Looking for an escape from childhood abuse, Reymundo Sanchez turned away from school and baseball to drugs, alcohol, and then sex, and was left to fend for himself before age 14. The Latin Kings, one of the largest and most notorious street gangs in America, became his refuge and his world, but its violence cost him friends, freedom, self-respect, and nearly his life. This is a raw and powerful odyssey through the ranks of the new mafia, where the only people more dangerous than rival gangs are members of your own gang, who in one breath will say they’ll die for you and in the next will order your assassination.
The Short Version
This book surprised me so much. It was recommended to me by a friend and although hesitant at first, I decided to pick it up and give it a try because it was unlike anything I’d ever read.
And I’m glad I did. It was incredible. Yes, it was packed with crude language, stories of rape, drugs, alcohol, shootings and murder, but I wouldn’t have changed it in any way. While I can’t say I enjoyed the topic or even the writer’s literature style, there were so many things to be learned from My Bloody Life. To begin with, it was remarkable to see a peek at what gang lifestyle is like. Many of us live perfect lives with false problems and endless opportunities, and it was an awakening shock to read about what is really going on in some places of the world, to youth no older than me.
I also know I’ll be definitely making use of the settings, dialogue, and character backgrounds from this book in my own novels in the future. From a writer’s perspective, this was a very valuable book to read.
Finally, I loved this book because its theme and style of writing were captivating, and while the author could have easily turned the topic into a melodramatic, emotional book, he chose not to.
Overall: phenomenal read.
The Long Version
As I mentioned, I started off with extremely mixed feelings about this book. The author, Reymundo (his pseudonym), gets raped by his cousin in the very first chapter. From the start, that was a stark reminder that this was not going to be a “nice” book.
The author then goes on to narrate about his lost childhood, his gradual involvement in gangs and later, his increasingly violent nature accompanied with a regular consumption of drugs and alcohol. One thing I really appreciated throughout the story was the limited use of emotion. Had this been your typical novel, it would have immediately begun mercilessly wringing my eyes clean at the very first incidence of a death, but it stayed well away from any kind of melodrama. As a result, I established a comfortable disconnect that allowed me to appreciate the novel for its characters, real-life events, and even dialogue, rather than being caught up in false Hollywood drama.
Speaking of dialogue, I found myself frequently studying that particular component of the book. Of course, it’s not uncommon to see this kind of dialogue in high school as well, but it was great to be able to investigate it side-by-side with a character’s past. I know for sure I’m going to be using the elements I saw in this book’s dialogue in my own future stories.
To top that off, I pulled a blank when I asked myself how else could I possibly word this without the use of swear words?
Take this line, for example: “They can’t get away with that shit.”
It’s a simple sentence that says a lot about the character. The only alternatives I can think of are something along the lines of:
“Who do they think they are? They can’t get away with that.”
The same kind of message, but with a completely different set of words creates a powerfully different image. I took an mental note of this interesting phenomenon.
Finally, the author’s honesty shone through the book, and I respected that. It was filled with stories of his own flaws and shortcomings, something which cannot have been an easy feat to record. He had one intense past, and he was still able to put that down in words in a clear, direct way that was not only easy to follow and understand, but totally mesmerizing.
This was how all Latino youths seemed to classify each other – gang member first, human being second. Ironically, Latinos complain that police treat all youths as gang members first and human beings second.
Gang members as well as non-gang members feel the need to run and hide when police are present. If they didn’t, chance are they would be harassed, beaten, or arrested for a crime they didn’t commit. Police tend to believe that kids in the ghetto are guilty unless proven innocent. That’s why kids run and that’s why police are the enemy.
For the first time in my life someone had taken the time and cared enough to tell me the truth. But I ignored it, classified it as bullshit, and took it as an attack against me.
I wasn’t afraid to take a beating, but I didn’t want to walk alone. I was afraid to be alone, not to belong.
On the way there they gave me all kinds of advice and offered to help me if I wanted to quit gangbanging. I got out of their car in a daze. It was the first time that a cop had tried to talk some sense into me.