Gangs in Garden City

Gangs in Garden City was a 2010 Finalist for an Investigative Reporters and Editors book award. The book follows the lives of three gang members living in the Long Island suburbs, and one of their stories was recounted in the New York Times excerpt of the book.

The Washington Post:

In muscular, Hemingway-esque prose, Garland weaves an economic and social history of Latino gangs in suburbia around unrelentingly bleak personal narratives of gang members, including one Salvadoran war refugee whose isolation drove him to the notorious Mara Salvatrucha (a.k.a. MS-13) crew: “If he could trust anyone to watch his back and not to betray him, it was these men. . . . They had been cannon fodder, and they had survived.” Though immigration hawks and jingoists demonize gang members, MS-13, like the Mafia and innumerable other ethnic gangs that predate the modern metropolis, is fed by America’s patchwork immigration policy, poor urban planning, need for cheap labor and race hatred as much as it is by flawed individuals. Gangs are not inevitable. (link to full review)

Publishers Weekly (starred review):

In this engrossing case study of suburban gangs in Long Island’s Nassau County, investigative journalist Garland demystifies the sensationalist rhetoric and simplistic media coverage stemming from the economic and demographic transformation of suburbia. Garland humanizes her subject through long-term, in-depth interviews with current and former gang members; extensive footwork across the U.S. and Central America; and a formidable command of relevant foreign and public policy decisions. While offering a detailed look inside such notorious gangs as Mara Salvatrucha and its self-styled affiliates, Garland makes a persuasive case that her subjects’ attraction to gang life had less to do with what gangs offered than with “what America did not.” (link to full review)


Garland weaves her impressive research on immigration, education and criminal justice into the narrative stories of three young gang members. Jessica, the American-born daughter of a Honduran immigrant, grows up in an abusive family filled with MS-13 members. She joins a rival gang, Salvadorans with Pride, at the age of 13. Julio, a former Salvadoran soldier, joins MS-13 in Los Angeles before moving to Hempstead, where he’s eventually deported. Perhaps most compelling is the story of Daniel, a Salvadoran boy who illegally crosses the U.S.-Mexican border at the age of 12 to reunite with his mother in Hempstead. There he meets Jaime, another recent transplant. The two become best friends until Daniel joins Salvadorans with Pride, while Jaime gravitates to MS-13. Jaime ends up dead, the first of several friends killed by gang violence. (link to full review)

The Faster Times:

Reading Gangs In Garden City should be required of anybody who thinks his mind is made up, anybody who considers himself a Long Islander, a New Yorker, an American, because it’s not often we’re offered the chance to learn so much about our neighbors. (link to full review)


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