A deadly serious debut about Chicana girl gangs in Los Angeles that seems written with a sociology text in one hand, a slang dictionary in the other, and Geraldo on the tube. It's that predictable both in plot and texture. The men and boys who strut through this urban crime novel are macho animals with no redeeming qualities--they heat their ""sheep"" (women), kill to save face, and, if they survive past 20, turn into rootless street trash. The women, on the other hand, prove more resourceful, especially the two narrators here, Lucia and Cecilia, who take quite divergent paths in their lives through the '8Os. Cecilia, stout and Indian-looking, is in awe of her older brother, Manny, a tough ""vato"" who quickly rises as the king of Echo Park, where his ""clika,"" the Lobos, rules the trade in guns and drugs. His girlfriend, Lucia, wants in on the action, especially after she first fondles one of Manny's guns. She keeps books for Manny's gang, always assuming a properly servile persona in front of his homeboys lest they discern any sign of weakness. When Manny's authority is challenged by Chico, a former Lobo who starts his own gang, the streets break out in drive-by shootings, beatings, and ""rumplas."" Meanwhile, Lucia recruits the toughest sheep to ""throw down"" with her, though Cecilia can't handle selling drugs to kids, or mugging poor women. After her miscarriage, which she interprets as divinely ordained, Cecilia retreats into the church and becomes like her mother--a tired housecleaner for the ""gabachos."" Lucia, a shrewd manipulator, plays the ""vatos"" against each other and emerges with her ""Fire Girls"" as a major street player whose only threat is ""la LAPD."" A female Scarface, this straightforward narrative charts the rise and fall of Latin gangsters on L.A.'s mean streets with considerable documentary fervor but not much depth.