Irony, cynicism, realism—even a touch of magical realism—blend together in this coming-of-age debut set in the projects of Los Angeles.
Sunny Toomer, the 12-year-old narrator, is at once wise beyond his years and innocent enough to hold out hope for the future. Toomer’s story isn’t a whole lot different from that of most of his friends, but his keen perceptions of his environment and his ability to see beyond the here and now set him apart. Sometimes his naïveté gets the best of him, as when his father finally telephones and promises he’ll return to Rancho San Pedro, Toomer’s neighborhood, for a visit. When he doesn’t, Toomer settles into the library to look up the Bahaman island his father came from. The result is a wonderful interlude: Toomer’s tale of his father’s childhood. The language here has a kind of 21st-century urban-quick pace to it—compound adjectives sprinkled liberally, without the benefit of hyphens, which at first is slightly confusing, if not off-putting. But this isn’t simply a stylistic gimmick: it’s truly Toomer’s narrative voice. As in any American inner-city neighborhood, the police take on a Kafkaesque menace in Rancho San Pedro; Toomer never allows himself to trust the LAPD, referring to them only as “roller boys.” The other adults in Toomer’s world almost never seem to have it together, and those who do are feared and misunderstood by Toomer and his friends, who are forced to make more weighty decisions than they ought to. Toomer, especially, must find a way to deal with his mother’s boyfriend, a dangerous street hustler.
A story that begins with death and ends with birth: in-between, there’s a powerful anecdotal tale of salvation.