Skin of Tattoos
There is an unwritten code among gangs that you remain in your territory and don’t infringe on others. In reality it might be nice if everyone respected the code and honored it. But, the streets in many cities are riddled with gangs and gang members selling drugs, using women for sport and even worse creating bloodbaths when they feel their turf needs to be enlarged or protected. If someone goes after one of their members or their own retaliation is expected and you never know when. Magdaleno has just been paroled from prison and lives in Los Angeles. Taking the rap and serving time on gun possession perfectly orchestrated by a rival named Rico who has not only escaped prison but also taken over as gang shot caller while he was away. Coming home did not create any stars, smiles, and hugs or glad to see you from his family. The homeboys in the gang were surprised he was out and Mags promised himself and his family from San Salvador that he would get a decent and legal job and turn himself around. Acceptance is at the heart of this novel as he works hard to gain the respect of his parents and firefighter brother named Frank. Each time they look at him they never give any encouragement just a disappointed stare. However, once a gang member you no longer control your life and trying to find his way out might prove dangerous. Rico needs to earn money to free the Cyco Lokos’ jailed top leader. Wanting to prove he was in charge and will exert his leadership and authority over his rival Mags now his underling, lets Mags know that there is no way out. Mags falls head over heels for Paloma the sister of Blueboy a rival gang member who hates the thought of her dating or even being in the same room with him. Working in a chop shop for another gang member named Gato, doing runs for him and giving his mother money to help out still did not change his family’s perception of him.
Things start to escalade as his sister Zully is seeing a man named Benito and Blueboy get caught in a payback crossfire that turns fatal. More blood is shed, lives are lost and although the police are trying to piece it all together the law of gangs is you don’t rat anyone out and you stay quiet. But, when the police find their way to Mag’s house and question him he is determined to try and stop what has been set into place. Visiting the head of his gang who is in jail, getting a feel about Rico and understanding that things are not what they seem, someone set up his sister for the rape and someone pulled the trigger on the two gang members was it the same person?
The gang leader in prison named Chivas was on the needled. Seeing his arm made it come to light. How could he get away with this in prison? Rico became boss in return for supplying Esme and smuggling stuff into lockup. Rico was the connection and how Rico has a booming business and the one in prison soared.
When Blueboy disappears and then is found shot who is behind it and why? The gang had just begun and more wars were about to happen and Mags decides to move out of his house and no one stops him he feels he is nothing and going nowhere. On Parole he could get thrown back inside if he is not careful. Tempers rise, the body counts will too and although he wants to be on the straight and narrow he might not have a choice. When Paloma sets him free and blames him for her brother’s death he turns to a girl named Yvette to sooth his wounds. But, someone wants him to get another message and this one is quite violent and might cost him his freedom and life.
Author Christina Hoag graphically depicts using language in the vernacular of gang members about a young man named Mags who wants to break free of his gangland ties. How can he break free of the Cyco Lokos and live a clean life? Revenge is their answer to many situations and he can no longer walk away as Rico is in charge of his crew and will not allow him to break his bonds with the gang. Jobs that he gets are well beneath him but he needs work and money. Would you walk down a sidewalk dressed as a clown and hand out fliers? Disappointment follows him wherever he goes and no matter how hard he tries his father is ashamed of him and his brother makes him feel beneath everyone. Self-worth, self-esteem, even bullying are at the heart of this novel. The only one in his family that does not shun him is his sister Lissy who falls for Benito a member of a rival gang. Mags tries hard but his life is not that simple and no matter where he turns he realizes things won’t change. Walking on the street the author shares what others view on this neighborhood of people selling pots and pans, mango, jeans and other things on the street. The characters are true to life and well crafted and depicted. The drama creates tension and when Frank’s car is blown up things spiral even more out of control and Mags seems to get blamed for it all.
Some endings are just beginnings and what Mags does will change his life and direction but will he ever be free? The scene with his father is heart wrenching and you wonder if it’s too little too late. Decisions are made. Friendships are broken and strained and trusts are fragile and few and far between. The author states in a promo for her title that she, “ did not want to glamorize gangs, in fact quite the opposite. I wanted to show how tough and stressful life in a street gang is.” The members of the gang as depicted in this novel are always on edge and constantly watching their backs and looking over their shoulders.
The research is extensive and her understanding of Salvadorian gangs quite vivid. Gang violence she states is a huge threat in San Salvador. An ending that lets readers know that some endings are new beginnings. Will Mags ever be free? Find out if the author writes the next chapter in his story.
Fran Lewis: Just Reviews/MJ magazine