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Monday, February 9, 2015

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs
Published by Scribner ISBN 978-1-4767-3190-2
Hardcover, $27, 402 pages
Sometimes you read a book that, when you finish, you want to put in the hands of everyone you meet. I feel that way about Jeff Hobbs' The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace.

Peace is the son of Jackie, hard-working single mom from Newark, New Jersey. His father Skeet is a drug dealer who is in his life, until he is convicted of murder and sent to prison. Jackie wants her son to have a better life, and she encourages him to read and get an education. Skeet wants him to be street-smart.

Jackie works hard at a minimum wage job to get Rob into St. Benedict's, a private Catholic prep school. Rob is smart, and Jackie hopes that he can use this as a stepping stone to a better life.

Not only is Rob smart, he is a hard worker. He works as a lifeguard at the school pool, and is a star on the water polo team. He has a core group of three other neighborhood guys he hangs out with, and if he can stay away from the dangers of the streets, he could actually go places.

When a wealthy alumnus from St. Benedict's offers to pay Rob's tuition at Yale, it seems that Jackie's wishes for her son may come true. Rob goes to Yale, but life there is very difficult. He needs money, and his janitor's job doesn't pay enough.

So Rob turns to easy money- selling drugs on campus. He makes a good living at this, and has enough saved up to take care of his mom. All along, Rob has been working on a judicial appeal for his father, spending free time in legal libraries trying to find a way our for his dad.

Rob's college roommate Jeff Hobbs was fascinated by the life Rob led, a life so different from everyone else's at Yale. They became good friends, but lost touch after graduation.When Rob's life was tragically cut short, Hobbs set out to find out what happened to his friend, and so he interviewed Rob's family and friends to create this stunning book.

Although you know by the title that it has a sad ending, you can't help but root Rob on in the book. How does someone with so much promise and energy end up drifting from dead-end job to dead-end job? Hobbs does his best to show how a life lived in grinding poverty in a country where upward mobility is prized and available slipped through Rob's grasp, through choices he made and circumstances he couldn't control.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is about race, poverty, family, drugs, life on the street, education, and so much more. It's the kind of book that you must stop while reading to think about what is happening and question how we as a country can help people who work hard and want a way up succeed.

It brings out an empathy in the reader for people who face these challenges, but it would nice if it can bring about change too. It's the kind of book I wanted to speed though on one hand, and on the other, I didn't want it to come to its inevitable conclusion. It is brilliant and heartbreaking and honest. It is simply one of the most important books I have ever read.

My husband and I just finished binge-watching The Wire, and anyone who appreciated that show should read The Short Life and Tragic Death of Robert Peace. They share similar sensibilities and shine a light on the same issues.

rating 5 of 5

1 comment:

  1. I've had a copy of this since last BEA. Now you're making me want to pull it out: "It is simply one of the most important books I have ever read."