Adrian Nicole Leblanc spent a decade reporting on the lives of urban street kids and their families in the South Bronx.
It all started in the early 1990s when a clip in Newsday about the trial of a heroin dealer by the name of Boy George grabbed her attention. The trial gave wings to Leblanc’s book, Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx.
Random Family is a nonfiction account about residents searching for hope through the lenses of Boy George, his beautiful and adventurous girlfriend, Jessica, her clever brother Cesar, and his first love, Coco. None of these characters had extraordinary lives. The book is about making the best out of the raw circumstances life has dealt them. The theme of the book is about moving forward with life, taking charge of your own identity and being accountable for your own mistakes.
The interconnected lives of the main characters followed a general storyline. They partied, had sex, birthed children, did drugs, sold drugs and either went to or visited someone in prison. They all got into trouble, coped with it and found ways to move on with life.
The reason Jessica could not find a man who treated her like a queen is because she never knew the definition of self-love. She threw her voluptuous body at every man she was attracted to and gave her heart away for free. Every time, she was left to contemplate why no one showed her the love she longed for. She loved Boy George, but still flirted on the side.
Jessica was a confused woman who acted just to please a man. She longed for attention and Boy George gave her all the attention she needed in the form of material things. Loving Boy George cost Jessica her freedom and her children. Jessica was still a child at heart, searching for love in all the wrong places. Overall, she was my favorite character and the most relatable because she had a bubbly personality and was, at heart, a good girl. She just got caught up in fast money and the drug world.
As the story unfolds, there is a cycle. When Cesar and Boy George were locked up, Jessica and Coco maintained a sense of loyalty to their “husbands.” They wrote, got tattoos and stayed emotionally drained. They lived their lives through these other people. Also, Lourdes, Jessica’s mother, continued to do drugs. She saw where it got her daughter, Jessica, but continued to go down that road. The children of Coco and Jessica grew up too fast. Little Star was forced to be a mother and had to deal with the complex world she lived in.
The book was cleverly written. At times I forgot that it was a nonfiction account. The story was full of detail and imagery. It was as if I was there at the clinics, prison or at the public housing projects.
As a reader, I was riveted when Boy George set up shop as a drug lord, got caught and the police shut the whole “Obsession” operation down. I wanted the plot to thicken and the drama to overflow, but this was not a drama. This was someone’s reality.
While reading, I took frequent steps back to analyze the book from the standpoint of an education reporter. I realized that without education, things seem to spiral out of control. When Coco had Cesar’s first child, she made the decision to stop pursuing school. Without school, Coco did not graduate and was not able to financially support her children. She was forced to get assistance from the government because she had no other options available.
Random Family gives the reader insight into life is as a single mother struggling to survive in the absence of male role models and education. Jessica and Coco ended up with tainted hearts full of regrets.