In bygone days, violent gangs were conceptualized as a Mexican problem or a L.A. barrio problem or an urban problem. Those days are gone: Gang activity is nationwide and growing. No organization is more dangerous, or spawning more quickly, than the Mara Salvatrucha, which began in the '80s and now reputedly has 800,000 members in 33 states. This book on the gang, the first ever in English, traces its story through the life of former gang member Brenda Paz, who at the age of 15 became the first major FBI informant about this savage criminal cartel. This Is for the Mara Salvatrucha was written by Samuel Logan, a journalist who has spent several years researching the group.
Using all of the tools of a capable police investigation, Logan, a journalist based in Latin America, connects the fortunes of Brenda Paz, a Honduran-American teenager, with the ultraviolent Mara Salvatrucha gang. After family difficulties led Paz's father to send her to Texas to live with her uncle, she witnessed a friend's murder by her boyfriend, the leader of the local MS-13 gang, and fled to Virginia following her boyfriend's arrest. Logan probes the secretive Mara Salvatrucha, which funds its illegal activities through extortion, kidnapping, prostitution, drugs and theft, causing the FBI to label it the most dangerous of all criminal outfits. Eventually Paz informs on the gang about the national leadership and crimes, and the Feds unwisely stash the restless teenager in the witness protection program. Placing the reader in the midst of this story with harrowing detail, Logan writes of a young life wasted and an evil crime empire. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Brenda was jumped into the Mara Salvatrucha (MS) gang in Texas when she was just 15. Her relationships with gang leaders led to a meteoric rise within the MS until she was privy to most of its secrets; she witnessed several murders and knew about more to come. But her high-ranking boyfriends kept getting sent to prison, and lonely Brenda eventually became a police informant. This is where the real story begins: At age 16 Brenda was removed from her uncle's guardianship in order to enter the Witness Protection Program. Required to spend her days alone in a hotel room, she rebelled by running away and reuniting with MS members, who learned she'd turned state's witness and murdered her in a Virginia park. The reader wonders where her parents were throughout; the book is short on answers. Logan does not give us any information about Brenda's childhood or family, although he does question the decision to sequester a teenager in a hotel for months. VERDICT More backstory would have made the book outstanding, but without it, it's still an intriguing read and will appeal to many readers of true crime as well as urban studies.—Daisy Porter, San José P.L., CA
Fact-heavy, unfocused investigation of the Mara Salvatrucha criminal organization and the murder of a former member. At age 12, Brenda Paz began her affiliation with a Dallas branch of the Latino Mara Salvatrucha street gang, one of the most powerful in the United States. When she was 15, Paz participated in her "jumping in"-enduring a vicious 13-second beating by the male gang members, one of two entry points for women into the MS (the other being "sexing in"). Paz found all the freedom, attention, respect and excitement she later admitted to craving, and her boyfriend Veto, the gang's leader, gave her access and protection. She transformed from an isolated ninth grader living in her uncle's care to a direct witness of countless extortions, robberies, stabbings, beatings, rapes and murders. After her arrest in connection to a murder, she became an informant for FBI investigations into the MS and a member of the Witness Protection Program. Investigative journalist Logan recounts much of Paz's story with protracted, expressionless exposition and wooden dialogue-the author wastes a lot of ink on his subjects' inner monologues-sacrificing narrative energy for trivial details. When Paz is inevitably murdered at the hands of her former comrades, readers may be left strangely unaffected. Logan expends no effort to build tension, instead framing Paz's death as obvious to everyone except her. Such tragedies are nearly always greater than the sum of their details, and it takes a discerning writer to tease them out. In merely recounting each fact without analysis or apparent empathy, Logan disappoints as both a journalist and storyteller. Enervated treatment of a story that deserves more. Filmrights to Paramount Vantage. Agent: Rebecca Friedman/Sterling Lord Literistic