important read. This book is a gut wrenchingly sad portrayal of poverty and generational trauma. Everyone should read this, but be warned - it’s raw and devastating at times, and it’s going to leave you frustrated that our systems fail so many, generation after generation. Andrea Elliott’s writing and reporting is nothing short of incredible. This is a book that will stay with you.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    Invisible Child is the story of eight years in the lives of Dasani Coates and her family. Dasani grows from a child to an adolescent amid a family that faces homelessness, drug use, joblessness, interpersonal strife, racism, incompetent social workers, ineffective social programs, food insecurity, neighborhood violence, termination of parental rights, foster care, prison sentences, and bad schools. And despite intervention after intervention, opportunity after opportunity, the family spirals dow Invisible Child is the story of eight years in the lives of Dasani Coates and her family. Dasani grows from a child to an adolescent amid a family that faces homelessness, drug use, joblessness, interpersonal strife, racism, incompetent social workers, ineffective social programs, food insecurity, neighborhood violence, termination of parental rights, foster care, prison sentences, and bad schools. And despite intervention after intervention, opportunity after opportunity, the family spirals down, down, down. It is one of the bleakest true stories I have ever read, and I am left feeling a sense of helplessness and hopelessness for the family. What went wrong? What should have been done differently? How could things be made right?

  19. 4 out of 5

    77mswoods

    I’m not sure a star rating is appropriate for the most impacting, powerful book I’ve ever read. I don’t want to let this family, or this journalism go. Andrea Elliot graces us - for 500 pages- with the joys and the deep, dark lows of an American family. A family who has been ravaged by the system. A family who has never been given a fair chance to achieve what they are capable of together or as individuals. I thank you, Andrea, Dasani, Chanel, Supreme, and all siblings and caretakers, for allowi I’m not sure a star rating is appropriate for the most impacting, powerful book I’ve ever read. I don’t want to let this family, or this journalism go. Andrea Elliot graces us - for 500 pages- with the joys and the deep, dark lows of an American family. A family who has been ravaged by the system. A family who has never been given a fair chance to achieve what they are capable of together or as individuals. I thank you, Andrea, Dasani, Chanel, Supreme, and all siblings and caretakers, for allowing me into your life for these 500 pages. I plan to immediately reread this book and think about where I, as a human, can best serve others in a meaningful way- and I’ll tell you, it’s not by involving myself any further in a bureaucracy.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Natalie Johnson

    Wow. This book is one of my favorite books that I’ve read all year. I felt as though Elliot maintained respect and humanity for Dasani and her family, while also complicating them. She does such a phenomenal job exploring systems — namely, children’s services — and demonstrating the harm that can be done. I’m so grateful for all that were involved in this project.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Denise Kruse

    Too dry for my reading taste.

  22. 5 out of 5

    beth

    Riveting and just tragic, what it takes to get support from the services that exist to support families. Our entire approach to social services needs an overhaul with the dollars put towards bringing families up, not putting them down. The author’s ability to capture this story over 8 years is remarkable. I am grateful Dasani’s story has been written for all of us to read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Meaghan

    Read this and tell me the system isn’t designed to work exactly the way it does and keep people exactly where they are. Infuriating. Excellent reporting, heartbreaking story.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Meredith Gomez41

    I devoured this one! It was intense and another infuriating example of how our systems are broken.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Barbara James

