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Ghettoside  by Jill Leovy


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Jill Leovy, on your first book!

by Jill Leovy

Quick take

Ghettoside reads like a novel. It's meticulously paced and the writing frequently stopped me cold.

Why I love it

David Sedaris
Jan. 2016

When offered this opportunity to recommend a book to The Book of the Month Club, I knew exactly which one to choose. What hit me the hardest in 2015 was Jill Leovy's Ghettoside. It's just the sort of thing I go for: an exhaustively researched non-fiction account of people I know nothing about. When those people are from India, as in Katherine Boo's Beyond The Beautiful Forevers one can sort of be forgiven, but in Ghettoside, as in Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's masterful Random Family, the strangers are Americans. They live in our towns, but in another part. The part we avoid, most likely.

This book focuses on the 77th Division of South Central Los Angeles, and follows a number of homicide detectives tasked with solving gang-related murders, the kind buried deep inside the newspaper, or perhaps not mentioned at all. In preparing this recommendation, I read a number of reviews. All of them were positive, and praised the author's reportorial skills. They put the book in context, mentioning the murders of Michael Brown and the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. They made it sound important, which it is, and wise. What they left out, and what I so enjoyed about Ghettoside, is that it reads like a novel. It’s meticulously paced and the writing frequently stopped me cold.

What I most loved was how it challenged my expectations. Why had I thought that the detectives—most of them white—wouldn’t care that some gang member was murdered, or that the families of the victims, people to whom gun violence is an everyday event, would accept the deaths of their teenagers without anger or grief, as simply par for the course? Like all great books, this one leaves you thinking, not just "Who are they," but also "Who am I?"

Many of the reviews I read recommended the book as medicine, a disservice, I thought, as it's so enthralling. I feel bad using that word when these are real people, and they're suffering so horribly. It's to the author's credit that Ghettoside is so hard to put down, and that you wind up caring for everyone involved. When killers are caught, you don't feel victorious so much as sad. Another life wasted. Unlike a detective novel where you think, "Well, that happened," here there's the sense of the grinding wheel, one gang-related murder after another. On and on and on. It's relentless and brutal, and Jill Leovy's account of it is art.

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Member thoughts

All (159)
All (159)
Love (78)
Like (72)
Dislike (9)
174 ratings
  • 45% Love
  • 41% Like
  • 5% Dislike
  • Jersey City, NJ

    One of my first BOTM books received and I loved it! The writing is amazing and flows with so much information. Very thought provoking and high quality investigative journalism. Was completely hooked!!

  • New Albany , MS

    This book really opens your eyes to crime in not just LA but all over America. This book comes with the FACTS! At times sad when reading about all the deaths but it's also strong writing by the author

  • Miami, FL

    Beautifully written and painstakingly researched, this is an example of investigative journalism at its best. Lucid, enlightening, and impossible to put down. My favorite BOTM discovery to date.

  • Livermore, CA

    Leovy masterfully weaves heart-breaking statistics and facts through the lives of people connected by tragedy that capture the reader immediately. This easily became my favorite non-fiction.

  • Kansas City, MO

    Busts myths about black communities and “black on black violence,” shows how resources are diverted from where they are truly needed, and makes a case study of what makes a difference.

  • Chicago, IL

    Terrifying, eye-opening and sad. The statistics Leovy throws out are almost unbelievable. I'd love for her to write another book about another part of the country, such as Chicago.

  • Fort Wayne , IN

    I loved this. The history in it along with the story was great. The most hard hitting was the lists of the dead. Names and ages made me realize how real this is. Humbling.

  • Wethersfield, CT

    This is an outstanding read! The author did an excellent job of portraying the complexity of race relations in our country with one true, well-researched story. Bravo!

  • Pasadena, CA

    One of the best, most thought-provoking, sympathetic books I've read in the past decade. Highly recommended to anyone who worries about other humans.

  • Ann Arbor, MI

    Incredibly informative and heartbreaking. A must read. Should be required reading in schools and universities across the nation.

  • Chicago, IL

    I've recommended this book a lot. It's a thought-provoking deep dive into news stories that are sometimes glossed over.

  • Houston , TX

    highly recommend to anyone who likes to read non-fiction novels, one of the better ones BOTM has offered.

  • Grapevine , TX

    Not easy to read, but a great perspective and really wnjoyed the aecdotal mixed with factual content.

  • damascus, OR

    Real life on the streets. Great reporting. They don't give us enough words to do this justice.

  • Skiatook, OK

    Amazingly researched and written. A true look into a place we never really see.

  • Racine, WI

    Well-researched and well-written. Inspiring.

  • Maple Valley, WA

    This was very eye-opening read.

  • Decherd, TN

    Very eye-opening and honest!!

  • Cleveland, TX

    What an eye opener!

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