An indelible portrait of three children struggling to survive in the poorest neighborhood of the poorest large city in America
Kensington, Philadelphia, is distinguished only by its poverty. It is home to Ryan, Giancarlos, and Emmanuel, three Puerto Rican children who live among the most marginalized families in the United States. This is the story of their coming-of-age, which is beset by violence—the violence of homelessness, hunger, incarceration, stray bullets, sexual and physical assault, the hypermasculine logic of the streets, and the drug trade. In Kensington, eighteenth birthdays are not rites of passage but statistical miracles.
One mistake drives Ryan out of middle school and into the juvenile justice pipeline. For Emmanuel, his queerness means his mother’s rejection and sleeping in shelters. School closures and budget cuts inspire Giancarlos to lead walkouts, which get him kicked out of the system. Although all three are high school dropouts, they are on a quest to defy their fate and their neighborhood and get high school diplomas.
In a triumph of empathy and drawing on nearly a decade of reporting, sociologist and policymaker Nikhil Goyal follows Ryan, Giancarlos, and Emmanuel on their mission, plunging deep into their lives as they strive to resist their designated place in the social hierarchy. In the process, Live to See the Day confronts a new age of American poverty, after the end of “welfare as we know it,” after “zero tolerance” in schools criminalized a generation of students, after the odds of making it out are ever slighter.
About the Author
Nikhil Goyal is a sociologist and policymaker who served as senior policy advisor on education and children for Chairman Senator Bernie Sanders on the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and Committee on the Budget. He developed education, child care, and child tax credit federal legislation as well as a tuition-free college program for incarcerated people and correctional workers in Vermont. He has appeared on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC, and written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Time, The Nation, and other publications. Goyal earned his B.A. at Goddard College and M.Phil and Ph.D at the University of Cambridge. He lives in Vermont.
A Best Book of 2023 by The New Yorker
"The safety net is in tatters, Goyal shows, and poverty is a tightrope walk with no room for error … Goyal is a vivid writer — the stories he tells about these kids’ circumstances are painful and viscerally frustrating … The reader begins to ask lots of what-ifs, wishing for much better outcomes for all three teenagers."
—The New York Times
"The stories of these children will change the way you think about poverty … A sweeping indictment of what it means to be poor in America"
"Sweeping work of reportage about life in the low-income neighborhood of Kensington … [Goyal] depicts in granular detail the suffocating effects of poverty."
—The New Yorker
"Gripping … It is also a call to action aimed at city leaders who have not done nearly enough to address historical neglect and a country that could change policies and save lives."
"A book of both big ideas — reflecting Goyal's former job as a senior policy advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders — and close-up immersive journalism"
—Los Angeles Times
"Writing with profound empathy and heart…It is an in-depth, real, gut-wrenching story (an ethnography) of the lives of children who are enduring the policies and actions that divide us and perpetuate inequities. Goyal is a beautiful writer and engages the reader in the lives of Corem, Ryan, and Giancarlos in order to push us to act, to care, and to change."
"A nuanced and intimate portrayal of three Puerto Rican teens growing up in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, drawing on a decade of research in the community to demonstrate how poverty is a barely surmountable obstacle for disadvantaged young people. It’s an enthralling and often maddening read."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"From a passionate warrior for joy and justice in our public schools, Live to See the Day is a beautifully empathetic work of powerful reportage that reads like a gripping novel. The struggle of these children to rise above the brutality they experience in the schools and streets of Kensington offers at least some seeds of hope at a very dark moment in our history."
—Jonathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalities
"In this impassioned, riveting feat of reporting, Nikhil Goyal follows three extraordinary children who climb mountains every day to defy the hand that America dealt them. If we did not already know that children cannot learn well when they are hungry, homeless, and criminalized, this book will leave us in no doubt. At once uplifting and enraging, this eloquent indictment just might move those with power to make real changes, to ensure that all of our children can live to see the day."
—Congressman Jamaal Bowman
"An incisive, compassionate depiction of families in a crisis not of their making and a vision of the policy choices our country could adopt to save their lives."
—Heather McGhee, author of The Sum of Us
"A heart-rending study of the heavy burden poor children bear in this country, Live to See the Day is a much-needed challenge to dreadful policy decisions, a predatory education and justice system, and a legacy of racism."
—Greg Grandin, author of The End of the Myth
"This powerfully realized book is a call to understand and act. Offering a reminder of the many costs exacted by deep poverty, its compelling portraits of young lives injured by humiliation, danger, and structures of exclusion also are stories of talent and resilience, struggles to overcome, and uncertain quests to survive against the odds. The significance of Live to See the Day is profound, transcending its riveting ethnography of three children, one city, one neighborhood, and one school."
—Ira Katznelson, author of Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time
"An illuminating chronicle of life on the edge amid crushing poverty and neglect in America’s poorest big city. Live to See the Day is powerful and essential reading."
—David Zucchino, author of Wilmington's Lie
"Nikhil Goyal’s gripping portrayal of three teenagers struggling to survive under the harshest of circumstances brings to life the terrible failure of the federal government to reduce poverty and ensure a decent life for all Americans. Everyone needs to read this. And then do something about it."
—Diane Ravitch, author of Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America's Public Schools
"A monument of superb and dedicated reporting, very much in the vein of Katherine Boo and Jason DeParle. An act more of empathy than sympathy, Live to See the Day captures harsh realities in convincing, telling detail, and it will leave you looking for ways to make changes. Fortunately, Nikhil Goyal has some to offer. An instant classic."
—Bill McKibben, author of The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon