A Nation of Amor

Christopher McConnell, Author Permanent Press (NY) $22 (187p) ISBN 978-1-877946-40-0
Life among Puerto Rican gangs in Chicago's Westtown ghetto forms the backdrop of McConnell's energetic debut. Like other young novelists (Jess Mowry comes to mind), McConnell, a native of Chicago's West Side, strives to capture the spirit and accent of street life, sensing that something vital to our culture is taking place among underclass youth. His story is more historic and dynastic, however: it begins in the 1960s, when three brothers--Angel, Reynaldo and Bobo Matos--begin a gang called the Latin Kings. Angel is shot dead in a race riot, Reynaldo goes to jail and Bobo survives to become a city councilman. As Angel's children Mano and Flaco grow up, the eldest, Flaco, is expected to lead the Latin Kings; when he refuses, Mano shoots his brother in the arm, then assumes the role himself. The divided brothers are challenged when Reynaldo is finally released from prison and returns to the neighborhood to do rehabilitative social work. While the tough situations his characters face (teen pregnancy, gangs, incest, drug use, crime and, ultimately, jail) are of great importance to McConnell's plot, the energy of his writing lies elsewhere: in the jazzy riffs and odd segues of each character's consciousness, particularly those of Mano's battered young girlfriend Mariza. One marvels at how McConnell gets inside the minds of struggling Latino teens on the shores of Lake Michigan. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/28/1994
Release date: 03/01/1994
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