In the growing crowd of journalists documenting the urban poor, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc sets herself apart. LeBlanc’s first book, Random Family, is remarkable in the breadth of its ambition (she follows four central characters), the length of her commitment (she spent a decade reporting her story), and her personal devotion (her research included earning a master’s degree). The book chronicles a circle of young adults coming of age in the South Bronx: Jessica is light-skinned, beautiful, and looking for a way to ride her looks out of her hometown. (At the beginning of the story, the farthest she’s been is a state park 50 miles up the Hudson River.) Her ticket out is Boy George, a wildly successful drug dealer with his own brand of heroin, called ìObsession.î The travails of Cesar, Jessica’s brother, and his girlfriend, Coco, are lower-pitched—love, babies, and prison—but no less affecting. Viewed together, the subjects’ struggles will be familiar to readers of Alex Kotlowitz’s There Are No Children Here and Ron Suskind’s A Hope in the Unseen, but the trajectory of LeBlanc’s story is singularly complex: Characters move in and out of each other’s graces, in and out of jail, in and out of despair. What most distinguishes Random Family from other literary reports on urban poverty, though, is LeBlanc’s refusal to adorn her journalism with literary ornament or critical judgments; simply telling the stories makes for engrossing enough reading. LeBlanc speaks at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Mike DeBonis)

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