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Forever My Lady    by Jeff Rivera order for
Forever My Lady
by Jeff Rivera
Order:  USA  Can
Grand Central, 2007 (2007)

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*   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Forever My Lady is the story of a teenage delinquent from Las Vegas, who also happens to be Mexican. The book is written in his words, many of which are Spanish, which is never translated. Usually, though, the meaning is fairly obvious. The young man, Dio Rodriguez, tells us of having been mistreated in school because of his heritage, and gives blatant examples of being mistreated for the same reason in the prison boot camp where he has been sent. White boys at the camp make racially hateful remarks to and about him and the friend he makes at camp, who is half African-American and half Mexican. Even the person in charge - called Senior Jackson by Dio - mispronounces his last name in an insensitive way and refuses attempts to correct him.

Dio's extreme anger seems warranted, both by the way he's been treated by society at large and by the fact that ever since his father died, his mother has been a hopeless drunk, bringing home a succession of men who abuse the boy. She doesn't treat him any better, as he recalls being locked in a toy box as a punishment on more than one occasion when he was younger. Dio has made a family for himself of a gang, and sells drugs for spending money, so he has had many run-ins with the law as a juvenile. His present crime isn't really clarified, but has to do with a drive-by shooting during which his girlfriend Jennifer was shot several times and badly wounded.

Life in the camp is much harsher than anything Dio has previously experienced. He learns with difficulty to survive and even seems to thrive once he learns the rules and starts to try to follow them. His love for Jennifer, who is recovering from her wounds, sustains him through this ordeal.

I didn't like this book, but it wasn't written for a middle-aged married white woman. Having worked as a social worker and teacher, I believe it might appeal to angry teenage boys, and maybe girls, who feel alienated from society and their parents. Because of the bad language used by the boys, it might not be accepted in a lot of high schools. It would seem to be ideal as a teaching tool in inner city schools or for incarcerated boys or young men, as it has a strong theme of how to become worthwhile members of society for young people who haven't had any proper guidance at home or school. The adults at the camp turn out to be much more helpful and caring than they seem to be at first. Most of the boys are believable, with problems that would be hard for anyone to overcome.

I didn't know what urban lit was when I started this book and will probably avoid reading that particular genre in the future. This book does have something to say to all those who believe that there are easy solutions for society's failures or that locking up people who commit crimes and throwing away the key might be a good idea. Dio and most of the other boys are able to learn and grow in this prison camp. They're being taught regular high school classes, as well as proper behavior and how to control anger. Senior Jackson delights in attempting to increase their vocabularies. All prisoners should be so lucky.

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