Long before U.S. News and World Report named him one of America's Best Leaders and Oprah Winfrey called him "an angel from God," Geoffrey Canada was a small, vulnerable, scared boy growing up in the South Bronx. Canada's world was one where "sidewalk" boys learned the codes of the block and were ranked through the rituals of fist, stick, and knife. Then the streets changed, and the stakes got even higher. In this candid and riveting memoir, Canada relives a childhood in which violence stalked every street corner. "If you wonder how a fourteen-year-old can shoot another child his own age in the head and then go home to dinner," Canada writes, "you need to know you don't get there in a day, or week, or month. It takes years of preparation to be willing to commit murder, to be willing to kill or die for a corner, a color, or a leather jacket."
Canada, a legendary educator and crusader for inner-city-youth, first published in 1995 his revelatory account of the daunting push toward violent behavior that was a part of his Bronx childhood. This graphic adaptation by Nicholas works as a kind of youth-friendly summary of that book's conclusions. Canada's thoughtful, no-nonsense narrative begins in the Bronx in the late 1950s, after his father left him, his mother, and two brothers to fend for themselves. The spine of the story is not so much the broad array of violence on display in a neighborhood suffering from postwar white flight and increases in crime, but Canada's surgical analysis of the stages of violence and the strictly codified strata that reigned on his street and in his school. Helped by Nicholas's dramatic but low-key illustrations, Canada describes how he graduated from one level of violence to the next in a sort of ladder of self-protection. This inexorable evolution is dismaying enough before Canada moves ahead to show how those codes of violence eventually collapsed under an influx of guns. This is exactly the sort of broadly appealing and gripping nonfiction graphic novel that librarians need to be adding to their shelves.