While some of the material is graphic, a mature High School student would more than likely be prepared to handle the book's brutal honesty and the stories of violence, sexual activity, drugs and other illicit activity because of the underlying message of the book. By no means does the author glorify the gang lifestyle. