Before I even cracked the spine of this book, I had my reservations. What truly was the author's relationship with the subject? Was this another case of exploiting of a tragedy? What is the purpose of this book? To solidify stereotypes? To give fodder to those who say “you can take the black man out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the black man”? Having finished this book and loved it, I still wonder about these questions. I guess that's good—a book should make you think. A good book not only causes you to think, but it also will make you feel. And on both of those counts, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is a stand-out book.
I think some people who read this book will have definitive answers to the questions raised earlier and will not like the answers. By his own admission, Jeff Hobbs wasn't “that close” to Rob Peace. He was a privileged white boy. Surely there had to be someone closer to Peace and his urban neighborhood who could better tell his story. But by my estimation, Hobbs wasn't that far from Peace either. They were college roommates, they stayed in touch until Peace's death more than a decade after they'd met. Hobbs asked Peace to be a best man at his wedding. Their relationship may have become less interwoven over time, but there were threads that always connected them. Was there someone closer to Peace who could've told his story? Possibly. But would they have told it? Was there someone in Peace's life who would've done the research and conducted the interviews that Hobbs did? And if no one else told the story? Then readers wouldn't have this heartbreaking, inspirational tale of Rob Peace.
Some may look at Peace's story and see only the wasted potential. They may attach their own twisted agendas to the story—make it into a cautionary tale about ethnicity, drugs, poverty, politics. Like any story, people will take from it what they will; often what they take away comes in the same shade of what they brought in the first place. Those looking to cast blame will likely walk away from this story angry at someone. But others will look at the absolutely brilliant, yet conflicted human that was Robert Peace, at a mother who through everything was so incredibly strong, at the city that made them both into the people they were, and they'll be glad that someone had the courage and the talent to tell the story.