By Melissa Schrivner Love
Publisher: Crown (2017)
Kindle edition: $12.99
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
To the rest of the Huntington Park neighborhood, on the edge of south central Los Angeles, Lola Vasquez is a nonentity, the submissive girlfriend of Garcia, the leader of the Crenshaw Six. It suits her to let the other drug dealers and gang bangers believe that, but in truth it is she who calls the shots.
There are two ways to make a living in Huntington Park. One way is working in a legitimate business: landscaping for the rich or back-breaking factory work. The other is to pursue illegal activities; the most lucrative being the drug trade. Lola started out on the lawful path, working in a nail salon. She even attended college for a short time. Realizing that that life plan was not only a dead end, but a boring one as well, she took up with Carlos, the former leader of the gang, known then as the Crenshaw Four. When she found him trying to recruit her baby brother Hector, something he’d promised not to do, she ushered him out, and then she cooked. She likes to cook after she kills.
Garcia became the new leader officially, but everyone in the room knows Lola had earned the title by her bold action. Reluctantly she allows Hector to become the sixth in the gang, but gives him only minor assignments. She’s torn between being Hector’s big sister and being his boss. She’d pretty much taken care of him while their junkie mother neglected and abused them, but if he messes up she can’t go easy on him.
A backyard barbecue is interrupted by El Coleccionista, the strong arm for the Mexican cartel. He tells Garcia, the putative boss of the Crenshaw Six, that if they do a job for the cartel they can rise from small fry bangers to the big leagues. Garcia agrees to the Mexican cartel’s “request” (read demand) to disrupt two rival gang’s exchange of two million dollars for two million in drugs. If Garcia and his men fail to retrieve both the money and the drugs, his lovely lady Lola will be killed. He sets a deadline, and Lola begins watching her life ticking away, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by precious day.
Lola is a complex character: she can be a stone cold killer when the need arises, but there is a softness inside her. She steals a pit bull from a dog-fighting ring, names her Valentine, and dotes on her. She rescues a five-year-old girl from the kind of hell Lola lived through herself. As she ponders her imminent death, she is not afraid for herself. Instead, she worries that Garcia might not be up to the challenge of giving Lucy the kind of life Lola had planned for her, and wonders if he’ll keep feeding Valentine the special diet she’d set up.
LOLA is the first novel for Ms. Love, a highly regarded screenwriter. It provides a close-up and personal look at the gang culture of South Central Los Angeles and how it impacts the neighborhood. It’s a dark story, but there is hope and compassion and even a bit of humor intertwined with the violence and fear. The characters are not stereotypical cutouts, but fully-fleshed individuals. South Central L.A. comes alive on the page, the good, the bad, and the ugly. LOLA is a story that will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned. Highly recommended.
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