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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 551

The title of Autobiography of My Dead Brother refers to Rise, a young African American whose life is chronicled by his oldest friend, Jesse, through pictures and comic strips. Jesse and Rise are not literally brothers, but they grew up together. Rise’s grandmother babysat Jesse while Jesse’s parents were working....

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The title of Autobiography of My Dead Brother refers to Rise, a young African American whose life is chronicled by his oldest friend, Jesse, through pictures and comic strips. Jesse and Rise are not literally brothers, but they grew up together. Rise’s grandmother babysat Jesse while Jesse’s parents were working. Neither child had siblings, and they became best friends. After watching an old movie about Native Americans on television, they cut themselves to exchange blood and became “blood brothers.”

The opening episode of the novel is a funeral for a fourteen-year-old African American, a friend of both Jesse and Rise. They attend the funeral, while their friend C. J. plays the organ. The deceased had been killed in a drive-by shooting, and the police do not have any suspects.

The next night Jesse, Rise, and C. J. attend a meeting of the Counts, a social club for teenage boys that meets at a local armory. They are not a gang, although one of the oldest members, Mason, has been trying to convince them to become one. Mason has recently been arrested and has asked the Counts to talk to the main witness against him in the hope of intimidating him into not testifying. Several of the members, including Rise, are in favor of the action and several, including C. J., are against it, so they table their decision. Jesse does not express an opinion.

Another item of business for the Counts is the admission of a new member, Montgomery, nicknamed Little Man, but they again table their decision until the next meeting. There is something about Little Man that bothers them. This scene introduces two significant elements of the novel: the pressures on the Counts to become a gang and Little Man, who reappears several times in the book and represents a random element that affects the other characters’ lives.

Later that night, Jesse goes to Rise’s house. They are listening to music when Sidney Rock, a police officer who grew up in their neighborhood, arrives to warn them against taking any action toward the witness in Mason’s case. A few days later, Sidney invites Jesse and Rise to visit the prison at Riker’s Island, New York, but he actually takes them to a halfway house to meet Mason. Mason does not really want to talk to them, but eventually Rise and Mason get into an argument over the leadership of the Counts. No resolution is reached.

Jesse, C. J., and some others decide to start a Cuban band. C. J. plays keyboard, Jesse plays the conga drum, and the others sing and play guitars. The band, called the Caballeros, later plays at a party for about twenty-five twelve-year-olds. The hosting parents are rich African Americans, but most of the guests are white. The band is a success, mostly because of C. J., and everyone can see that he has a future in music.

Rise becomes a drug dealer and is given a territory within Harlem. Although he never recruits Jesse and C. J. into his life of crime, he does use them to establish an alibi when his associates kill some young rivals. After the police hold him for a week as a suspect in that murder, he decides to leave New York for Florida.

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