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Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American CityEvicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Evicted, Matthew Desmond takes a look at the Affordable Housing Crisis using Milwaukee, Wisconsin during 2008-2009 as a social laboratory to help describe the American experience of poverty during the Great Recession. Through the eyes of eight families in crisis, and the two landlords who rent to them, Desmond unfolds a piece of Americana that many would rather ignore. In the Prologue, Desmond describes this experience succinctly when he says:

“Low-income families have grown used to the rumble of moving trucks, the early morning knocks at the door, the belongings line the curb” (4).

Later, Desmond rightly identifies this as a justice issue when he notes:

“All this suffering is shameful and unnecessary. Because it is unnecessary, there is hope. These problems are neither intractable nor eternal” (299).

He challenges the status quo, and our decades long view that poverty is self-inflicted, by confronting directly our exploitation of the poor:

“If the poor pay more for their housing, food, durable goods, and credit, and if they get smaller returns on their educations and mortgages (if they get returns at all), then their incomes are even smaller than they appear. This is fundamentally unfair” (306).

Yet, though Desmond challenges our assumptions, he doesn’t put all the blame for this exploitation at the feet of the landlords. This is a systemic issue that must be corrected, allowing opportunity for the poor to live without systemic exploitation, while also allowing the landlords the opportunity to rightly pursue profit. Both have the inalienable rights of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” but Desmond rightly recognizes that these rights require “a stable home” (300).

And Desmond offers one solution that he thinks will satisfy the needs of both landlords and tenants. Expand our current Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) programs into a Universal Housing Choice Voucher program.

Although he recognizes the possibility of other solutions, and has a healthy respect for the complexities of poverty and housing issues, Desmond’s housing-focused solution appears to me to be a bit naive. As someone who has worked for years with both the homeless and those at risk of homelessness, I know that a house, with the goal of ensuring it costs no more than 30% of an individual’s income, will not reduce the issues associated with poverty. There are multiple systemic and personal issues that are the cause.

However, a housing-first, asset-based solution, focused on expansive supportive services, almost always works. It provides housing stability, enables individuals to get the level of support they need to address the other issues that are contributing factors, while empowering them to overcome these challenges using their own skills and resources.

These challenges are also much more complex than the stereotypical families in crisis that Desmond portrays. There is often an assumption in America that the poor get what they deserve, because of the poor choices they have made. While Desmond vocally expresses disdain for this view, the families he chose to present us with almost reinforce this assumption.

I wish Mr. Desmond would have taken the time to find an individual or family who didn’t fit the stereotype, and tell their story as well. Some of the people I find on the street are experiencing severe homelessness for the first time in their lives. They are the aged, the sick, the handicapped, who have no remaining family and no support system to help them. Individuals who have suddenly found themselves on the streets due to circumstances beyond their control, who have fallen through the cracks, because there are no systemic supports in place to assist them.

They are being evicted at an alarming rate, because they have spent most of their lives on the edge of poverty, and as housing costs have continued to increase, their financial resources haven’t. The sad thing about reading this book, as one who works in the field, is recognizing that the Housing Crisis has only grown worse since Desmond did his research. His book is timely and relevant, and his considerations must be taken seriously. Otherwise, we will have failed as a nation if we refuse to address this issue. Ultimately, our great experiment in Democracy will have failed as well. Desmond rightly notes:

“Working on behalf of the common good is the engine of democracy, vital to our communities, cities, states–and, ultimately, the nation” (294).

This is a book that every thoughtful American should read (including many of our current political candidates). Desmond is to be commended for undertaking this work, and offering a solution to address these issues.

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The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is a great literary dessert, wonderfully baked with ingredients that are put together just right.

A tale about the power of stories, it’s built with literary allusions from mixed genres. Add a few love stories, throw in a dash of poetry, a love of the writing process, and a little literary criticism and you have the sweet tale of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry.

It’s a simple story (or really a collection of shorts), hiding a deeper tale about the love of community, and the impact that literature has in bringing people together, while ultimately shaping their lives.

Zevin sometimes appears to bring things together too perfectly, occasionally tugging at our emotions a bit too predictably, when suddenly she lets the reader know that she thinks they’re intelligent enough to recognize this and still enjoy reading for the sake of the story. (I suspect that this technique will prevent some individuals from seeing the deeper story, much like Maya’s story was overlooked for it’s depth).

