Skip the ponderous introduction to this slender collection of stories and you'll discover a young writer of much promise. Viramontes' modest achievement derives largely from her social consciousness--her sensitivity to the subtleties of class, race, and gender--and her unique perspective as a Chicana. All the stories concern women of color, young and old, who must confront not only the racism and sexism at large in society, but also the special problems of being female in the macho Catholic culture of Hispanic Americans. To different degrees. Viramontes' characters either rebel against oppressive tradition or, more typically, become its victims. Her rebels include the tomboy of the title story, who mourns both the loss of her childhood innocence and the death of the only person who understood her, her abuela. ""Growing"" also captures a young woman's coming of age in the barrio, and her unwillingness to conform. The haunting internal monologue, ""Birthday,"" records a more ambivalent rebellion: a Catholic girl's abortion. The married women of ""The Broken Web"" and ""The Long Reconciliation"" pay dearly for their defiance: the first murders her philandering husband, to whom she was enslaved, only to suffer literal incarceration and spiritual death; the latter is abandoned by her husband, who has murdered her lover. In ""Snapshots,"" Viramontes' finest piece, Olga Ruiz, who has always done what is expected of her as a mother and homemaker, cannot accept her final reward: divorce and a bunch of fading memories. ""The Cariboo Cafe,"" an ambitious convergence of three narrative points of view, delves into the tragic lives of illegal immigrants--a grimy world of constant fear and danger. Viramontes' relentlessly serious stories, many of which first appeared in small magazines, are really a series of poignant vignettes, slices of Latina life. Were she to lighten up a bit and sacrifice ideology for artistry, she might become the important new voice she is proclaimed to be by Yvonne Yarbo-Berjarano in the introduction.