Down These Mean Streets (Piri Thomas)

This was a great book – Full of love, hate, chaos, moral challenges, and everything else you could want in a coming-of-age tale. Piri’s memoir brings the reader back to mid-20th century Harlem, where his family faces the Great Depression before moving out to Long Island in the burgeoning days of Suburbia.

Piri is raised in a multi-racial household, with a Puerto Rican mother and an African-American father. As he gets older, Piri begins to realize what this means, and attempts to come to terms with his racial identity and the implications it holds for him in pre-Civil Rights Movement America. He struggles to maintain a relationship with his white-looking siblings, strikingly different than his own appearance, and eventually leaves his family to return to his beloved Harlem.

Piri tells his story in a somewhat ineloquent way, which makes it all the more genuine to the reader. You can feel the frustrations and confusions of the Puertan Rican street kid as he travels through the South and back to New York in attempt to figure out who he is. As you follow Piri through his struggle with addiction and his stint in prison, you develop an appreciation for the boy who would eventually grow up to write this award-winning memoir.

Piri’s story is probably not that relatable to many who read it today, including myself, a middle-class white woman who grew up in a comfortable beach town on the East End of Long Island. Regardless, his struggle to discover his identity and his place in the world is familiar to each and every young adult, as the majority have struggled with these issues throughout adolescence and even their early twenties. I would definitely recommend this book to today’s youth, and anyone looking to gain some perspective.

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