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The Year in Reading

 Staff, New York Times, December 19, 2016
Junot Diaz

Two excellent books accompanied me through the darkness of these last months. The first was Wesley Lowery's "They Can't Kill Us All," a devastating front-line account of the police killings and the young activism that sparked one of the most significant racial justice movements since the 1960s: Black Lives Matter. In his quest to understand how and why this movement sprang up when it did, Lowery seems to have been everywhere and spoken to everyone (his interview of Alicia Garza is especially noteworthy). Lowery more or less pulls the sheet off America, exposing the malign disavowals and horrendous racial structures and logics that make the unjust deaths of young men like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Sean Bell not only possible but inevitable. As a primer for the Black Lives Matter movement and as a meditation on the death-grip that white supremacy has on the American soul, "They Can't Kill Us All" is essential reading.

And then there is Julian Voloj and Claudia Ahlering's superb graphic history "Ghetto Brother," which on the surface is a biography of Benjy Melendez, the Boricua brother who in the late '60s founded one of the Bronx's most notorious gangs: the Ghetto Brothers. But like the borough in which it is set, "Ghetto Brother" contains multitudes: The book is also a history of the multiracial Bronx, of its black and Puerto Rican communities, of its youth gangs, of hip-hop's rise from the gang truce that Benjy helped to forge, and finally it is the story of Benjy's awakening to his family's hidden Jewish faith. Starkly drawn, boldly told, "Ghetto Brother" is a gem.

Junot Diaz is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao."