Daddy Was a Number Runner is a coming-of-age novel set in Harlem during the depths of the Depression, a psychological story placed in a historically specific setting. First published as a short story in 1967, it was developed by author Louise Meriwether into a novel three years later. Francie Coffin faces the struggles of any adolescent girl poised on the brink of womanhood, but the challenges to her initiation in this setting are almost overwhelming. Her family is loving but about to disintegrate, and the streets outside her Harlem apartment are filled with violence and sexual abuse, police brutality and social protest. It is no easy task growing up in this environment, and Francie’s narration—thin on plot but larded with naturalistic incidents—spares none of her difficulties.
Francie is in her first year of junior high school at P.S. 81, “one of the worse girls’ schools in Harlem,” where gangs of girls intimidate the weaker teachers, and where Francie reads trashy romances through her classes. Yet, she has—at least at the beginning—what few others here have, a whole and loving family, which may account for many of the strengths she possesses or acquires. (She is always reading on her own, for example, the works of such writers as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Claude McKay.) Her family lives on the edge of poverty, however, and Francie sleeps on a couch in the front room; the couch is pulled away from the wall every night so that the bed bugs will not get her (they do anyway)....
(The entire section is 618 words.)