Skin of Tattoos by Christina Hoag is a hard-hitting novel about life, love, and death in the gangs of the barrio in L.A. The two main fictional gangs are the Cyco Lokos, which is the main character’s gang, and the 5150’s who take their name from the penal code stating that police have the ability to hold mental health cases for up to three days.
The story is told from the main character’s point of view, with the voices of homeboys, friends, and family blending into his narrative. The sarcophony of chaos that pulls the reader into the story doesn’t let go easily even after closing the book.
The main character, Magdaleno “Mags” Argueta, has just been released from prison after twenty-six months and thirteen days. He was imprisoned for pleading guilty to firearm possession of a gun he didn’t actually possess. Mags took the rap for his gang, the Cyco Lokos. In doing so he felt he earned respect from his peers.
Prior to going to prison, Mags was proud of his gang tattoos. They were a sign of loyalty to the Cyco Lokos, and earned him respect in the barrio. In prison, he realized that he was more than just his skin of tattoos. He wanted more from his life than gang code, violence, and prison. Leaving the gang involves getting permission to retire. Alas, the gang releases its members as easily as tattoos fade.
This book is an emotional rollercoaster, and I really enjoyed the adrenaline-pumping action. Violence, tenderness, love, loyalty, death, and betrayal play across the pages like an intricate melody that never fully resolves. There is an abundant number of plot twists to keep you guessing till the end. The idea of trust is always in question. Are you able to trust anyone when you are in a gang?
I was brought to tears several times because of loss of life and loss of innocence. There are scenes of graphic violence and death throughout the book. It depicts in great detail the deadly side of gang life and those that find themselves at odds with it.
This book is a well-written tribute to the gang members that did get the opportunity to leave gang life. Will Mags be one of them?
I guess it’s just a matter of trust, that will help him get past his skin of tattoos.