Men will break your heart, but sisterhood is powerful in this uneven but arresting second novel by the author of Locas (1997). That’s sisterhood as a blood relationship, not a political movement, though there are also echos of “brown female power” feminism in Murray’s gritty tale of growing up scandalous in East L.A. For the most part, however, Rita Zapata finds the Mexican-American women in her poverty-stricken neighborhood quick to judge her a putana like her promiscuous mother. It’s Rita’s younger sister, Dolores, who saved her after she accidentally set her hair on fire as a teenager, who claims her heart and her fiercest loyalty—until Billy Navarro shows up. Rita has slept with most of East L.A.’s aspiring boxers (indeed, most of its men, period) in her search for someone on his way up and out who—ll take her with him, and in Billy she finds not only a potential champ but a man who understands her. “You want better than what you got,” he tells Rita, “You got dreams.” For a while Billy seems to fulfill them. He takes her with him on his ascent to a title bout in Las Vegas, and his win gains her some grudging respect from “las girlfriends,” even though they prefer the respectably married Dolores. But identity won through a man can be lost the same way, and Rita hits bottom around about the time Dolores’s political activism indirectly gets her husband killed and riots in 1997 nearly incinerate the Hispanic ghetto. Murray has a sharp eye for the particulars of Mexican-American life, and her prose is juicily vivid. But there’s a fine line between affirming the values of an ethnic subculture and reinforcing its stereotypes; Murray’s hot-mama Latinas and their swaggering men seem perilously close to the latter. Readable and intelligent, though this writer of promise and ferocious energy needs to scrutinize her subject matter a little more deeply.