Review: Behind the Eyes by Francisco X. Stork

Sixteen-year-old Hector Robles’s life will never be the same again. Living his entire life in the projects of El Paso, Texas, he’s always stayed away from the gangs–but his brother Filiberto brought an end to that. A little more than a year after the death of their father, Hector, Fili, and their younger sister Aurora have a run-in with some members of the Discipulos. Hector would like to keep out of their way after that, as would Aurora, but Fili sets his sights on Gloria…Who just happens to be dating Chava, leader of the Discipulos.

Fili just can’t let it go. His conflict with Chava escalates, until, one night, he ends up dead. In less than a year and a half, Hector has lost his older brother and his father. Even though it’s not something he could have imagined himself doing, Hector goes after Chava.

Chava does more damage to Hector than Hector does to him, leaving Hector with various rather serious injuries, including the loss of his hearing in one ear. When he recovers, a social work has some rather grave news for him: Chava wants him dead. The only way he can keep safe, as well as protect his mother and sister, is to leave town.

Mrs. Garzo, the social worker, tells him there’s one good place for him to go now. He’s charged with the aggravated assault of Chava, and there’s a school, in another city, that accepts kids who have been in trouble with the law. There, he’ll be safe from the Discipulos, he’ll get a good education, and his mother and sister won’t be involved with any of the gangs anymore. Hector makes a decision: he’ll go to Furman.

There, he makes friends with a colorful cast of characters, and could maybe have a fresh start and a new life…If his past can ever stop following him.

BEHIND THE EYES is divided up into three parts. The first and last part deal with Hector’s time after his brother’s death, and the second part takes place before Fili’s “accident.” Francisco X. Stork tells the story of whatever is going on in each section of the book in the past tense, and flashbacks are in the present tense, which threw me a little at first, but I quickly got used to it. The non-chronological division of the book was also a little odd, but I did like the way it was divided, and, in the end, it made sense.

Stork is a brilliant writer, and BEHIND THE EYES is a page turner. It’s told in a fresh, captivating voice, and the story itself is a fascinating one. It was inspired by Stork’s own time living in the projects of El Paso, and some of the Chicano teenagers he knew there. That Stork knows what he’s writing really shows, and it adds an extra dimension to an already wonderful book. The characters are diverse, fascinating and believable, each one well-thought out and three-dimensional. It’s a character-driven story, and a fantastic one. This is definitely one of my favorites of 2006.

Rating: 10/10

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