The Flowers by Dagoberto Gilb
By Bill Kohlhaase
Sonny Bravo is an all-American boy. He likes pizza and titty magazines, hates his step dad, loves the girl next door and loses his virginity to the one upstairs. His school buddies are twin nerds. Sonny’s also a petty thief who likes to break into houses, not so much to steal things, but for “watching how the people lived, imagining how it would be in their house.” Dagoberto Gilb’s coming-of-age novel is full of youthful innocence and racial tension. Sonny lives with his beautiful mother and her redneck husband in “The Flowers,” a Los Angeles apartment building populated with characters that approach but never quite become clichés. Mexican families mingle with an eastern European couple, there’s an 18-year-old druggie with an absent boyfriend and a racist construction worker and his wife. Then there’s Pink, a black albino who runs a used car business right off the street. Glib stirs three languages into his story—Sonny dreams of learning French and going to Paris—and the riotous climax following a Rodney King-styled beating leaves Sonny wiser but no better off. Here’s a hard-luck hero we can all root for with a story is as entertaining as it is poignant.
Grove Press, 250 pages, hardback, $24