Up On The Roof: A Review of What Else But Home

What ElseThe subtitle of this book by Michael Rosen is Seven Boys and an American Journey Between the Projects and the Penthouse.   Nicholas Whitaker, a friend of the author’s, wrote this about the book on his blog (a life less mediated):   “…it’s a touching story about fathers and sons, New York and baseball, race, growing up and struggling to be the best person one can be.”

The story itself is a positive one about how Rosen took in five kids from the local housing projects to live with him, his wife and two adopted sons.   It’s a nice tale in which everything turns out fine in the end (“Afterwards they went to college.”).   The problem I had was with the manner of telling the story, which made it a bit of a struggle to get to page 361.

It starts off well…   There’s a nice easy flowing style in the introduction which oddly disappears once we reach Chapter One and the thirteen that follow.   Rosen does his best to capture the urban slang used by Carlos, Kindu, Phil, Juan and Will; which is also sometimes imitated by his sons Ripton and Morgan.   This would have been interesting for, say, 10 or 15 pages but it persists quickly tiring the reader.

The word “right” is substituted  by “rah?”, “coming” by “comin”, “alright” by “Ollrot.”   It becomes even more tiring once you try to read passages of the boys’ dialogue written in this fashion.   Here’s an example:

“You stuuupid.   Phil, was, you whack,” Will pushed, his voice back to loud.   “You tight, n—-.   Tight, tight,” Carlos crouched…   “Tight you tight, n—-, tight.”   Ripton mimed Carlos.

Yes, a little of this goes a very, very long way.   Despite this, I did finish the book and I would recommend it to others with some tenacity and patience.   Deep down it’s a story about how tolerance and understanding can enable others to succeed.   It’s also about the shallowness of economic and rural barriers.   One of the best scenes in the book is one in which the kids from the projects, out on a nice night on the town with their second-father Rosen say to him – in effect – “You see now what (discrimination) we have to put up with?”  

Mr. Rosen is clearly a fine man who leads by example in his life.   Kudos to him.   I just wish that this book had been more finely edited – 75 pages could easily have been trimmed away – and that the gritty language had been translated into easier-to-read passages.

Maybe this would have worked better as an “as told to…” book or perhaps I’ll go back to this one day, re-read it and say:   “That was one inspiring story!   I wonder why it didn’t stick with me the first time around?”

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   Thanks to Public Affairs for the review copy!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Up On The Roof: A Review of What Else But Home

  1. Wow…. sounds like the language in the original Wuthering Heights…. you just wanted to turn the book upside down to see if it read any easier!

  2. Heidikins

    I read this too, and actually think that dialogue style made this book very real. I almost could picture the boys in my head as I read it (though there’s no photo of them in the book). I thought the difference between boys’ language and author’s writing show how deeply two world — middle class and project — are divided. Yes, some words confused me at first (I didn’t know “word” means “really”…), but if they had been edited to “correct” English, this book would lose its gritty, honest, and surprisingly fresh feel of it. I’m not a very patient reader (and English is not my first language) but finished this book in one day, thought it was a page turner.

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