    An excellent work of investigative journalism, but I can't help but engage the cringe factor. A child being born into generational drug abuse and poverty (the parents and grandparents on each side had been addicts) combined with parentification because the parents, who can barely take care of themselves in their drug abuse and poverty, insist on having more children than they can possibly afford. Racism doesn't explain everything. There were similar families in her community who didn't take path An excellent work of investigative journalism, but I can't help but engage the cringe factor. A child being born into generational drug abuse and poverty (the parents and grandparents on each side had been addicts) combined with parentification because the parents, who can barely take care of themselves in their drug abuse and poverty, insist on having more children than they can possibly afford. Racism doesn't explain everything. There were similar families in her community who didn't take paths leading to poverty and brokenness. We see it in her school, the teachers in particular. The brokenness began with the great-grandparents. He came back from WWII to face racism. He and his wife had eight or more children and couldn't afford to take care of them. There wasn't welfare assistance, and so the wife ran off and abandoned the children. The father couldn't cope and the family fell apart. Dasani's grandmother--Joanie--was the side piece to a partnered man and gave birth to Dasani's mother. He later died. The grandmother became a drug addict during the crack era, and although she went clean before she died, her daughter, Dasani's mother, Chanel, made choices that pushed her down into addiction and poverty, similar to Joanie. She was being raised by her late father's partner, a stable influence in her life, but she returned to her biological mother, and the rest followed. Within a number of years, Chanel was addicted to drugs, homeless, a member of a gang, and single parenting, before she met her current partner, another drug addict who brought two children of his own to join her two and the four they had together. Dasani's life was an explosive cocktail. Any attempts at living a mainstream life--speaking well, doing well in school, rejecting violence and "street cred" are seen as "acting white" and inauthentic, when blackness has always been multifaceted. Yet, her street life led her to gang membership, the same gang her mother had been a member of, that she once had to flee because she was targeted for assassination. The tragedy is that the ghetto and hood culture is all too often seen as defining all of black urban life, and so it goes.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Excellent! Couldn't put this one down! A must read for everyone in our country. Excellent! Couldn't put this one down! A must read for everyone in our country.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Karen R.

    I am still recovering from this book. I went to bed at night, wondering where the family was, how they were. Invisible Child literally consumed my thoughts for the last week. I cannot accurately put into words how I felt about this book. A story that makes you so angry, and then you realize this is just one family. I want to change it all, I can’t change anything. I want to go help them all, I can’t help anyone. What choices would I make for my children if I were in Chanel’s shoes? Maybe the same I am still recovering from this book. I went to bed at night, wondering where the family was, how they were. Invisible Child literally consumed my thoughts for the last week. I cannot accurately put into words how I felt about this book. A story that makes you so angry, and then you realize this is just one family. I want to change it all, I can’t change anything. I want to go help them all, I can’t help anyone. What choices would I make for my children if I were in Chanel’s shoes? Maybe the same, maybe worse? Chanel loves her children. But love can’t save them. I will need to come back and revise this review, as my thoughts are so jumbled. But invisible Child is a life changing read. This book should be required reading. Thank you Andrea Elliott

