Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence (2010)

This graphic novel is based on a book of the same name by Geoffrey Canada and is illustrated by Jamar Nicholas. It is a memoir of the lessons learned growing up on the streets of the South Bronx. There is a code that is passed on from older kids to younger kids as they emerge from their families' apartments out on to the street. If they don't adhere to this code the consequences are some form of violence and the older the kid, the more severe the consequences.

As he gets older, Canada finds that the means to defend himself increase in efficiency from the fist to the stick to the knife and to the gun. At first he feels he must carry a gun to defend himself but he eventually comes to the realization that the consequences of using the gun could mean taking a life. He decides that carrying the gun makes it too easy and convenient to shoot someone so he decides to get rid of the gun and rely on less violent ways to survive.

And yet, these are young men who because they are armed feel less inclined to avoid confrontations that could escalate into bloodshed.
The power of the gun is no less intoxicating to them that it was to me. The evidence of their need to carry a weapon for self-defense is made clear to them every day as they talk about who was shot, who was robbed, who was killed.
They are not going to swap their guns just for sneakers, or gift certificates, or small amounts of cash. And unfortunately for us all, many of them have not been raised in the church or with any moral teaching, so the fact that they might end up taking a life is not a persuasive argument for throwing away their guns.

Canada is very involved with the ambitious program, Harlem Children's Zone, so that children can walk to school and the store without fear.

The illustrations in this book are in black, white, and gray and are rough and stark. They add to the fear and intimidation that the writer grew up with.

I highly recommend this book.

My rating: ++++