AUTHOR: Allison van Diepen
LENGTH: 297 pages
PUBLISHER: Simon Pulse
SUMMARY: (via amazon.com) In a school run by gangs, staying out is harder than joining. We knew who our friends were, and were careful what we said. If people thought we were haters, it would only be a matter of time…
Lines are clearly marked at South Bay High School. It’s mixed territory for the Crips and the Bloods, which means the drama never stops.
Julia DiVino wants none of it. No colors, no C-walks-it’s just not her thing.
But when Eric Valiente jumps into her life, everything changes. Lines are redrawn. And then they’re crossed.
REVIEW: This book was a pleasant, easy read despite the seriousness of the topic. The thing that struck me the most about this book is the subtext of intelligence that pervades the plot. Van Diepen shows us that there is a studied calculation to joining or avoiding being in a gang. Street smarts seem to be even more valuable than academic intelligence just to stay alive in a community like Julia’s. Readers not familiar with this type of school culture might be surprised to find that most of the issues are the same: friend and relationship drama battle family interactions for attention. The basic difference is the setting. While those not from a similar community might not understand functioning in such dangerous neighborhood conditions, reading the book might help readers see that when one grows up in a neighborhood like Julia’s, navigating through life in a world of gangs becomes a skill just like riding a bike or playing a sport.
Van Diepen writes Julia in a down-to-earth way that makes her likable and relatable. Julia is just as self-conscious as other teens even though she exudes a tough exterior. The most attractive thing about Julia is her certainty about what she wants for her future. She wants to escape the violence and control of the gangs and realize her dreams of post high school education and writing. Readers will find themselves rooting against Julia as her well-laid plans begin to unravel because she seems to be throwing away her chances at success. But in the end, Julia shows us that doing the right thing is not the only path to success or reaching one’s goals. While the message may not be as wholesome as one might wish, there is still a definite subtext of hope that will reassure readers.