The book looks at Putnam's own middle-class upbringing in a white, Rust Belt, Ohio community where most all the adults treated all the town's young people as "our kids." No longer does this impulse prevail. Both class and racial segregation mean that the affluent (still white) stratum of the town has no idea of how poor kids live and no intention of finding out.
Subsequent chapters explore how today's affluent and poor kids inhabit separate and unequal worlds in the kind of families they experience, the sort of parenting they receive, the schooling to which they are exposed, and the communities which create their sense of the adult world. The book is a fluid mix of story and hard data, easy to read, unlikely to be broadly refuted -- and scary as hell. Highly recommended.
The inclusion of these narratives also provides Putnam's means of approaching the racial divides that are so central to how our society is structured. In addition to white children and families, there are Black and Latino vignettes. The stories show that the class divides in white society also play out in the families of color that the white people most likely never meet. Those who own and earn more live and raise families more comfortably, regardless of race.
I felt this approach, though presenting some truths that dominant white narratives tend to erase -- yes, upper income Black parents also want their kids to go to good colleges; who knew? -- also left gaps, things unsaid. I'm just a comparatively well-off white lady, but I have been fortunate enough to live and work for a lifetime in a far more economically and racially integrated context than many white U.S. residents. Yet as I read this book, I was haunted by a snippet of a quotation from one of the two Black students Putnam went to high school with back in the 1950s. "Cheryl" went on to college, became a teacher, and, though she agrees their shared town gave her opportunities, does not remember it fondly. As she puts it:
I have to wonder whether interviewers of color could have crossed a divide that is not as visible in this book as it in our lives.