“Goodbye Homeboy” by Steve Mariotti and Debra Devi

GOODBYE HOMEBOY
Steve Mariotti and Debra Devi
BenBella Books (2019)
ISBN 9781948836005
Reviewed by Araceli Noriega for Reader Views (11/19)

“Goodbye Homeboy: How My Students Drove Me Crazy and Inspired a Movement,” author Steve Mariotti’s memoir, tells the story of a teacher’s early experiences working with some of the most mistreated students living in the inner city in the 1980s. Along the way, readers watch a young man face one adversity after another with humility and refreshing honesty.

“Goodbye Homeboy” mixes the graceful with the ghastly, delivering its message of resiliency with equal parts of efficiency and compassion. Mr. Mariotti and Debra Devi compel the reader to reconsider any and all prejudices about both him and his students. Equally important, they succeed in giving the community of the South Bronx the respect it deserves (which I believe they were aiming to do).

The narrative arc leads the reader through a story that involves disturbing heartache and gritty triumph. At just the right times, Mr. Mariotti and Debra Devi sprinkle in the bliss and exhilaration that comes with helping an underprivileged young person reach their goals. The writing is fluid yet full of nuances, making it a remarkable piece of non-fiction honoring the young people of the South Bronx.

I have many passages showing the way in which the memoir keeps the reader grounded and inspired at the same time. One of my favorites is the following quotes on page 184:

“But my murdered students had made me tough like a motherfucker.”

Up to this point, Mr. Mariotti was still inhibited in his descriptions of the way the students had impacted him. Suddenly, he is brutally and achingly honest about the transformation he is experiencing. It’s piercing as this turn of events isn’t preceded by any hint of an upcoming revelation. He just blurts it out halfway through “Tough like a mother,” a pivotal chapter in the story. Fantastically timed and written!

This memoir is written in such a clear voice and concise manner that it has quite a broad audience. Residents of the Bronx will be especially interested in reading it to see how accurate it is to the time and era it is written in. Educators of any background would do well to read this memoir as a reminder of the power of working with students’ strengths.

This book was truly a joy to read! I have several personal connections that made this memoir a lovely surprise. A couple of years ago, I spent a lot of time working in the South Bronx (and some time in Bed-Stuy as well) as a research assistant when I worked in the field of social science research. I know most of the neighborhoods and the people who live there quite well. It is refreshing to read how accurate and honest the story is in describing the community and the families that are the backbone of the South Bronx. As I read “Goodbye Homeboy,” I realized that the South Bronx of the 80s that he was describing is the one I have come to know now that I live in the Bronx. Reading this memoir formed a connection between Mr. Mariotti’s experiences and the experiences I, myself, had in the Bronx as an outsider working to serve the community almost 40 years later.

I have been a fan of KRS-One since I was an adolescent, always wanting to learn about his musical style and artistic origins. I was elated to learn that he was involved in helping Mr. Mariotti and his students. Not only that, the author also explains being witness to the birth of hip-hop culture. What a terrific surprise for a fan of rap music and the history that fomented the artistry that continues to be such an influential element of American popular culture! In hindsight, it makes sense that this story would include something about rap music. The era and location in which the story is told necessarily require that the subject be broached. Mr. Mariotti did just that and he did so in a raw, heartwarming, and amusing tone, all rap music fans will appreciate this.

I absolutely recommend this memoir to readers who appreciate contemporary history, working with high school students, and of course, anyone that wants to learn about the origins of rap music and hip-hop culture.

As an occasional volunteer financial literacy instructor in the South Bronx, I found “Goodbye Homeboy: How My Students Drove Me Crazy and Inspired a Movement,” a poignant example of the marriage of social justice and the American dream. Just as in the time period that the book is set in, Bed-Stuy and the South Bronx remain distrustful of outsiders. However, Mr. Mariotti earned his students’ trust and inspired them to break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their families. The fact that the community eventually embraced him, demonstrates the authenticity he carries himself with. Towards the end of the memoir, Mr. Mariotti says “Isn’t hip-hop just a fad, though?” He eventually learns that this was no fad—and I suspect this memoir has similarly etched a mark in the history of academic theory. 

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