What exactly happened to Detroit?

Detroit gets a lot of press and it’s mostly bad. It’s usually about how the city’s going broke, how the crime rates are scary and how the politicians are literally, turning off the lights. But then, you see flashy car ads that remind you that this is a city with a lot of fight. In Scott Martelle’s Detroit: A Biography, he reminds Detroit that it’s going to need more than fight.

I thought Detroit: A Biography started off a little boring. I’m not a history buff so all the humdrum about the founding members of the city didn’t really interest me. But this is not a historical textbook about a city. Martelle weaves citizen stories and anecdotes into the book making it a true biography.

What I found really interesting was auto industry boom in Detroit. We hear so much about the failings of the auto industry today, it’s easy to forget that cars were the lifeblood of so many North American cities. In Detroit, it created jobs, opportunities and brought in workers from all over the United States and around the world.

Cars also allowed for the creation of suburbs – which were the places where whites moved to stay clear of black neighbourhoods. But Martelle shows that blacks moved to the suburbs too when they did well. The result is that lots of people moved out of Detroit. In 2009, a mayoral candidate attributed the city’s lower murder rate to the low population:

“I don’t mean to be sarcastic, but there just isn’t anyone left to kill.” (Stanley Christmas, Detroit mayoral candidate 2009)

It’s interesting that Detroit’s relationship with the auto industry was never perfect. Massive lay-offs, union disputes and racial segregation were common in the factories. Martelle repeatedly states that the auto industry never really gave back to the city of Detroit.

Yes, I realize Jaguars aren’t American but I love this photo.

The book offers hope for Detroit in the citizens that have stayed or are willing to move back into the city. But he also shows the difficulties a lot of these people are facing.

While Martelle acknowledges that Detroit citizens are tough, it will take brains to get this city going again.

City of Industry by Brian Day

City of Industry by Brian Day

Photo credits: 500px.com


The Starboard Sea reminds you that growing up is damn hard

This post is part of The 2012 Netgalley Reading Challenge hosted by Red House Books.

Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a copy of The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont. The Starboard Sea is available on February 28th!

The Starboard Sea sets you up for heartbreak. It really does. It makes you fall in love with a boy named Jason Prosper, a rich kid who has been kicked out of his fancy prep school for cheating on a calculus test. Yeah, I know, calculus broke my heart too. It makes you fall in love with the sport of sailing and the setting of the beautiful, yet dangerous ocean. And then, Dermont takes it all away. With a string of words, Dermont will “destroy everything beautiful” for the reader in this world.

Jason’s self-involved family barely seems to notice that this act of cheating is a desperate call for help after Jason finds his best friend has committed suicide. Instead, he is enrolled in Bellinghem, the prep school of second chances. Everyone at Bellinghem has screwed up elsewhere and not surprisingly, the school is lax on the rules. It’s here that Jason has to grow up fast and it’s here that things ultimately get harder for him too.

It’s hard not to compare The Starboard Sea to Catcher in the Rye. There are very similar themes and similar characters. But while Holden Caulfield is more angry and Jason Prosper is more sad, they both share a common loneliness. I especially love how Dermont uses the language around sailing and sea navigation to describe growing up. You spend most of novel slowly learning more about the best friend’s suicide and in the end, only some of the questions get answered. I loved the open-endedness of the ending. If the name “Jason Prosper” is any hint, there is also much hope in this story.

I think if it weren’t for some of the harder subjects in this book (suicide, homosexuality), The Starboard Sea would have fit into the young adult genre. I recommend this one to anyone loves a good tear-jerker like Catcher in the Rye or to anyone that wants to remember that growing up is a wonderful journey but it isn’t all rainbows and butterflies.

Updated on 2/27/2012: Visit Pam Writes for an interview with Dermont & learn how you can win a copy of the book!

Photo credit: Nick Onken

Related Penguins: Decline and Fall is Hilarious but Mostly Horrible

Photo credit: etsy.comnickonken.com