A well-meaning but ultimately unsatisfying account of a priest's work with youths in the barrio of East LA. West-coast journalist Fremon follows Father Boyle through the streets of East LA's gang-ridden Pico-Aliso neighborhood as he attempts to bring stability, hope, and comfort to the young people who make up the area's eight distinct gangs. Though the priest's tireless and selfless efforts make him a heroic figure, in this treatment he remains a cardboard one; Fremon provides no insights into the psychological forces that motivate him. She intersperses Father Boyle's story in alternating chapters with first-person narratives by gang members. Their voices are not distinct enough to engage the reader, and repeated tales of drug-addicted, abusive mothers and absent fathers eventually create a monotony that deadens the sympathy Fremon clearly wants us to feel for these gangbangers. In addition, the violence they casually perpetrate makes them appear at least as much victimizers as victims. Neither Fremon nor Father Boyle offers reasons or solutions beyond clichÇs. We don't need this book to tell us that funerals rather than graduation parties are the social norm for these kids, or that they take to gangs as surrogate families. More interesting is the suggested relationship between teen pregnancy and teen mortality. ``Think about it,'' offers Father Boyle. ``If you don't believe you're going to live till you're 21, then you want to see junior now.'' Fremon's journalistic prose is most effective when she chronicles the tensions that arise after the Jesuits decide to remove Father Greg from his parish. A portrait of one man staring into America's societal abyss shouldn't be this superficial.
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