A bare-bones, gritty, and entertaining first novel about street kids in 1955 Singapore. Ming's street-wise, primitive prose, written in a kind of clipped English, is initially jarring—``More talking turn into actions. The first successful job inspire others, some get caught. They learn, learn to exchange informations, about trust, about keeping their mouth shut, dress well to surprise victims as they change tactics.'' But a reader is soon swept up by the fast-paced story that's centered on Kwang, a 14-year-old who raises fighting spiders to compete with the spiders of his rivals. Highly organized and ritualized, these spider fights are the source of considerable neighborhood pride, and there's considerable betting done over their outcome. Like most other ``spider boys,'' Kwang is poor and looking for greater street action. And as with most Darwinian subcultures, the world of the Singapore street-urchins is dominated by the need to save face or to ``give face'' (show respect)—an intricate and subtle system that Ming skillfully renders. Meanwhile, as Kwang's respect spreads, he attracts the attention of Yeow, the king of the young racketeers and someone who dreams of reincarnating an old Chinese secret society—one that was wiped out under Japanese occupation and is now kept under wraps by the strict British rule. With Kwang's help, Yeow could make the society a reality again, but things are quickly complicated when Yeow is smitten by Kim, Kwang's childhood sweetheart. Although Ming's is a familiar tale of coming of age within a criminal organization, his unique setting and raw, quick pace keep the tale compelling, even when the voice-driven story seems to move too fast, especially toward the end when the action-packed scenes might have played themselves out a bit more. Still, an interesting voice on an age-old theme.
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