An American Teenager and the City that Failed Him


By Laurence Ralph

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$25.99 CAD

A riveting and heart-wrenching story of violence, grief and the American justice system, exploring the systemic issues that perpetuate gang participation in one of the wealthiest cities in the country, through the story of one teenager – now in paperback. 

In September of 2019, Luis Alberto Quiñonez—known as Sito— was shot to death as he sat in his car in the Mission District of San Francisco. He was nineteen. His killer, Julius Williams, was seventeen. It was the second time the teens had encountered one another. The first, five years before, also ended in tragedy, when Julius watched as his brother was stabbed to death by an acquaintance of Sito’s. The two murders merited a few local news stories, and then the rest of the world moved on.

But for the families of the slain teenagers, it was impossible to move on. And for Laurence Ralph, the stepfather of Sito’s half-brother who had dedicated much of his academic career to studying gang-affiliated youth, Sito’s murder forced him to revisit a subject of scholarly inquiry in a profoundly different, deeply personal way.
Written from Ralph's perspective as both a person enmeshed in Sito's family and as an Ivy League professor and expert on the entanglement of class and violence, SITO is an intimate story with an message about the lived experience of urban danger, and about anger, fear, grief, vengeance, and ultimately grace.

  • "[A] gut-punch personal narrative with broader societal implications." 
    Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • "Sito is a harrowing, impactful account of a teenager caught in a cycle of violence and the juvenile justice system that failed him."
    BookPage, starred review
  • “Ralph tells his story well. He avoids sentimentality. Nor does he pepper his prose with the kind of opaque language that so often dogs academic writing. … “Sito” is a readable, empathic portrayal of a Hispanic teenager whose promising life was cut short because of failures in the criminal justice system and violence in the streets.”
    New York Times
  • "[T]he story is at once...a sociological academia, an account of a rapidly gentrifying San Francisco, and an intimate look into generations of a close-knit family pushing against the stronghold of gang violence...The book, Ralph's third, follows two other ambitious nonfiction works...but "Sito" is his most personal yet."
    The San Francisco Chronicle
  • "Sito is Laurence Ralph's most intimate, most searching, and most liberated work yet. Following the murder of a teenage family member, Ralph explores this gutting loss through the eyes of fathers and mothers, brothers and friends. Moving seamlessly from living rooms to court rooms, he forces us to recognize that there are no easy answers when it comes to vengeance, healing, and justice. With depths beyond depths, this profound book is a memoir and a sociological analysis; it is a critique, a confession, and a prayer." 
    Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Evicted
  • "Laurence Ralph ruminates on gang violence and our decadent criminal legal system through the life and tragic murder of his 19-year-old loved one, Sito. The blend of intimacy and authority, of self-and-structural reflection, of despair and expectation make for a profoundly affecting and edifying book. Sito is a triumph." 
    Ibram X. Kendi, National Book award-winner and New York Times bestselling author
  • “With great care, skill, and nuance, acclaimed anthropologist Laurence Ralph tells the tragic story of nineteen-year-old Luis Alberto Quiñonez. Drawing on his pioneering research on race, policing, and violence, Ralph takes the reader on a powerful and moving journey that unveils the failures of the criminal justice system in the United States. While there is much to despair, Ralph leaves readers with a deep sense of hope—that the failures of the past can be corrected and that we can build a more just and equitable society where young people like Sito can survive and thrive.”
    Keisha N. Blain, coeditor of the #1 New York Times bestseller Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619–2019
  • Sito is an extraordinary story of murder, grief, revenge, and the possibility of healing.  With this beautifully written account, Laurence Ralph takes us to a place that is, at once, intimate and revealing.  He calls into question his own ideals and scholarly conclusions as he confronts his family’s loss and grief.  And, in the end with the Orishas guiding his tongue, he offers a prayer that we all need to hear.  Heartwrenchingly complex. Sito is a powerful and moving book.” 
    Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor at Princeton University
  • "SITO is both a deeply moving work of remembrance and a powerful indictment of our racist judicial system. Once again, Ralph proves that he is a brilliant ethnographer and expert storyteller. His sensitive prose gives us heart wrenching insight into a young life that ended too soon and a grieving family’s search for truth, justice, and forgiveness. This book sets a new standard for social science writing in the 21st century."
    Jason De León, Author of Soldiers and Kings: Survival and Hope in the World of Human Smuggling
  • "Through a heart-wrenching study of a youth’s murder, Ralph reveals a larger picture of social decay, despair, and violence."
    Kirkus Reviews
  • "Through Sito’s story, we begin to understand the structural inequities and generational traumas that form the backdrop to so many young lives."
  • "For these young men, there are rarely second chances. This ultimately is the lesson Laurence Ralph takes from Sito’s short life…. Sito invites us to regard the Sitos of the world with a bit less judgment and a good deal more humility.”
    New York Review of Books

On Sale
Feb 18, 2025
Page Count
320 pages

Laurence Ralph

About the Author

Laurence Ralph is a Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University, where he is the Director for the Center on Transnational Policing. Before that, he was a tenured professor at Harvard University for eight years. He is the author of Renegade Dreams: Living Through Injury in Gangland Chicago (2014) and The Torture Letters: Reckoning With Police Violence (2020), both published by University of Chicago Press. He is currently a Guggenheim Fellow, a fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton; he has also been the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim National Science Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and the Ford Foundation. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey with his wife and daughter. 

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