From Publishers Weekly
Latino life in 1960s East Los Angeles is the subject of Viramontes's kaleidoscopic and occasionally frustrating first novel (after short story collection The Moths
), an amalgamation of troubled young people, a troubled neighborhood and an aggressive storytelling voice. There are the mother-and-daughter preachers; a young woman looking for her missing, mentally unstable brother; an androgynous young woman gang member passing as a man; a clique of boisterous teenage girls intent on protecting themselves; and the unhappy grandparents who attempt to keep one of the girls in check. The constant presence of the shadowy Quarantine Authority (supposedly on the lookout for rabid dogs but more intent on policing residents) and the imminent construction of a freeway that will bisect the district are but two threats to the struggling but vibrant community. All this emerges in fits and starts, with Viramontes somewhat less concerned with plot or character development than with establishing aura. Readers willing to look past the loose narrative construction will find the book's heart in Viramontes's voice: at once terse, energetic and vivid. (Apr.)
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The author of a short story collection, The Moths
(1995), circles the same territory in this furious stream-of-consciousness depiction of Latino culture in east L.A. from 1960 to 1970. In episodic vignettes, Viramontes follows the daughter of street preachers who is still reeling from a vicious assault; an androgynous, homeless female gang member who has lost her way since her brother left to fight in Vietnam; a group of teenage girls who support each other emotionally as they attempt to navigate between the danger of the mean streets and the old-fashioned discipline of their immigrant relatives; and a young woman who spends all her spare cash and time trying to care for and keep tabs on her mentally ill brother. Clarity is nowhere near the top of the list of Viramontes' concerns, which will frustrate some readers. But those who are up for the ride may find that her emotionally raw novel reads, at times, like a crash course in survival strategies for those immersed in the despair and violence of the inner city. Joanne WilkinsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved