Haunted by nightmares and the dangers of life in a Los Angeles barrio, Manuel Maldonado Jr.’s courageous testimony forever changes his community.
Born with a port-wine stain that earns him the nickname “Man-On-Fire,” 12-year-old Manny plays with a group of three friends in the shadow of the Pacific Railroad in the late 1950s. He and his buddies engage in dangerous games along the tracks, throwing oranges at hobos who ride on the cars. When they find a dead body and run into trouble with a crooked policeman, they seem destined for juvenile detention. With the return of an uncle from prison, a drug-ridden hometown, and a racist cop on the loose, Manny’s small circle of friends and family is his only safety net. In the wake of another death, a secret comes to light, leading the way to forgiveness in his family. A story about a sensitive Mexican boy in a multicultural community that also includes Japanese-Americans and African-Americans, the novel treats difficult themes with hope. “I’m telling you this now because I don’t know when I’m going to die,” our young narrator says at the beginning of the novel. By the end of the story, readers will understand the obstacles thrown in the paths of youths from disadvantaged communities.
A dense story with rich associative leaps, the novel will prompt discussions about race, class, sexuality, and gender. (Historical fiction. 12-18)