****Four out of Five Stars
Review by Mark Palm
A lot of folks are very excited by Wonder Woman, the first major film about a female superhero directed by a woman. I agree that is a fine moment for cinema, but there have been tons of books over the years written by women featuring kick-ass heroines, and a lot of them have been some of my very favorite books, from The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman, to Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye, to The Huntress Series by Alexandra Sokoloff. If you are a fan of YA I would direct you to the Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer.
All of this brings me to Lola: A Novel:, by Melissa Scrivner Love. Lola is a small, quiet Latina living in a ghetto neighborhood in Los Angeles. From the outside she appears to be merely the girlfriend of Garcia, a member of a small drug-dealing gang, The Crenshaw Six. In fact she is the leader of the gang, a fact kept hidden from all but the gang themselves. Lola is singularly fixed upon guaranteeing the survival of herself and her gang, including her eighteen-year-old brother, Hector, by keeping their heads down and showing a low profile. However, a member of the Los Liones Cartel. who controls their turf shows up and has an assignment for the gang; one of the Cartel’s main pushers, Darrel King, is buying drugs from another supplier, and if the Crenshaw Six can find out who, and disrupt that connection, they will move up the chain. Lola jumps at the chance but that same evening Lola, whose mother was a junkie who made her have sex with dealers for a fix since Lola was a young girl, discovers that a neighbor’s grand-daughter, Lucy is suffering the same fate. Lola makes it her goal to complete the cartel’s mission and save Lucy from the same horrors that she has improbably survived.
The Six undertake the mission but Hector fails to do his job and the whole plan fails horribly. The Six lose four million dollars in cash and heroin, but do manage to catch the courier, Darrel King’s girlfriend. The Cartel gives the Gang three days to find the cash and the drugs or they will execute the leader of the gang, Lola.
Now this is just the first few chapters of the book. From here things escalate and we see Lola step from the shadows and take charge, trying to unravel a complex plot involving a district attorney, a narcotics officer and a rehab center whom are all part of where King gets his supplies. At the same time Hector is causing more and more problems, Lola is hiding Lucy from her mother, a death threat is hanging over her head.
Saying more would involve more spoiler than I would like, but I can tell you that Lola: A Novel is almost unbearably tense. The pace is unrelenting, and the tension starts high and just keeps climbing. The plot twist and turns like a snake but it never felt contrived or staged.
The world of this novel is violent, and Ms. Love does an exceptional job of showing how casual it is without lessening its horror. There are a few scenes were the details are a bit sketchy, and sometimes things felt a bit rushed, but the stories sheer forward momentum most smoothed over those moments.
The character are solid, but the women in the story are particularly well-drawn, especially Lola. She absolutely steps off of the page from the beginning and dominates the story. Ms. Love doesn't sugar-coat Lola either. She is fiercely loyal to those she cares for but is capable of acts of shocking violence, but I wouldn’t have been so invested in this story if the author had taken a different path.
I chose to mention Wonder Woman earlier for a specific reason. With its depiction of poverty and abuse, with its moral ambiguity and violence I would be hard-pressed to find a bowl so different in it’s tone and tenor from the cinematic blockbuster. At its heart though, Lola: A Novel shares one thing with the movie; a true heroine stands at it’s heart.