Book Review: S Street Rising: Ruben Castaneda

S Street Rising cover

Title: S Street Rising: Murder, Crack, and Redemption in DC
Author: Ruben Castaneda
ISBN: 9781620400043
Pages: 304
Release Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre:  Nonfiction, Memoir
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Journalist Ruben Castaneda was thrilled to be hired by the Washington Post to cover the crime beat in Washington, DC, a lively place in the 1980s due to the influx of crack, a street drug that was destroying the city. There was just one problem. By day, Castaneda would work at his desk or out in the field, prowling for stories. But by night? The intrepid reporter was cruising S Street for his latest hit of crack.

Snapshot Review;

A fascinating memoir, S Street Rising: Murder, Crack, and Redemption in DC is the story of a city in decline struggling to reclaim some honor. It’s a book filled with the worst of humanity juxtaposed against the best.

Full Review:

Castaneda was a reporter with a unique problem: he was addicted to the very drug he was supposed to cover. This creates a very interesting scenario for the memoir S Street Rising: Murder, Crack, and Redemption in DC. The author does a great job with his descriptions; it’s easy to picture the dying husk that DC was then with his vivid details. Castaneda has a way with words, and these images stick long after the last pages are turned.

A memoir like this simply will not work if the author is not brutally honest, and thankfully, Castaneda is. He isn’t ashamed of his past in S Street Rising; he’s come a long way since those days and is comfortable being frank with the reader. It’s really incredible to read about the risks he took in order to get just one more hit, as well as to witness the scene in DC. Being a DC resident, I live just blocks from some of the locations mentioned in the book, and it’s amazing that a place that, thirty years ago, was unsafe and drug-riddled is now home to some of the best schools in the city and many young families.

Castaneda juxtaposes his own experiences with crack with two other stories in S Street Rising. The first is that of Lou Hennessy, a man who rose through the ranks to become the police commander of homicide and worked closely with Castaneda. Hennessy shook up the department in order to increase the rate of busts, but ended up running into the age-old issue of politics. Castaneda also discusses Jim Dickerson, who moves into an abandoned structure on S Street that the drug traffickers used to hide their stash and turns it into a church. Both of these stories are interesting, but not quite as fascinating as Castaneda’s own memoir. As a result, once Castaneda gets clean, the story loses some of its steam.

It barely matters though, because S Street Rising is so intriguing. More than a memoir or a story of politics and drugs, it’s the portrait of one city struggling to reclaim itself from the murderers and drug dealers that turned it into something foul. Castaneda depicts the effects of the Marion Barry scandal on DC, as well as how one church moved into one of the worst parts of town and tried to change things for the better. Ultimately, it’s a story of redemption and hope, and it’s one that any nonfiction fan should pick up immediately.

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  1. I can’t imagine being this honest. It takes a special kind of person to open up this way.

  2. I heard the author interviewed on NPR and I really want to read this book!! I love the DC area and visit often so this gritty, crime and drug filled DC of the 80s doesn’t match up to the DC I know and love of today.

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