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

by Andrea Elliott

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

“A child’s homelessness is hidden,” writes New York Times investigative reporter Elliot in her stunning debut, which chronicles eight years in the life of Dasani Coates, starting in 2012, when Coates was one of 22,000 homeless children in New York City. With compassion and curiosity, she uses the story of Dasani to make visible the cycles of poverty, inequity, and resilience that plague families across the United States. Elliott skillfully portrays Dasani’s experiences, from age 11, living in a rat-infested shelter, “freighted by... forces beyond her control,” including hunger, drug abuse, and the pervasive threat of being separated from family by child protection services. As Dasani gets older, she confronts the dilemma of whether to keep her family together, or leave them for a free boarding school that “educate children in need,” and promises a better future. Woven into Dasani’s tale is her scrupulously reported ancestral lineage, which allows Elliott to unveil the story of a country grappling with an enduring legacy of slavery, racism, and destitution. As Dasani’s mother says of their family’s fate, “It’s a cycle.... just coming back around.” Though the narrative centers on the inevitability of these cycles, Elliott manages to incorporate moments of profound hope and togetherness throughout. This is a remarkable achievement that speaks to the heart and conscience of a nation. (Oct.)

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

In December 2013, New York Times reporter Elliot published a five-part series about Dasani, an 11-year-old girl living with nine family members in a one-room apartment within a New York City homeless shelter. Elliot's empathetic and detailed reporting sent shock waves through Mayor Bloomberg's government welfare offices, and brought fleeting celebrity to Dasani, who appeared on front pages of newspapers and guest-starred at political events. Having maintained her close relationship with Dasani's family, the author here fills in the past eight years, updating readers on Dasani, her parents, and her seven siblings. The result is a heartbreaking story of a family struggling to do its best while dealing with systemic racism, bigotry, mind-boggling bureaucracy, and criminal indifference. Elliot was allowed intimate access to the family and personally witnessed the events she describes, ranging from amazing opportunities and times of prosperity to abject poverty and the ultimate fracturing of the family. With compelling storytelling, Elliot dives deep into the history of social welfare, keeping everything focused on how political decisions directly affect families like Dasani's: statistics and policies become personal; child protection agencies emerge as horrific entities. Yet kind, honest people do emerge, and family bonds persevere. This important book packs a real gut punch.

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Expanding on her five-part series on child homelessness that appeared in the New York Times in 2013, this absorbing debut by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Elliott follows Dasani, the oldest of eight siblings, between 2012 and 2020. She also traces Dasani's ancestors, who left North Carolina during the Great Migration and settled in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Excluded from benefiting from the GI bill, Dasani's veteran grandfather ended up in public housing in Fort Greene. It is here in Fort Greene, a neighborhood undergoing gentrification, where Dasani and her family find themselves in a homeless shelter, always on a waiting list for affordable housing. Elliott documents the toll of poverty on Dasani's parents, who both struggle with opioid addiction and navigate housing insecurity, moving from one shelter to another. Uncovering the invisibility of child homelessness in New York City, Elliott tells how the city's school system, the largest in the United States, is also one of the most segregated. Life changes for Dasani when she is accepted to a boarding school in Pennsylvania, but at what cost to her fractured family? VERDICT An unforgettable account, both heartrending and heartbreaking, of structural racism and inequality. Like Matthew Desmond's Evicted, Elliott's tour de force is destined to become a classic.—Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times reporter offers an immersive portrait of the life of a fearless girl in a tightknit but desperately impoverished family of 10. Dasani Coates grew up in a family so poor, her stepfather once pawned his gold teeth to get by until their welfare benefits arrived. In this moving but occasionally flat narrative, Elliott follows Dasani for eight years, beginning in 2012 when she was 11 years old and living in a one-room, rodent-infested apartment in a New York City homeless shelter with nine others: her mother, stepfather, and seven siblings. Dasani is a “parentified child”—a de facto mother to the younger ones—as her overwhelmed and unemployed elders fight hunger, evictions, and the dread that a child protection agency will split up the family. Sometimes Dasani catches a break—most notably, when she earned a spot at the free Milton Hershey boarding school in Pennsylvania, where she excelled at first. But she acted out and was expelled when—after devastating setbacks for her family—her worst fears materialized: Her parents temporarily lost custody of their children, who were sent to three separate foster homes. The villains in this catastrophe include alarmingly inadequate legal and child-protective services—among them a foster care agency that placed two of Dasani’s sisters in a violent household. Elliott’s account of the tumult resembles a series of stitched-together newspaper articles; it’s heroically researched but tends to give each incident a similar emotional weight, whether involving a murder or a harmless gender-reveal party. The book is at least 100 pages too long, and its generally benign picture of Hershey doesn’t mention a well-known sexual abuse scandal there. A more selective chronicle might have given this important book a better chance to find the audience its urgent message deserves. A poignant but overlong story of an impoverished girl’s efforts to survive a turbulent childhood. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.