Book Review: Neighborhood Lines reviewed by John J. Kelly | Detroit Free Press

John J. Kelly | Detroit Free Press
Reviewed June 15, 2020

Growing up the son of the Deputy Superintendent of the Boston Schools at the height of court-ordered desegregation of “forced busing,” gave me a front-row seat to the fear, hatred and everyday turmoil that permeated Boston for decades. It was an up-close-and-personal education into the intricate and difficult efforts to achieve equality in the classrooms. And it was a fractured time in the history of the city of Boston and the lives of its residents.

In Neighborhood Lines, author Michael Patrick Murphy tells the story of two young men, Patrick and Nate, caught up in Boston’s efforts to bring together people of different colors. It is an illuminating and life-affirming portrait of how Patrick and Nate, who are from South Boston and Dorchester, respectively, try their best to navigate their way through a culture caught up in controversy and danger. Told in the third person by Murphy, the reader gets to know the hopes, dreams and many obstacles that these two students at Boston’s Cathedral High School face. We see the specific choices they must make and other efforts to maneuver their lives through this extremely divisive and potentially deadly time.

Although Patrick and Nate share the spotlight, it is the family and friends of these two characters that constantly lurk in the shadows. After a friend of Patrick’s is mysteriously murdered, the harsh and horrible realities of school desegregation become crystal clear. Told in a comfortable style by Murphy based on his own personal observations and experiences, this is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand efforts at forced busing in Boston. Murphy never gets bogged down in the complicated politics that cut through and affected a generation of Boston residents. Instead, he tells a simple and endearing story about real friendship, despite the odds, in the face of so much chaos.

Like many stories, there are heroes and villains on both sides and Murphy’s realistic rendering is, at times, chilling. He is concise and his dialogue is pitch-perfect as he shows how the real and imagined “Neighborhood Lines” divided and shaped the city of Boston and affected so many lives. It’s a fascinating foray into a time in our history that has been somewhat forgotten and overlooked. As someone who witnessed the daily unrest and human cost of desegregation, every page rang real and true.

It’s essential reading for anyone who seeks to understand how Boston’s busing crisis both created even more hatred and dissent, and, at the same time. helped countless individuals like Nate and Patrick form friendships and bonds that were previously unimaginable. This book will inform you and move you in profound ways.