Episodic memories of growing up Mexican-American in the Los Angeles barrio: a talented debut by a writer whose distinctive delivery--brash but wistful, streetwise but genial, selectively broken-Englished--usually works better in the comic moments than in the more serious ones. Rodolfo M. Medina, Jr., a.k.a. ""Chato,"" recalls himself some years back at age 14--when everything pretty much went wrong for him. Ordered to kill his first chicken by his noisy father (a coming-of-age privilege), Rudy can't quite manage the knife--and shoots the chicken in the throat with a .45 instead. On the night that his mother gives at-home birth to a new baby (dire, hilarious slapstick), Rudy manages to come down with peritonitis--and is befriended by a young, discreetly homosexual doctor at the hospital. Bright but distinctly under-achieving at school, Rudy gets genuine encouragement from a Jewish counselor--but his one classroom display of smarts just gets him in trouble. His sexual yearnings for neighborhood women are rudely deflected. His attempt to defend his older sister's honor (against the attentions of a wetback suitor) turns out to be highly unnecessary. And Rudy winds up spending most of his time with his two-bit gang--until a night of joy-riding ends with a buddy being shot dead by an over-eager cop. Meanwhile, with Rudy only half-aware of it, Ms parents' marriage is crumbling: his father is increasingly blatant about some local infidelity (one funny-awful scene features a visit from Rudy's Japanese probation officer interrupted by the caterwauling of Father's pregnant mistress outside); his mother yearns to return to an idealized Mexico (there's a disastrous family expedition south, climaxing in venomous exchanges between Father and his Mexican mother-in-law). And the book ends with the parents split, the old neighborhood about to be razed. . . and Rudy starting his writing career in ""Jury,"" after being arrested for covering the Bank of America with graffiti. More a series of vignettes than a sustained coming-of-age novel--but bright, sassy recollections overall, full of unprettied-up local color (a brawling wedding reception, a grimly riotous funeral), ironic social observations (the strivings toward middle-class-dom), and substantial flashes of comic inspiration.