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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

I was attracted to this book by the promising story that took a wrong turn--how is it that Robert Peace, who had accomplished so much from such hard work and grit, could lose it all so suddenly? This is Jeff Hobbs's The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League.

Robert Peace had it rough as a child. His mother scrimped and scraped from her job as a kitchen supervisor to raise him in Newark, a city with one of the highest crime rates in the nation. His father was very present in his life until he was convicted of double murder and sentenced to prison on shaky evidence and faulty eyewitness testimony. Robert knew from a young age how smart he was, and he worked hard and balanced life between school and the streets until he entered college at Yale. He was living the dream, but that bigger dream may not always be everyone's. The violent and tragic end to such a promising young man will take your breath away.

This book was truly astounding. Hobbs, who was Robert's roommate at Yale, has taken this story seriously and has treated it with such a great amount of respect that it stopped me in my book-reading tracks. I felt as though I grew up with Robert myself. I knew him, I knew his friends, and most of all, I knew his struggles to code-switch his life. He was one thing at school and another on the streets, trying to fit in with those who knew and respected his father while trying to live up to his intellectual potential, realizing all his mother was sacrificing to make sure her son succeeded in life.

The most astounding part of the book for me, after the end, was the sequence where Skeet, Robert's father, was dealing with his legal issues. If you have any doubt of the differences in the long-reach of the law between haves and have-nots, you will not after reading this book. Skeet most likely did not commit the crime, but was railroaded with no way to win his case. The story of his conviction reverberates throughout the story of Robert Peace, whether it is directly affecting Robert's life by seeing the long-term implications of taking a present and involved father from a young son to the larger societal implications of poor men not being allowed to live up to their potential due to systematic push-down.

Regardless, this book is an incredible feat of journalism and storytelling, and it is a testament not just to Hobbs's desire to honor his friend but also to give credit to Robert's mother, Jackie. She is a woman who would give up eating to send her son to a good school, and she often did. This book is also an ode to her, and to mothers everywhere who give of themselves so selflessly in order to give their children a fighting chance. Pick up this book. Spend some time with Robert. You won't regret it.

Hard copy for purchase below.

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