Review: Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City

A true-life account of homelessness in New York has the right balance of gravity and light
June 16, 2022
Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City
Andrea Elliott
Buy on
Buy on
Prospect receives commission when you buy a book using this page. Thank you for supporting us.

“Dress fly. Do good in school. Fight.” Eleven-year-old Dasani lives by the words of her mother. Dasani is fierce, witty and the proud leader of her tribe of siblings, fending and caring for them. At school, she is full of potential; she discovers the perks of learning and could become anything, “even a Supreme Court Justice,” says her principal. She is a terrific break dancer and has a bubbly imagination. But Dasani is also angry. She and her seven younger brothers and sisters are homeless in New York. They are navigating between the cold streets, the squalor of the shelters and the addictions of their parents. 

Andrea Elliott, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist at the New York Times, spent eight years with Dasani and her family, following them in the streets, at school, at social services, in family courts and in the places they lived. When Elliott was denied access to the shelter where they were staying, she gave them cameras so they could document their living conditions in their single room and capture candid -moments. Elliott paints a careful and thorough picture—from the system’s cracks to the family’s resilience. She weaves in the stories of Dasani’s family, New York’s welfare struggles and gloomy data about hardship to illustrate the lives of the 712,000 children living in absolute poverty in the city. 

Elliott shows more than she tells. She reports the bad, the ugly and the unsettling of Dasani’s life. She doesn’t hide her family’s flaws, but doesn’t forget moments of joy and tenderness experienced by Dasani. With the right balance of lightness and gravity, Elliott demonstrates the power of journalism to allow people like Dasani to have their voices heard.