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Rene Denfeld -- All God's Children: Inside the Dark and Violent World of Street Families (Publicaffairs)

By Stephanie Dunlap · April 11th, 2007 · Lit
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  Rene Denfeld --All God's Children: Inside the Dark and Violent World of Street Families
Rene Denfeld --All God's Children: Inside the Dark and Violent World of Street Families



Read this book and you'll never look the same way at young kids hanging by Bogart's on Short Vine or begging spare change outside drugstores. That latter activity is "spanging," according to the street-kid vocabulary described in All God's Children.

Author Rene Denfeld opens her riveting work of narrative nonfiction with the 2003 discovery of Jessica Kate Williams' mutilated body in Portland, Ore. She then documents the birth of "street family" culture around 1992 and pulls the story through an overview of the nationwide development of smaller, more structured bands of youth created from the larger groups that previously had just gathered to drink themselves sick en masse in city squares. The author then returns to Portland for the formation of the Thantos Street Family by its "father," James Daniel Nelson, who helped commit killings that bookend the narrative. Denfeld also details the Williams' developmental disabilities from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and her adopted mother's frustrated efforts to nurture and shield her healthy-looking but disabled daughter in a society that offers support and resources for the effects of Down Syndrome and autism but mostly ignores FAS past infancy. At 22, Williams felt she'd finally found acceptance on the streets when she joined the Thantos street family. Twelve people were later implicated in her brutal beating and murder. Denfeld's extensively researched and lyrical account reads as smoothly as any novel. Though she presses the case for sweeping indictments of social service agencies, homeless activists, sympathetic liberal media, Punk culture and Dungeons and Dragons, the book offers shocking and necessary insight into the street family subculture. (Stephanie Dunlap) Grade: B

 
 
 
 

 

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