Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Behind the Eyes

Behind the Eyes by Francisco X. Stork

Growing up in a violence-ridden housing project, sixteen-year-old Hector Robles kept his head to the ground. A studious boy, he was the last person anyone would expect to end up on the wrong side of a feud with the local gang. However, when his impulsive older bother sets his sights on Gloria, the neighborhood knockout and on-again, off-again girlfriend of Chava, leader of the DiscĂ­pulos, that’s exactly what happens.

Victim of his own impulsiveness, Hector gets caught in what seems to be a never ending cycle of violence. When he realizes that leaving El Paso is the only thing he can do to protect himself and his family, Hector agrees to go to Furman, a reform school one step away from a juvenile detention facility. The influence of the DiscĂ­pulos is far-reaching and, even with the protections that Furman offers, Hector knows that he is not completely safe.

A coming of age story centered around finding inspiration in unexpected places, building internal discipline, and the importance of overcoming fear, Behind the Eyes charts Hector's rocky journey to manhood and self-knowledge. Throughout the novel, Stork juxtaposes the present with the recent past, allowing the reader to gain insight into Hector and the reason he is at Furman at the same time as Hector is struggling to understand and his own part in what happened in El Paso.

Peopled with a vast array of fairly realistic characters, the novel explores the all-too-real struggles of children growing up in the inner city. However, while the story is interesting and compulsively readable, it lacks a sense of urgency. Despite being set both in the projects of El Paso and within a military-style reform school, Behind the Eyes fails to be as gritty as expected. Though this may be because the book is targeted to a young adult audience, one can't help feeling that the book has been somewhat sanitized. That being said, an unexpected ending does give the novel – and Hector's character – substance.

A Boston-based lawyer, Francisco Stork has a background in Latin American literature. His debut novel, The Way of the Jaguar, received second place in the 25th anniversary Chicano/Latino Literary Prize competition in 1999. Behind the Eyes is Stork's first novel for young adults.

Reviewed for Front Street Reviews.

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