In Review

Invisible Child by Andrea Elliott: a book destined to become a ‘classic’

A ‘magnificent’ work of immersive social reportage from a New York Times journalist

In 2013, the New York Times journalist Andrea Elliott wrote a series of articles about a girl named Dasani, who lived with her parents and seven siblings in one cockroach-infested room of a Brooklyn homeless shelter, said Ted Conover in The Washington Post.

Elliott knew that she’d found a remarkable subject in Dasani – a bright, charismatic 11-year-old who loved to dance and do backflips, but whose days began emptying the bucket her family used as a lavatory. And so, over the next seven years, she followed her and her “extremely at-risk” African-American family.

The result is Invisible Child, a work of immersive social reportage that ranks among the finest examples of the genre. Over the 600-odd pages of this meticulous book, a terrible truth becomes clear: that Dasani’s family – “and people like them” – are “stuck” in an endless cycle of poverty and “structural racism”.

At one point, tantalisingly, Dasani seems on the point of something better, said Christina Patterson in The Sunday Times: she wins a scholarship to a boarding school for underprivileged children, and “thrives” there for a while. But without Dasani to help look after them all, the family unravels. Chanel, her mother, succumbs to opioid addiction; Dasani’s siblings are taken into care. Feeling guilty, and missing her mother, Dasani starts misbehaving at her school, and ends up being expelled. Only when she has returned to her mother does her behaviour start to improve.

Elliott has won a string of awards for her reporting, and it’s easy to see why. “Her characters are so vivid they leap off the pages. The prose fizzes. The dialogue crackles.” This truly is a “magnificent” book, one surely destined to become a “classic to sit alongside those by giants such as Studs Terkel and George Orwell”.

Hutchinson Heinemann 624pp £16.99; The Week Bookshop £13.99

Invisible Child book cover
The Week Bookshop

To order this title or any other book in print, visit theweekbookshop.co.uk, or speak to a bookseller on 020-3176 3835. Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.

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