First-time writer Mendoza tells the story of his rise through the ranks and his ultimate escape from a powerful criminal organization.
The character John “Boxer” Mendoza turns to drugs and crime at an early age, so it’s perhaps inevitable that the violent robberies he commits land him in jail. There, he becomes a member of the gang Nuestra Raza, an extension of Nuestra Familia. Mendoza is in and out of prison for drugs and parole violations, until the day when the three-striker faces a long stretch, and his loyalty to NF is suddenly in question. The book concentrates on Mendoza’s time in NF, although in the foreword, Mendoza explains that he doesn’t want to glamorize the gang life. Instead, he reveals an unvarnished world where violence reigns. The narrative is sometimes cold, merely relaying the events that lead to the next incarceration, and it’s hard not to view Mendoza as apathetic. But he shows his emotion in response to NF’s malicious treatment of certain members, leaving some of them to fend for themselves, and he regrets disappointing his ailing wife, Vicki, especially when he’s in jail and she’s left alone. The author clearly knows how to tell a story: He opens the narrative with the police raiding his house and dragging him outside; he discusses the disconcerting Operation Black Widow; and he’s prone to metaphors. There’s even an antagonist: Lencho, his “antithesis,” who is Mendoza’s greatest adversary during his longest (in terms of the narrative) stint in prison. Surprisingly, the book’s highlights are Mendoza-free: The novel reveals the fascinating origin of the Mexican Mafia, as well as the NF’s response to the Aryan Brotherhood, a certain attention-grabber.
Stark in its portrayal, but more riveting and embroiling than brutal or repellent.