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My Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King/ By Reymundo Sanchez /Chicago Review Press/$24

This novel traces Puerto Rican gang culture in Chicago over the past few decades, focusing on the life of Lil Loco, a young boy evolving into a sadistic gangster as the result of a tormented childhood, societal pressures and a need for purpose. As if scripted for disaster, Lil Loco's adolescence is marred by sexual assault, combined with physical and mental abuse.

Lil Loco seeks the protection of the Latin Kings as a surrogate to the love and affection absent from his family life. Once embraced by the gang, he is encouraged to lash out violently, and often arbitrarily, against rival gang members. These acts are rewarded with power and influence, gratuitous sex, money and guns. His proficiency for violence is amplified by his uncanny ability to dissociate himself from his actions through the ongoing abuse of alcohol and drugs. With the onset of vivid nightmares and regret, his addictions grow, as does the stupidity and viciousness of his crimes. His detached, callous approach while committing brutal acts, and his seemingly numb attitude towards incarceration, earns him the respect of his peers and the moniker "Lil Loco." Contrary to his impervious exterior, Lil Loco is consumed by feelings of cowardice stemming from his inability to abandon gang lifestyle and pursue less destructive outlets. The impersonality of Puerto Rican gang culture is exemplified by the introduction of myriad characters that quickly exhaust their purpose, as they are either short-term sexual partners, fleeting family members or murder victims.

Profanity, drugs and sexual references pervade this novel, but the writing style is compelling. Those intrigued by gangland romanticism get the expected: nonstop action, and at least one murder per chapter (based on averages, of course). Judging by American society's love of sensationalized violence, this book should meet with popular praise. Fortunately, it is written from the perspective of remorseful hindsight. The fact that it is based upon the real life of a youth is unfortunate social commentary.

— Mike LaRosa

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