four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-The FlowersSonny Bravo is a smart, tough Mexican-American teenager growing up in an unnamed city (think Los Angeles). In his spare time, he breaks into other people’s homes just to see how they live. However, his freedom has limits because his mother’s new husband keeps him busy as an unpaid handyman and janitor at his small apartment complex. As he completes each day’s repetitive and mindless tasks, he gets to know the other residents, including an albino used car salesman, a lonely drug dealer’s wife, and a beautiful, innocent Mexican immigrant. As racial conflict and violence simmer around him, Sonny tries to figure out how to determine right and wrong in a world full of moral gray areas.
Grove. 256 pages. $24. ISBN: 0802118593

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Gilb presents the anguish, the dread, the work, the antagonisms and violence and unrealistic hopes of the people who teeter always and each day on the edge of financial and physical ruin. … The events portrayed in the novel—the violence, the racism, the sordid beauty and the sadness—these things are just the norm for Sonny. And that’s what makes the book so powerful." Eric Miles Williamson

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"The Flowers is a tightly woven narrative about a boy coming of age in a community bubbling with racial tension. It’s beautifully rendered in part because Mr. Gilb nails the voice of 15-year-old narrator Sonny Bravo with pinpoint accuracy." Beatriz Terrazas

San Diego Union Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"In his engaging new novel … Dagoberto Gilb, creates a small, original world of imperfect characters, some of whom linger long after the story ends. … Reading this captivating, deceptively compact novel is like having a nimble, well-informed guide on a journey into Sonny Bravo’s contradictory, multidimensional, multicultural self." Sara Lewis

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Flowers may surprise readers of Gilb’s earlier work—notable for a harsh, eloquent realism—with its sweetness. Though his circumstances keep the epiphanies small, Sonny’s faith in the power of love never deserts him, and it motivates every crucial action he takes." John Repp

Houston Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Flowers … 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." David D. Medina

San Antonio Exp-News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"After a sort of rough start, The Flowers evolves into classic Gilb, where one square block is the whole world for his characters, and there is so much tension simmering under the surface that the thing is almost uncomfortable to read. … The sidebar racial tension and battles between civilians and police and civilians and each other serve to make the novel richer than just a coming-of-age story." Julie Ann Vera

Critical Summary

Dagoberto Gilb, winner of the PEN/Hemmingway award for his 1994 short story collection The Magic of Blood, hasn’t written a novel since The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuña (1994). With The Flowers, he has blazed back onto the literary scene. Once again, he earns rave reviews from critics who universally praised his ability to capture the rhythms of working-class life and speech. A slow start and a much-too-sophisticated Sonny distracted a few critics, but these were minor complaints. Though Gilb’s newest novel deals poignantly with matters of race, the Dallas Morning News expressed an opinion echoed by many other reviewers about the widespread applicability of The Flower’s themes: "Let’s hope Mr. Gilb’s book isn’t pegged solely as Latino literature. The issues it explores are universally relevant in our shrinking world."