Five Blocks Down by Miriam Sidanius

Five Blocks Down

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In Sidanius’ debut novel, a Los Angeles drug dealer tries to avoid serious conflict on his turf while a younger teen gets pulled into the same criminal world.

Paco Moreno, a few months shy of his 20th birthday, is one of the better earners for Nicaraguan distributor Henry. Taking the place of his currently incarcerated mentor, Jimmy Carrette, Paco manages a truce with a local black gang. He, for one, sells Lamar the right to deal weed near where the high schooler lives—a corner in Paco’s territory. Trouble starts, unfortunately, when Lamar racially insults Pedro, cousin to Paco’s friend and partner Julio. Paco demanding an apology (with an armed Julio present) incites Lamar, who later wants back the money he paid for the corner. Fourteen-year-old Luis Bustamante, meanwhile, needs cash to buy older sister Rosa shoes that she can’t afford. Since his brother Miguel sells marijuana for Paco, Luis works out a one-time arrangement with the dealer. But Luis gets a reputation at school as a marijuana provider, and he likes the attention, first from Jasmine and then Lilly. He starts buying the occasional joint from Paco, who takes a liking to the boy, affectionately calling him Little Tiger. Paco, however, anticipates a gang war, and Luis may get caught in the crossfire of a drive-by or possibly something much worse. Despite a plot that includes illicit deeds and murder, the story is relatively tension-free thanks to alternating first-person perspectives from Paco and Luis. The latter, for example, is a naïve teen who doesn’t seem to care that girls are using him as a dope source. There’s definitely anxiety on Paco’s side of things; even Jimmy’s impending release could prove a detriment if he refuses to support his protégé regarding the gangs’ unrest. At the same time, Paco’s self-assurance remains infectious; his only fear about a lethal double-cross is a meaningless death (“There’d be no glory in it”). The two characters are unquestionably sympathetic and deliver a strong message: they’re ultimately defined by the decisions they make, not by their environment. An uncompromising ending adds a dash of serenity.

A subdued urban narrative that neither minces words nor pulls punches.

Publisher: Boston Authors Cooperative
Program: Kirkus Indie
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