CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 41. . . .June 25, 2010.
The Barrio Kings. (Rapid Reads).
Victoria, BC: Raven Books/Orca, 2010.
125 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
My name is Rosario Gomez. I’m twenty-three years old. I stock shelves at the supermarket downtown.
I wear a tie to work every day, even though I don’t have to. I wear a long-sleeved shirt to cover my tattoos.
But I can’t hide all of them. There’s one on my right hand that says BK in small black letters. That one I can’t hide. So I try to keep my right hand in my pocket when my boss is around.
My boss is Mr. Enwright. He’s a fat bald white guy who gets mad easy. But he’s okay. Some of the other workers here call him Mr. Enwrong. I do not do that. Not to his face, and not behind his back. Enright told me that once I got my GED he would promote me to assistant manager. That would be the most important job anyone in my family has ever had.
It’s hard to know exactly where “downtown” is, but Rosario describes his former neighbourhood as a place that made the evening news regularly, “and the news was never good. It was the kind of barrio nice people don’t visit.” Downtown may be in New York, Los Angeles, or any other American city with a substantial Hispanic population. One thing is certain: three years after dropping out of a gang, Rosario is living a life very different from street fighting and doing whatever you need to do to survive.
At the age of 23, Rosario has a girlfriend and a soon-to-be-born son, Emilio. He has plans for the life that he and his family are going to live, the willingness to go to night school three evenings a week after work to get his high school diploma, and plenty of dreams and ambition. And those dreams are worlds away from his past. But, one can never entirely escape the past, and soon enough, one of Rosario’s old gang buddies is out of prison and cruising around in a pretty hot car. Juan drops by the market where Rosario works and, despite his worst misgivings (and the complete annoyance of Connie, his girlfriend), Rosario allows his old friend to crash at their apartment for one night.
The next day, the two young men talk, and it’s clear that “Juan is stuck in the old days” and wants Rosario back in their gang, the Barrio Kings. Juan has a plan to avenge the death of Tomas, Rosario’s brother. To his credit, Rosario resists, but then, someone drives by his and Connie’s apartment, shoots out the window, and things change completely.
Will Rosario realize his dreams for a successful future? Will he a store manager, wear a three-piece suit, and will he and Emilio go on camping holidays? Kowalski keeps readers hooked right to the end of the story. There aren’t many characters in this novel, but they are clearly and strongly drawn. Readers can’t help but like Rosario and be impressed at the strength of the love he shows for his newborn son and for Connie. There is plenty of emotion to keep female readers engaged and plenty of action to hold the attention of male readers. And while the story can be seen as a cautionary tale about the dangers of gang life, it’s never preachy. Senior high school students who have graduated from the “Orca Soundings” series will like The Barrio Kings.
Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.
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