"In these always engaging stories, Amina Gautier reminds us that behind the disturbing headlines are vibrant young people whose lives matter immeasurably. Gautier employs unflinching honesty to capture those lives, and she does so with clarity, dignity and genuine insight. At-Risk will break your heart even as it leaves you full of hope. It is a truly lovely book."
—David Haynes, author of The Full Matilda
"In this wonderful collection Amina Gautier writes with exhilarating insight and confidence about the lives of teenagers who are indeed at risk from themselves, their families and their friends. These are urgent and important stories."
"It was no surprise to us that she won such a high-status award. . . .What is more notable is the quality of the stories, which also update the usual Flannery O'Connor winner's content: citified, frisky, adventurous and redolent of social concerns. Gautier's stories do not resemble anyone else's, one reason why we are so proud to have published her."
—Notre Dame Reviews
"The stories in At-Risk constitute a strong, promising performance and suggest that much more excellent work lies ahead. . . . Baxter, Sterling, and Gautier, in particular, write tales that are memorable precisely because they have an authentic texture that helps, in O'Connor's formulation, make actual the mysterious position of our lives on earth."
—Greg Johnson, The Georgia Review
"Gautier is good at what she does. . . .Her true achievement is her capacity to tell stories of urgency, sensitivity and grace. Her characters are bearers of psychological complexity. . . .all familiar stories in their basic broad strokes, it is her fine sense of detail, her intimate knowledge of the quirks and foibles of her character, and her capacity to write lines with seemingly effortless grace, that make this such a pleasurable and enlightening read."
—Kwame Dawes, Prairie Schooner
"These stories have courage, a brutal honesty, and a layered insight that is hard to find. They will stay with you long after the stories are over."
— Richard Thomas, The Nervous Breakdown
"Ultimately, these aren’t stories that surprise us at the end, but rather ones that surprise us with how those ends are reached. . . . A thought-provoking read, At-Risk offers no easy solutions to the problems of inner city poverty and racial discrimination. In the end, we may not be able to love these children and teenagers enough to change their circumstances, but Gautier ensures that we will, in fact, love them."
—Siân Griffiths, The Iowa Review
In Amina Gautier’s Brooklyn, some kids make it and some kids don’t, but not in simple ways or for stereotypical reasons. Gautier’s stories explore the lives of young African Americans who might all be classified as “at-risk,” yet who encounter different opportunities and dangers in their particular neighborhoods and schools and who see life through the lens of different family experiences.
Gautier’s focus is on quiet daily moments, even in extraordinary lives; her characters do not stand as emblems of a subculture but live and breathe as people. In “The Ease of Living,” the young teen Jason is sent down south to spend the summer with his grandfather after witnessing the double murder of his two best friends, and he is not happy about it. A season of sneaking into as many movies as possible on one ticket or dunking girls at the pool promises to turn into a summer of shower chairs and the smell of Ben-Gay in the unimaginably backwoods town of Tallahassee. In “Pan Is Dead,” two half-siblings watch as the heroin-addicted father of the older one works his way back into their mother’s life; in “Dance for Me,” a girl on scholarship at a posh Manhattan school teaches white girls to dance in the bathroom in order to be invited to a party.
As teenagers in complicated circumstances, each of Gautier’s characters is pushed in many directions. To succeed may entail unforgiveable compromises, and to follow their desires may lead to catastrophe. Yet within these stories they exist and can be seen as they are, in the moment of choosing.
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