The lives of two teens become inexplicably intertwined in this gritty novel with a paranormal twist.
Fifteen-year-old Salvadoran Martín "Azael" Arevalo awakens in a cell remembering bits and pieces of a fight in a Houston park between his gang, Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13, and Crazy Crew. Yet he cannot recall how the fight ended or why he is behind bars again. Azael narrates his life in chapters set alternatively in the present and at various points in his past, giving readers glimpses of a childhood of love and loss. In the present, Azael finds himself assigned to the secret observation of a white 17-year-old girl named Alexis "Lexi" Allen, although he fails to see any connection the two might have had on the outside. While Azael hates Lexi at the beginning, he finds himself beginning to empathize with the struggles she has faced over her life. Pérez creates two nuanced characters in Azael and Lexi, both of whom could have easily become caricatures. The use of profanity and descriptions of violence add realism to the novel, although the backmatter could have benefitted from a Spanish glossary. The author demonstrates why gangs appeal to many teens with family problems without glorifying the violence that often accompanies their activities.
An unflinching portrait with an ending that begs for another reading. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14 & up)