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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Leaves of Sass BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN The Flowers By Dagoberto Gilb Grove Press 256 pages, $29.95 111. hough Sonny Bravo, the narrator of The Flowers, is 15, Dagoberto Gilb’s novelhis second, after The Last Known Residence of Mickey is not being marketed as young-adult fiction. The story of a vato with attitude, the book is more i YO! than YA. It recounts the coming-of-age of a ballsy California picaro. But for the fact that he lacks a younger sister and an older brother, has never attended prep school, or ventured within 2,000 miles of Radio City Music Hall, and comes from a working-class Mexican background, Sonny Bravo could be Holden Caulfield. The Flowers derives its title from a small apartment complex managed by Cloyd Longpre, Sonny’s odious stepfather. “The Cloyd,” as he disparagingly names the man, is a trophy hunter who has snared Sonny’s sexy mother Silvia. A hard-drinking, gun-obsessed bigot who refuses to rent to blacks, he is willing to overlook her Mexican origins because of her gorgeous body and the prospect of home-cooked fajitas. \(“I love to eat them tacos,” Sonny overhears Cloyd say on thephone. “Now I even got myself Even after marrying Cloyd, Silvia continues to turn heads, but, devoid of any culinary aptitude or ambition, she smuggles canned salsa onto her latest husband’s dinner plate. A transplanted Dust Bowl Okie, Cloyd dubs his building “Los Flores,” which Sonny, despite his own unsteady grasp of Spanish, suspects is not quite autentico. A classmate observes that the gringo got the genders wrong: “Las Flores means ‘The Flowers: What your daddy the Cloyd has up there just means the vato’s a dumb-ass?’ The wildest of the flowers blooming in Los Flores, Sonny becomes a reluctant resident when his self-absorbed mother becomes Mrs. Cloyd Longpre. He is conscripted into maintenance worksweeping, painting, weeding, moving garbage cans. He takes his meals apart, mostly at the bar of a local bowling alley. Sonny finds no friends among his schoolmates, but discovers comfort wandering alone through the mean streets of his new environs. His interactions with occupants of the six other apartments in Los Flores form the focus of The Flowers through Sonny’s own distinctive, demotic voice. Sonny is befriended by the resident of apartment No. 6, an exuberant, odd-looking man called Pink who makes his living hustling used cars that he parks outside Los JANUARY 11, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29