In 1992, when the white cops who beat Rodney King were acquitted of assault and walked away scot free, racial tensions in Los Angeles flared and triggered six days of rioting. In the South Central neighbourhood of Lynwood, another story plays out, telling the untold stories of the people mixed up in the lawlessness.

The sheriffs never abandon the town in western movies. It’d be un-American. But it’s happening here.

The title refers to the term given to those involved with gang activity in LA. Yet it also reflects on how every becomes involved due to proximity or family ties. The death tolls of the riots didn’t take into account those who died in areas left without emergency services for 6 days, areas where gang related crime when through the roof, where no police presence triggered a free-for-all. All Involved transports the reader to a city that feels like a war zone.

The gang members are portrayed as humans, not stereotypes or bit-part characters to play a part. Told via multiple narrators, there are plenty of people who do things that are unforgivable, yet you can still see them as just people. People who have made some bad choices, who are struggling to survive in a world that is very much survival of the fittest, where fittest often means the most feared. Every time someone’s age is mentioned, it always surprised just how young they all are.

The multiple narration is so well done, with so many distinct voices. It’s not just the gang members who tell their tale, but also emergency services workers and those just trying to protect what is theirs. However there isn’t a sympathetic law enforcement figure included in the narrators.

The day someone on TV has to write an incident report on a fuckup and admit responsibility for it like we do, that’s the day no one wants to be a newscaster anymore.

It’s hard to fathom what would make someone attack a fireman, and in such a brutal manner. They are only there to help people. The connections between people and events runs through the different narratives if you care to make them. The man who attacked the fireman is described only by his scars, and as I read on, I was surprised by the person implied to be the culprit. It is never confirmed but the way they were portrayed completely didn’t fit with the senseless crime. Maybe that’s the point. There is little logic when mob mentality strikes.

In a way, the gangs have their own form of justice but this does result in a never ending cycle of revenge. There is a greater sense of injustice when something happens to those who have stayed out of the gangs. The “you play you pay” mentality means that those involved expect death and violence, but it’s not OK to target those who had a chance at something else. Big Fate’s crew, despite being certain criminals, they at least seem to have that over their rivals. When they kill, it’s not innocent family members, but people that should pay for their crimes.

You plunk a bunch of people down from all over everywhere, keep them in their corners and don’t let them mix and figure shit out, and they all got minds to compete, cuz shit, everybody in LA’s hustling all the time for everything.

I read this straight after To Kill a Mockingbird. One would hope in the years between the books, the world would have moved on, but equality isn’t there yet. All Involved may be set in 1992 but we keep seeing the events that kicked off the LA riots happen again and again. It doesn’t really touch on the events that led to the riots, but it highlights that people were living in different worlds, defined by the colour of their skin or the place their grandparents came from. And those are things individuals have no chance to change.

I wouldn’t normally choose to read about gangs, but All Involved will stick with me, I am sure. It’s brutal and shocking, but also shows unexpected tenderness and fierce loyalty.

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Also reviewed @ Random Things Through My Letterbox

Book Source: Purchased