The entire book is devoted to moving real life stories of the poor and deprived of the district and mind boggling figures of poverty.
Perhaps, the main reason behind the success and effectiveness of the book is that it does not put forth long, confusing scientific charts and graphs to explain the poverty and give related figures but exposes the situation by introducing the reader to real life characters - people who live and breathe in that district and are stuck in such a vicious cycle of poverty that is simply beyond our imagination. Kozol's prime focus is women and children. He tries to show that poverty, racial discrimination and lack of basic civic amenities affects this weak and vulnerable stratum of our society the most. For instance, Kozol points out how widespread AIDS actually is by simply stating that almost everyone knows someone who has died of or is currently suffering from AIDS. By 1993 alone, nearly 2000 children had lost their mothers due to AIDS (194). Health care facilities are almost non-existent and hospitals are over-crowded. Patients suffering from serious and at times terminal diseases actually have to wait at the hospital for days before they can get a bed or a room. Kozol relates the incident when he had a conversation with David about his sick mother. When asked if she got approval for SSI, David replies in the negative, simply saying, "They say she isn't sick enough" (99).
The hygiene and sanitation conditions are so terrible that toxic barrels are strewn everywhere and a great majority of the children suffer from asthma due to the garbage incinerators operating in the residential area. Perhaps the most horrifying section of the book is when Kozol speaks of the problem of rat infestation. Kozol's relation of the incident when a child's fingers are eaten away by rats is too sickening (114).
The poverty problem in the area is so acute that soup kitchens and shelters are crowded with mothers elbowing violently and hoping that their child might get some food today. During winter there is acute shortage of warm clothing and sometimes the city government is benevolent enough to hand over sleeping bags. The distressing words of a father of four haunt one by the ruthless honesty of their tone, "You just cover up ... and hope you wake up the next morning" (4).
The extreme poverty and totally hopeless circumstances has given rise to widespread depression amongst the children. The seriousness of the problem can be gauged from the fact that the school psychiatrists have long waiting lists of patients. Kozol relates many cases, for instance, of a child staying awake late at night simply to smack cockroaches and of children who cry a lot without knowing or being able to explain why.
Kozol's friends at Mott Haven are vehemently critical of the governments policies regarding the poor and are furious at Mayor (fmr.) Rudolph Giuliani for cutting back on a few basic and precious facilities provided to the poor (100). They claim Giuliani's policies, which aim to cut back on sanitation facilities, food programs, drug-rehabilitation programs etc., are unfair and will hurt the poor exceedingly.
Saying that the book is an eye opener will be a terrible under statement. The first thought that comes to mind