Zevin skillfully and openly foreshadows much of the story from the very beginning, yet manages to add a twist of mystery, and surprise the reader several times along the way. Without conveying the snobbery often apparent in much of contemporary and classic fiction, she manages to weave a deep tale of everyday people discovering the power of fiction, while enabling the reader to see that fiction is often more truthful than it first appears.

This is a book that everyone should read at least once, and one that I intend to read again. I’m rating it five stars not because it’s a perfect literary masterpiece, but because it precisely achieves its intended aim. I read a lot of books, but this is the first book I’ve read in a long time that I didn’t want to put down simply because of the joy of reading it! Zevin has reminded me why I love books and why I long to read them. She has rekindled my romance with reading, made me crave the re-reading of some literary masterpieces I love, while giving me a hunger to read the ones I’ve yet to devour.

A tasty, fattening literary dish served with much delight!

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David Wilkerson: The Cross, The Switchblade, and The Man Who Believed
by Gary Wilkerson with R.S.B. Sawyer

5 Stars *****

David Wilkerson a fiery young preacher, seemed larger than life, after he faced down the switchblades of New York’s gangs with the Bible in his hand, and the love in his heart that he held for the addicts, gang members, and prostitutes struggling to survive in New York’s inner city.

His faith and commitment led to the salvation of key gang leaders, including Nicky Cruz, and the founding of the Teen Challenge ministry, which throughout the years has had an unbelievable success rate for those struggling with life-controlling problems.

His story would be immortalized in the book The Cross and the Switchblade, co-authored by John and Elizabeth Sherrill, and the movie of the same name starring Pat Boone and Erik Estrada.

Later, David would reach out to the youth of America through a powerful crusade ministry active during the 1960s and 1970s as the drug culture invaded suburbia. His voice and ministry would impact the Jesus Movement and the Charismatic Movement, as it crossed societal barriers to present the hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Throughout his ministry, David would serve a prophetic role as the conscience of the nation, experience the trials and trauma associated with sudden fame, struggle as his wife Gwen, and other family members, battled cancer again and again, and remain faithful to God’s call on his life as he wrestled with his own inner turmoil.

David would go on to found the outreach organization, World Challenge, and eventually, he would return to New York to found the now famous Times Square Church. Throughout his journey, David would serve as a prophetic voice to our nation, often stand alone in his singular vision to serve God whole-heartedly, facing vilification by some, and standing as a hero of the faith to others.

His journey would tragically end with an automobile crash on April 27, 2011. Although his wife Gwen would survive the accident, she would pass away on July 5, 2012 from cancer.

Many of us who know the story of David Wilkerson are at least aware of these key events in his life. However, Gary Wilkerson paints a fresh portrait of the man through the eyes of a son, watching the life of his larger-than-life father unfold, as he seeks to find his own place within the framework of God’s plan.

Throughout the pages of David Wilkerson, Gary shares the story of his Dad’s life transparently; honestly speaking about the strength and frailties of a father he loved and admired. He gives voice to others who knew his famous father, and allows their stories to be heard, as he weaves a story of a very human man, who became a hero of the faith because he dared to be obedient to the voice of God. Gary doesn’t hide the struggles of his family, nor his father’s own inner turmoil, and throughout his biography successfully paints a portrait of the central message of David’s ministry: God loves lost souls, and He can use anyone who fully gives their life to Him.

I found this insider’s perspective on the life of a great man of God thrilling. Gary’s openness and honesty in sharing his Dad’s journey has made David Wilkerson more realistic and more heroic to me. You can’t help but admire a man like David Wilkerson, who gave so much to serve the God he loved, and at the same time it is impossible to not be left in awe at how the grace of God, working through the life of one flawed individual, can impact so many lives for eternity.

Gary Wilkerson has done a great service sharing the story of his father’s faith, and he has further solidified my vision of David Wilkerson as a man to be emulated. If you want to be inspired on your own journey of faith, then David Wilkerson by Gary Wilkerson is a must read.

Also See:

David Wilkerson Biography | World Challenge