Luis J. Rodriguez, Author . HarperCollins/Rayo $23.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-621263-0

Poet, essayist and editor Rodriguez (Always Running: La Vida Loca; Gang Days in L.A.) assembles 12 gritty, hard-hitting snapshots taken from the lives of careworn characters struggling to survive amid crime, poverty and racism in the barrio of East Los Angeles. "My Ride, My Resolution" features Cruz Blancarte, a tough but likable limousine driver who witnesses firsthand the heartlessness of the city's rich and famous. When he's allowed to keep the limo overnight, Cruz seizes the opportunity to take sexy neighborhood girl Bernarda out on a date, but with disastrous results. Many stories play on themes of freedom and emotional release, interrelated for better or worse. In "Boom, Bot, Boom" an afternoon of barhopping turns two friends—both newly unemployed and miserable—into outlaws, while the poignant "Finger Dance" features a heavyhearted son who, after a lifetime of feeling unwanted, searches his dying father's face "for signs of love." Life falls apart quickly for steelworker Enrique in "Mechanics" when he gets laid off and his wife of 12 years moves out, taking the kids with her, yet he experiences a "pervasive serenity" despite his misfortune. Though there are few uplifting moments—such as the one in "Sometimes You Dance with a Watermelon," which finds a grandmother attempting to rumba with the giant fruit on her head—the collection as a whole attains a spirited, resilient rhythm. (Apr. 9)

Forecast:Rodriguez has a strong reputation not only as an award-winning writer, but as the editor of Tia Chucha Press. The marketing campaign—including an eight-city author tour, 15-city NPR campaign and print ads—is excellent and will help extend what are likely to be strong regional sales in Southern California.

Reviewed on: 03/18/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-06-093686-0
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