The mean streets of South Chicago come alive in this gritty debut about two Hispanic teenagers looking for an island of sanity in their war-zone of a neighborhood.
Enright—a Catholic priest from Chicago—manages to take what might be familiar tropes about growing up in the ’hood and make the situations fresh and tragic. Carlos and Tony are in their last year of high school and trying to fast-track themselves out of the meager local possibilities and into college. Even though they’ve got decent jobs and don’t go looking for trouble, trouble finds them. On the first page, there’s gunfire, and Tony gets a bullet in the hand. Afterward, it’s a delicate dance for the two friends as they try to keep their jobs at UPS and stay out of the crossfire between the Devils and the Latin Knights—the latter looking to kill them for intruding on one of their beat-downs—and a black gang, the Stones. Parents are mostly well meaning but don’t know what to do, and the local padre never seems to have useful advice. Carlos and Tony, along with a couple of friends, start spending time in the church at night, praying and taking it easy in the sanctuary, after the padre gives them keys to the door. When they both lose their UPS jobs and are forced to work at a local junkyard that also looks to be a hot-car lot protected by a corrupt cop, matters get worse and escape routes get closed off. Though Enright falls at times into bathos, for the most part he shaves things close to the bone, writing in a straightforward style of clipped street argot that never sounds forced and propels the story quickly through some inevitable rough patches.
The desperation of life in the barrio is given attention in an affecting piece of fiction that will be appreciated both by teenagers and open-minded adults.