If you’ve never read sociologist Tim Black’s 2009 book When a Heart Turns Rock Solid: The Lives of Three Puerto Rican Brothers On and Off the Streets, well, you really ought to.
The book chronicles Black’s 20-year relationship with a Springfield family he calls the Riveras. (A faculy member at the University of Hartford at the time, Black is now a professor at Case Western Reserve University.) He focuses in particular on its three sons, as they struggle with a sub-par educational system, poverty, drug addiction, violence and the many other challenges too common in cities like Springfield. It’s a thoughtful book that refuses to settle for a simplistic take on the brothers, the bad things that happen to them, and the bad things they sometimes do. Black considers the economic and political forces that shape the lives of poor, urban families, as well as his own role, as a white college professor immersing himself in the North End community where the Riveras lived. (Here’s a story I wrote about the book a few years ago.)