Unsafe, Anxious, Elegiac
Jesse is just fifteen years old, but he's already been to more than his fair share of funerals. The New York City neighborhood he lives in is extremely dangerous and super scary, which is made crystal clear from page one: Jesse's at the funeral of a kid who died in a drive-by shooting.
Living under the constant threat of murder, Jesse's life is pretty tense. "I didn't think I was going to get shot in a drive-by or anything like that, but inside I was still nervous," he tells us. "I felt jumpy, not just when a strange car drove by, or some guys I didn't know were on the block, but all the time—even when I was in my kitchen or in the supermarket or at home in bed" (1.39). His parents, too, constantly worry for him and his safety. Worry is everywhere in this book.
In this ultra violent milieu, teenage boys seem to be dropping like flies, and at its core, Autobiography of My Dead Brother is a story about death. It ends with Rise bleeding out in Jesse's arms, but the story isn't just about his bodily demise—it's also about the end of Jesse and Rise's friendship, which Jesse mourns throughout the book.