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ayelet

    I cannot wait for everyone to read this book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    I read Andrea Elliot's feature about twelve-year-old Dasani and her parents and seven siblings living in a homeless shelter in 2013, and the story was unforgettable. I ran to read the 500-page version that takes the story up to the present day. And while there is plenty to critique and criticize about the book-length version of the lives of Dasani and her family, I can think of no other book I've read in years that could prompt as much discussion as this one. This review scratches only the surfac I read Andrea Elliot's feature about twelve-year-old Dasani and her parents and seven siblings living in a homeless shelter in 2013, and the story was unforgettable. I ran to read the 500-page version that takes the story up to the present day. And while there is plenty to critique and criticize about the book-length version of the lives of Dasani and her family, I can think of no other book I've read in years that could prompt as much discussion as this one. This review scratches only the surface of what could be several essays of response. Dasani's parents try at times, and fail at many more times, in providing their children with their basic needs for survival. The children try at times, and fail at many more times, in rising above the curses of their circumstances. The sprawling welfare bureaucracy of New York City--from its homeless shelters and drug rehab programs and cash voucher systems and Child Protective Services and foster care system--try at times, and fail at many more times, in providing the family with the assistance they need to overcome their most fundamental challenges. Between inspiring teachers, principals and therapists, a chance at a privileged boarding school, and the visibility of elected officials that followed the 2013 New York Times feature, there are moments when the reader hopes to glean some narrative of how good intentions might be able to redeem children from the fates of poverty that they did not choose. Salvation basically does not come. This is not an uplifting story. What it is is unforgettably rich and detailed. Andrea Elliot followed the family for eight years and the portrait that she produces is novelistic in its depth. As long as the reader is able to overcome feelings of voyeuristic guilt for not averting their gaze from this family's exposure (to which they seem to have fully consented), this is a page-turning, gripping, literary work of nonfiction. The characters, adults and children alike, are deeply nuanced and the reporting is incredibly sourced. I also enjoyed all of the book's forays into genealogical sleuthing and its contextualization of Dasani's story with the use of scholarship from the fields of history, sociology and psychology. The major issues raised by the book are as sprawling as the book itself and could easily form the backbone of an interdisciplinary college course: How are children raised in extreme poverty expected to overcome their circumstances? How much are they to be judged for their free-will harmful actions as they go through adolescence and adulthood? How are their parents to be judged if they, too, were raised in the same way? Is it possible for a person to grow up in experiences of addiction, neglect and violence and *not* grow up to become a sociopath or someone with other psychiatric pathologies? How could the welfare bureaucracy reform itself to actually attend to the needs of these people? Is there a first cause of social decay, underneath the addiction and neglect and violence and crime and poverty (which, in this story, all really seem like different facets of the same problem)? How much does systemic racism influence the workings of these byzantine systems? What role does neuropsychology play in explaining the entire narrative? How much do Dasani and her family demonstrate free will at all? What, morally and ethically, should Andrea Elliot have done to intervene while she was reporting this story? To what extent is her story a work of reality TV, which is to say not-really-reality because it was performed for a watchful audience? What does it say that the characters find such awful outcomes *even in spite of* the watchful audience? Elliot's political agenda is clear throughout the book: she mainly views the characters in Dasani's family sympathetically, as victims of circumstance, and that the bad guy of the story is mainly the rapacious welfare bureaucracy. Considering that the story ends on a not-catastrophically-bad note for Dasani and most of her sisters, is her interpretation correct? There could hardly be a more thought-provoking book. Everyone needs to read it now.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Shana

    ***Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for my honest review*** This is a 4.5 rounded up to 5 stars because it is a well-told narrative of how our systems fail to help individuals and families, and yet I am still slightly uncomfortable with what it means to have a privileged white woman tell the story. As the book gains popularity, I'd be curious to hear more about how Andrea Elliott will pass the mic/pen and help amplify those who have been and are currently working to dismantle the oppr ***Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for my honest review*** This is a 4.5 rounded up to 5 stars because it is a well-told narrative of how our systems fail to help individuals and families, and yet I am still slightly uncomfortable with what it means to have a privileged white woman tell the story. As the book gains popularity, I'd be curious to hear more about how Andrea Elliott will pass the mic/pen and help amplify those who have been and are currently working to dismantle the oppressive systems and build better ones. There is no denying that the writing of this book is great. It flows well between people and times, and Elliott includes important background information on policy, politics, history, and more so that the reader can better understand how it all plays out in the life of one family and one child. Dasani, the girl around which most of the book revolves, is the lovable human face upon which is reflected the many failings of our society. We shouldn't have to exploit her story in order to feel something about these issues, yet at the same time there's no doubt that it is highly effective. On the flip side, it is important to remember that there are very real consequences for real live people whenever decisions are made by those higher up. There is a delicate balance to be struck between using someone's story and empowering them to share it if they so choose. In any case, I finished reading this book feeling infuriated. The bureacratic bullshit was mind-boggling, like when the children had to miss school to line up and wait to be re-admitted into the system, just because of a missed curfew. It really goes to show how our society expects people to pull themselves up by the bootstraps while simultaneously infantilizing them and putting hurdle upon hurdle in front of them. This book also makes a good case for community care, such as family taking in the children of those who died from AIDS or raising children collaboratively. Marginalized people have always had to be creative in how they lived because the system never gave them any other option. If only we just listened to them, we'd see that they have the knowledge and experience to come up with their own solutions. And just like that, I want a follow-up from Dasani and her family about their own ideas of how to best support the unhoused and what they believe would have made a difference in their own story.

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