In this coming-of-age novel, Sonny Bravo is a Mexican-American teenager who seeks love in a rough and racially divided neighborhood of Los Angeles. What he finds are people who try to entangle him in their world of prejudice, frustration and failed dreams.
Bleak as this may sound, The Flowers, by Austin-based Dagoberto Gilb, is laced with humor and tenderness and, in the end, a sense of hope. Because many of the funny lines are in Spanish, it helps to know the language or have an inkling of Spanglish.
Sixteen-year-old Sonny lives with his single mother, Silvia, who attracts an array of colorful and dangerous boyfriends.
Left alone, Sonny develops a habit of breaking into people's homes just to see how they live. We get the sense he longs for the warmth of a stable and happy family.
His wish is partially fulfilled when Silvia moves in with her boyfriend, Cloyd Longpre, a "hillbilly" with a silver tooth and fake blue suit.
Cloyd owns an apartment complex called "Los Flores"(sic), where Sonny becomes the handyman — sweeping, cleaning window screens, painting. In the process, he meets the tenants: Cindy, a 19-year-old white girl who seduces him; Pinkie, an albino who sells cars to blacks and defends their civil rights; Bud, a racist construction worker; Josef, a Spaniard whose wife dies; Gina, who suspects Sonny is stealing her husband's pornographic magazines; and Nica, a Mexican immigrant who baby-sits her infant brother. Nica is young and innocent, and Sonny falls in love with her.