Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. by Luis J. Rodriguez
The Goods: Part memoir of the Mexican immigrant experience, part gangland horror story, part cautionary tale, and part bildungsroman of a Chicano activist, this book does many things and does them well. After moving to Los Angeles, Rodriguez's family eventually settled in a barrio community in East L.A., where the schools' solutions to Spanish-speaking students was either to ignore them or place them in special education classes. In middle school, his innocent schoolboy clique is absorbed by an established gang, and Rodriguez becomes a member of Lomas's Animal Tribe. As the book focuses on Rodriguez's high school years, it also focuses on the tension between the two Luises. One is a gangbanger, the other tries out for school mascot and is active in his school's Chicano student association, organizing walk-outs and protests. Eventually, Rodriguez leaves gang life behind, which is not to say that the book's ending is anything approaching happy.
Thoughts: Rodriguez writes of his childhood in East L.A. with both lyrical romanticism and righteous anger. Los Angeles is beautiful and Los Angeles is full of the worst kinds of ugliness, and although 30 years has passed since the events of Always Running, not enough has changed.
If you like...: Complex nonfiction about gang life like 8 Ball Chicks: A Year in the Violent World of Girl Gangs by Gini Sikes or The Killing Season by Miles Corwin, an equally complex look at gang violence from the POV of Los Angeles homicide detectives, or if you like novels about Mexican American families like Face of an Angel by Denise Chavez or Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros, this book is for you.