Fist Stick Knife Gun by Geoffrey Canada

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Stitches by David Small Fist Stick Knife Gun is yet another book on gang violence. I've been lately reading/watching stuff on this topic. It is totally unplanned, mostly coincidental, but I can't help but notice its recurrence. First it was Yummy by G. Neri and then this book. Now, just last night, I watched the movie - Freedom Writers (which by the way is awesome, so it will get its own post).

Fist Stick Knife Gun was illustrated by Jamar Nicholas, based on Geoffrey Canada's memoir by the same title. This is the first time I'm reading a graphic version of a book and I'm kind of mixed about how I feel. Since this is the only so-so aspect I have to say, I want to get that out of the way. I haven't read the original book so I don't have a reference, but I felt the graphic book was too verbose, almost like any regular book. It had the total feel of a graphic novel, but there was a lot of background narration, so it felt wordy to me.

This memoir follows Geoffrey Canada's life in one of the many gang-operated New York streets, and the lifestyle he led in such a climate. It takes a look at the kids who grow up in lawless streets and are forever defined by the crimes that happen around them and the survival tactics they learn there. While reading this book, many times I wondered why the color of the skin is usually enough for many as evidence of crime. And why when such people of color ask for police help, their complaints are treated as trivial.

When the book begins, Geoffrey is a four-year old staying with three other brothers and their mother. Their father wasn't much of a father and walked out of their lives early on. Geoffrey's mother is a strong woman. She never let her kids take any kind of crap from others. Once when someone stole a jacket belonging to one of Geoffrey's brothers, she threatened that he go back and get it. (I did think that was too intimidating and almost like sending a kid to slaughter, but to survive the kind of life the kids were inevitably going to lead, they needed to learn to stand up for themselves.) This ultimatum absolutely terrified the boys but they managed to get the jacket back somehow.

The real test for the kids begins when they all move to a different street. This street has a total different gameplay and power structure. Before anyone is considered a part of the street, he has to fight someone else so that they know their place in the street hierarchy. If they don't fight or do not show any kind of "stand up for themselves" characteristic, they get beaten up. As Geoffrey explains, the town's kids are actually being prepared for the crueler and harsher environments they will face in school and later on, in other streets.

I liked this book better than I expected to. The artwork shows the whole dynamics of street life better than what I gleaned off from any other book. The boys may be tough, violent and unreasonable sometimes, but I didn't, couldn't, look at them as just plain gangs. In fact, although this book provides a really good look at gang life, that phrase never really crossed my mind as I was reading it.

It really is amazing how much such a kid has to go through to survive. Darwin's Survival of the Fittest springs to mind immediately. There's no money in many of the homes there. No police protection, no education or welfare programs - in fact, no one cares about the people there. This could have been some isolated part of the world for all you know. And yet these kids devise their own mechanisms to survive - their own power structure and leaders, their own rules and punishments - in fact, each street is like its own separate country governed primarily by fist-fights, sticks, knives and guns, in that order. 


I borrowed this book from the library.


2 comments:

Juju at Tales of Whimsy... said...

Very cool read/review! :)

Athira / Aths said...

(Goodness, I have no idea how I got the author's name wrong. This is what happens when you mix books with even similar sounding/spelling author's names. I only noticed after reading your comment.)

I had never heard of Geoffrey Canada before reading this book. I read a bit of background on him after finishing it, and he does seem to do a lot.