Evicted (★★★★★)

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Matthew Desmond  *  Crown  *  March 1, 2016  *  432 Pages

In Evicted, Matthew Desmond shares the experiences of eight families as they try to make ends meet in the most run-down neighborhoods of Milwaukee. And this would be interesting enough, but, amazingly, Desmond ALSO shares the experiences of two landlords who manage some of the properties where these families live. All together, it makes for some engaging, eye-opening, big-picture reading.

You’d think that a 400-page tome about such a weighty and depressing topic would be a tedious and slightly impossible read. But, wow, I couldn’t believe how quickly I tore through this book. Desmond is so good at incorporating dialogue and narrative with facts and statistics, that most of the time I felt like I was reading a novel. It helps, too, that Desmond is never heavy-handed in the way he delivers information. Yes, his point is to shed light on a particular social issue, but I never felt like he was taking sides or forcing his beliefs on me. He really lets the facts speak for themselves.

And, truthfully, I don’t think I had ever stopped to consider, as Desmond puts it, “how deeply housing is implicated in the creation of poverty.” He says, “Not everyone living in a distressed neighborhood is associated with gang members, parole officers, employers, social workers, or pastors. But nearly all of them have a landlord.” That’s a good dang point.

When I finished this book, I knew I had learned a lot about this important issue–but, more important than that, I felt like I had connected to this Big Issue on a very personal level. These stories, these people, will stay with me. I only hope that Desmond eventually includes an update on where the families are now, because I’d love to know.

10 thoughts

  1. I’ve spent years on both sides – tenant and landlord – and find that most public “analyses” are cartoonishly slanted one way or the other. There are lots of responsible tenants and lots of irresponsible ones with no conscience; there are lots of responsible, compassionate landlords and lots of irresponsible ones with no conscience. Management companies overall fare a bit worse than private owners, but still, anyone who generalizes too much loses credibility for me. I trust from your review that Desmond would pass my credibility test. Then again, his narrow focus on distressed neighborhoods might bend the issues and stats out of my normal range, so I’ll shut up now 🙂

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  2. I’ve never been a landlord, but I have been a tenant in ten different locations (apartments and houses in five different states…). I definitely agree with you, it isn’t some black and white thing like “all tenants are lazy and destructive” or “all landlords are unresponsive jerks.” They’re all just people, some less irritating or responsible or respectful (or whatever) than others. (And I feel like I’ve experienced all variations, haha.)

    But that’s what I appreciated about this book: Desmond is genuinely fair. He shows the good and the bad of everyone. Honestly, while I sympathized with the tenants and the landlords, I also thought BOTH sides were, well…less than adequate, let’s say. Yikes, a lot of bad decisions happening here. But at least we get to see the whole picture.

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      1. Also, I ordered your children’s book, and it’s on its way. It’s going to take a bit of time to get here (won’t be here until the end of the month, I guess), but I’m excited to read it! 🙂

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  3. This book seems really interesting! I’m always a little daunted by thick books and the topic of this book doesn’t seem particularly on-the-edge-of-your-seat, but I’ll trust your judgement and see if I can get it next time I’m at the library. Always a sucker for well-written books *ahem*NOTtwilight*ahem* *angry glare directed at author of Twilight who I haven’t even deigned to remember the name of*

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  4. I know what you mean. The more dense topics can be tough to get through. But this book really does (amazingly) read like a story. It’s not boring or tedious at all.

    How funny that you like my theme, because I LOVE the way your blog looks! I actually want mine to look more like yours, haha. I love all the banners you do, and how fresh and happy the colors are.

    I’d love to follow you on Goodreads, but when I click on your Goodreads button, it doesn’t go anywhere. I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong or what? This is me on Goodreads:

    https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5887880-lorilin

    If you connect with me, I’ll be able to connect with you! (But if that’s creepy, don’t worry about it!) 🙂

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  5. I assume you mean my new novel, Mr. Robert’s Bones, not the picture book, Spaghetti and Peas (www.garygautier.com to compare). Spaghetti and Peas is definitely for kids (ages 2-8). There is some dispute about whether Mr. Robert’s Bones fits as teen/young adult or as adult readers, so I’ll be curious if you have an opinion … and I know you’re always good for a thoughtful, honest opinion 🙂 Feel free also to send any comments to drggautier@gmail.com. Thanks, Gary

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  6. No, I mean Spaghetti and Peas! I got it for my kids, and I’m hoping they love it. Well, I got it for me, too. I so love picture books. 🙂

    I’ll check out Mr. Robert’s Bones, though, also. It looks good. I have a feeling I will be reading more young reader books as my kids get older, but I haven’t as much lately. My six-year old is just starting to read on his own, so we are slowly reading more “chapter” books…

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