A whirlwind of surprising similes and inventive turns of phrase colorfully frame this grim, ultimately tender story, subtitled ""Mi Vida,"" about a young Chicano getting his priorities straight. It's a tough year for the Hernandez family: Manny's father is jailed after threatening his mother with a rifle, his older sister, Magda, is seeing someone on the sly, and his brother, Nardo, has taken to coming home drunk. Manny accidentally shoots at his little sister while fooling around with his father's gun and later watches as Magda miscarries on the bathroom floor. Still, he regards his family with affection and relates the disasters, along with other incidents away from home--not so much to deliver indictments as to open a window on the values, dreams, and tribulations that shape his life. Martinez's language is so lively it sometimes barrels beyond his control, calling attention to itself with a steady barrage of extravagant images (""blocks of fat sagged on her hips like a belt of thick Bibles"") and challenging metaphors (""Mom's shrieks chased away the panicked air; Dad's voice was coarse paper shredding to pieces""). There are also occasional (deliberate?) misuses, as when Nardo makes ""hairline escapes."" The picture Manny paints of his world is not a pretty one, but it is unusually vibrant.