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Fist Stick Knife Gun
Cover of Fist Stick Knife Gun
Fist Stick Knife Gun
A Personal History of Violence
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Long before U.S. News and World Report named him one of America's Best Leaders and Oprah Winfrey called him "an angel from God," Geoffrey Canada was a small, vulnerable, scared boy growing up in the South Bronx. Canada's world was one where "sidewalk" boys learned the codes of the block and were ranked through the rituals of fist, stick, and knife. Then the streets changed, and the stakes got even higher. In this candid and riveting memoir, Canada relives a childhood in which violence stalked every street corner. "If you wonder how a fourteen-year-old can shoot another child his own age in the head and then go home to dinner," Canada writes, "you need to know you don't get there in a day, or week, or month. It takes years of preparation to be willing to commit murder, to be willing to kill or die for a corner, a color, or a leather jacket."

Long before U.S. News and World Report named him one of America's Best Leaders and Oprah Winfrey called him "an angel from God," Geoffrey Canada was a small, vulnerable, scared boy growing up in the South Bronx. Canada's world was one where "sidewalk" boys learned the codes of the block and were ranked through the rituals of fist, stick, and knife. Then the streets changed, and the stakes got even higher. In this candid and riveting memoir, Canada relives a childhood in which violence stalked every street corner. "If you wonder how a fourteen-year-old can shoot another child his own age in the head and then go home to dinner," Canada writes, "you need to know you don't get there in a day, or week, or month. It takes years of preparation to be willing to commit murder, to be willing to kill or die for a corner, a color, or a leather jacket."

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  • ATOS:
  • Lexile:
    1020
  • Interest Level:
  • Text Difficulty:
    6 - 8

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About the Author-
  • Geoffrey Canada is the president and CEO of Harlem Children's Zone, a nonprofit, community-based organization deemed "one of the most ambitious social experiments of our time" by the New York Times Magazine. Jonathan Kozol called him, "One of the few authentic heroes of New York and one of the best friends children have, or ever will have, in our nation," and Oprah Winfrey simply refers to him as "an angel from God." Canada is featured in Davis Guggenheim's documentary Waiting for Superman.

    Jamar Nicholas is an artist and educator. He was previously editorial cartoonist at the Philadelphia Tribune, the nation's oldest African American newspaper. He teaches at Moore College of Art and lives in Philadelphia.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 4, 2010
    Canada, a legendary educator and crusader for inner-city-youth, first published in 1995 his revelatory account of the daunting push toward violent behavior that was a part of his Bronx childhood. This graphic adaptation by Nicholas works as a kind of youth-friendly summary of that book's conclusions. Canada's thoughtful, no-nonsense narrative begins in the Bronx in the late 1950s, after his father left him, his mother, and two brothers to fend for themselves. The spine of the story is not so much the broad array of violence on display in a neighborhood suffering from postwar white flight and increases in crime, but Canada's surgical analysis of the stages of violence and the strictly codified strata that reigned on his street and in his school. Helped by Nicholas's dramatic but low-key illustrations, Canada describes how he graduated from one level of violence to the next in a sort of ladder of self-protection. This inexorable evolution is dismaying enough before Canada moves ahead to show how those codes of violence eventually collapsed under an influx of guns. This is exactly the sort of broadly appealing and gripping nonfiction graphic novel that librarians need to be adding to their shelves.

  • Library Journal

    November 15, 2010

    The original text of this brutally honest 1995 memoir of a Bronx, NY, childhood intersperses commentary and persuasive recommendations with accounts of actual experiences: from witnessing his brothers' struggle as six-year-olds to reclaim a stolen jacket to learning to fight himself by age 12 and then in college packing a gun for the feeling of immortality it gave him. But Canada finally said no to violence, earning degrees from Bowdoin and Harvard and founding Harlem Children's Zone, a model for the Obama-Biden "Promise Neighborhoods," designed to assist urban areas with high crime and low student academic achievement. Challenged with adapting Canada's complex book into a one-volume graphic novel, Nicholas (The Grosse Adventures series) has judiciously focused on the personal end, and his semirealistic black-to-grayscale art has just the right lived-in-yet-edgy feel. Adding brown hues would have upped the vibrancy, though. VERDICT Canada's original earned raves from reviewers as well as from Oprah, who called Canada "an angel from God." Nicholas's version infuses an emotional immediacy and makes Canada's message into a personal parable accessible to a wider age range. Highly recommended for tweens through adults; violence and strong language.--M.C.

    Copyright 2010 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • President-elect Barack Obama, July 18, 2007

    "The Harlem Children's Zone (is) an all-encompassing, all-hands-on-deck anti-poverty effort that is literally saving a generation of children in a neighborhood where they were never supposed to have a chance. . . . The first part of my plan to combat urban poverty will be to replicate the Harlem Children's Zone in twenty cities across the country."

  • Charles Johnson "A shattering depiction of the logic of our violent streets, from 'one of this country's genuine heroes.'"
  • New York Times Book Review "The vignettes band together with a kind of clarifying momentum, so that the result is something more. . . . A beacon."
  • Publishers Weekly "A more powerful depiction of the tragic life of urban children and a more compelling plea to end 'America's war against itself' cannot be imagined."
  • Newsweek "Geoff Canada has been cultivating virtue, and hope, in children for the past 10 years."
  • Boston Globe "A slim, revealing volume that should be required reading for anyone who was ever a child, for anyone who has ever negotiated the complicated hierarchy of 'rep' and revenge on city streets."
  • Kirkus Reviews "Part memoir, part social treatise, a wholly sobering view of inner-city violence and the codes surrounding it."
  • Paula Woods, San Francisco Chronicle "A searing memoir . . . Canada's blunt observations are as refreshing as they are bold."
  • Patricia Smith, Boston Globe "Should be required reading . . . Here is the role model, the griot, the nurturer, the brother who never left the 'hood because he keeps looking into the faces of the children and seeing himself there."
  • Marian Wright Edelman, author of The Measure of Our Success "Geoffrey Canada has never lost touch with the child within himself or with the fears of the children around him struggling to reach adulthood in the violent streets of America."
  • Jim Bencivenga, Christian Science Monitor "An urban coming-of-age story, it contrasts the mean streets of the author's South Bronx youth in the 1960s to the drug-and-gun culture afflicting today's urban youth."
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    Beacon Press
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Fist Stick Knife Gun
Fist Stick Knife Gun
A Personal History of Violence
Geoffrey Canada
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