Reading Group Guide
1. At the beginning of the book, the author writes that "chance
was opportunity in the ghetto and you had to be prepared for
anything." What opportunities did Jessica, Boy George, Coco, and
Cesar consider significant, and how did they prepare for them? Did
they have opportunities they could not see? Why?
2. Loyalty plays a crucial role in Random Family. What
did it mean to each of the principal characters? How do their
loyalties shape the course of their lives?
3. We are told that "For Jessica, love was the most interesting
place to go and beauty was the ticket." Describe the relationship
between romance and money in the lives of the book''s female
characters. Is this different, in degree or in kind, from the
sexual economy in mainstream American life?
4. We meet Cesar as a young boy, sitting on "the broken steps of
his mother''s building, biding his time, watching the older boys
who ruled the street." Who were his male role models? According to
their example, what did becoming a man entail? How did this
understanding of manhood prepare Cesar for prison? How did his
definition of masculinity change over time?
5. For the teenage girls in Random Family, what are the
attractions of being a mother? What sort of power and
influence-real or imagined-is associated with the role?
6. Describe the role of social service agencies in Coco''s life.
Describe the ways in which their treatment of her enhanced or
undermined her own sense of agency.
7. By conventional standards, Elaine and Iris are more
successful than their sisters. What qualities and actions were
instrumental in achieving that success? What price did they pay for
it? How do their strategies confirm or challenge traditional
notions about the supportive functions of families?
8. Explore the reasons why the households in this book are often
in a state of flux. Why do people move? What are the advantages and
disadvantages of relocation? Do men and women move for the same
9. Many of the characters in Random Family continue to
be optimistic, even cheerful, despite extremely difficult lives and
setbacks. When and how can hope be a sustaining force and when and
how can it be a destructive one? Discuss.
10. The author writes, "The sexual threat men posed to little
girls was so pervasive that even the warnings meant to avert it
were saturated with fatalism." Explore the ways in which the
ubiquity of sexual abuse in the world of the book affects the
characters'' attitudes about it.
11. None of the young people in the book blame their
circumstances for the choices they made, yet much of the public
discussion of the poor uses terms that infer moral and personal
blame. Why do you think this is? Would you assign blame for the
tragedies described here? To whom? Why?
12. Political activists often complain about society''s "crisis
approach" to poverty, how basic supports are only granted in
emergencies. Are there examples of this in the book? What alternate
strategies would improve the lives of children like Mercedes?
13. Have your ideas about poverty and privilege changed since
reading Random Family? Were there moments when you
particularly empathized with the people in this book? Were there
moments that you felt particularly alienated? If so, when and
14. The author, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, interacted
with/observed??? these families for over a decade and was witness
to most of the events that took place, yet she is not present in
the narrative. How might this have been a different book if she had
included herself as a character? Why does she leave herself
15. In an interview about the title, the author described her
ongoing interest in the families teenagers form among their friends
and the appeal of self-created families. Have "random families"
played an important role in your own life?