The Other Side of the River


Author: Alex Kotlowitz

Title: The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America’s Dilemma

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Publication Date: 1998

Number of Pages: 317

Geographical Setting: Benton Harbor, Michigan and St. Joseph, Michigan

Time Period: 1992-1996 with references to events occurring in 1991 and earlier.

Series: N/A

Plot Summary: Journalist Alex Kotlowitz comes to Benton Harbor, Michigan with the intention of examining one of America’s poorest and most violent communities. This changes, however, when Kotlowitz discovers that 16 year-old Eric McGinnis, a black boy from the impoverished town, was found floating in the river dissecting Benton Harbor and its predominately white and affluent neighbor, St. Joseph. Kotlowitz becomes obsessed with the death, one that was hastily ruled an accident. The author spends four years traveling between the two starkly different communities in an attempt to discover the truth behind Eric’s death. Kotlowitz learns that the notion of truth vastly differs as he crosses the bridge connecting each town. Benton Harbor residents know Eric was murdered, likely by a white person from St. Joseph. St. Joseph residents, however, would like to let the tragic event live in the past. Despite their differences, residents of both towns fear the potential for race riots and chaos if the truth about Eric’s death is ever discovered. This investigative story offers a bleak account of race relations and racial inequality in the United States. It also presents a gritty report of the senseless violence prevalent throughout impoverished communities. Despite its stark tone, this book reads quickly as its subject compels its reader to learn more about the mysterious and tragic death.

Subject Headings: Murder Victims–Michigan, Unsolved Murders–Michigan, McGinnis, Eric, d. 1991, Race Relations–Case Studies–United States, Poverty–Benton Harbor (MI), Investigative Journalism, Violent Crimes–Teens, African-Americans

Appeal: Atmospheric, Compelling, Episodic, Bleak, Gritty, Poignant, Uneasy, Intriguing, Sobering, Multiple Points of View, Sympathetic, Investigative, Issue-oriented, Moving, Thought provoking, Violent, Tragic, Timeless, Urban, Informative, Journalistic, Frank, Well-Researched

Three Terms that Best Describe this Book: Issue-oriented, Gritty, Sobering

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:
The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge by T.J. English
(This journalistic account of race relations and violence during the most violent period in the history of New York City details murder investigations, corrupt police, and racial tension. The result is an issue-oriented, tragic, and timeless work of non-fiction that creates a gritty tone and sobering mood.)

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
(This journalistic piece of non-fiction revolves around a violent murder and the ensuing investigation. In addition to representing a true crime story, Capote offers a frank discussion of senseless violence in the United States, thereby creating a sobering mood.)

Hate Crime: The Story of a Dragging in Jasper, Texas by Joyce King
(This investigative true-crime story offers a discussion of racism and inequality in the United States through the frame of a violent hate crime. The author creates a bleak and stark vision of race relations in the US that proves sobering)

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:
Native Son by Richard Wright
(This novel features a violent murder in an urban setting. The events help demonstrate racial inequality and injustice in the urban United States. Other themes discussed include African-American poverty and hopelessness. Wright creates a novel with a compelling pace that is coupled with a bleak mood and thought-provoking story.)

A Murder of Justice by Andrew Roberts
(This novel tells a compelling story in which urban law enforcement coerce testimony during a murder investigation. The police force faces racially-charged pressure to convict the African-American suspect with a criminal past. The novel is thought-provoking, gritty, issue-oriented, and tragic.)

Snow Angels by James Thompson
(Thompson relies on a gritty writing-style and fast pace to present an investigative novel about the role of racism and xenophobia in a violent murder that takes place in Finland. The novel comes from the point of view of the passionate criminal inspector.)

Dan Thorson

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