I’m in love with LOLA. This fine debut thriller by television screenwriter Melissa Scrivner Love has something for everyone. It’s barrio noir with feminist overtones, navigating through its tough subject matter without sacrificing itself on the altar of political correctness. Lola, the tough, pragmatic protagonist of the title, demonstrates contradictory but not conflicting sides to her personality throughout the narrative, and is one of the most complex and compelling protagonists you are likely to encounter this year.
Lola is the keep-it-on-the-down-low leader of the Crenshaw Six, a small neighborhood gang in South Central Los Angeles. Her boyfriend, Garcia, is the figurehead leader who presents himself as the operator of the gang and its limited sphere of influence while Lola makes the coffee. A Mexican cartel has the Six tapped for bigger and better things, which leads to them being tasked to determine who is attempting to steal away Darrel, the cartel’s best wholesale buyer. The price of success will be greater territory and influence for the Six. The price of failure, though, will be Lola’s execution. The cartel, unaware of Lola’s true status in the Six, thinks that the consequences will motivate Garcia to put all of his effort into the clandestine investigation. What it actually does is prompt Lola to take matters into her own hands.
"Love’s extensive screenwriting experience...shines through in LOLA, which utilizes a present tense narrative to move things along rapidly and keep the pages turning as quickly as possible."
But things go terribly wrong when the Six infiltrates a drug buyoff between Mila, Darrel’s representative and girlfriend, and the mysterious seller. By the time the dust settles and the smoke clears, Mila is dead, and the drugs, as well as the dealer’s money, have disappeared. Lola now has Darrel and the cartel after her. She is given 72 hours to recover the cartel’s property. The price of failure isn’t just death --- it’s a long, drawn-out, painful one.
Meanwhile, Lola has multiple pressures to deal with, not the least of which is Maria, her junkie mother, and the care of Lucy, a very young girl who is being horribly exploited by her respective parent. Lola displays an extremely pragmatic worldview, one tempered by sensitivity sparingly but wisely. It’s not a world she has made, but it’s a world she understands, though only to a degree. There is one particularly touching and excruciatingly painful vignette in the book, in which Lola attempts to enroll Lucy in a private kindergarten. She knows how to do it, but...I won’t give it away. If you read the book just for that one scene, your time will be rewarded. Much more than a barrio coming-of-age novel, LOLA is full of twists, turns and surprises that jump and sizzle out of the pages among incidents of sudden and explosive violence that you will not soon forget.
Love’s extensive screenwriting experience (even casual viewers of series television will be familiar with her work) shines through in LOLA, which utilizes a present tense narrative to move things along rapidly and keep the pages turning as quickly as possible. Life in this book isn’t pretty, but it’s real, and it’s played out in the neighborhoods and areas that you instinctively skirt out of some innate instinct of survival. Read LOLA and see why.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 14, 2017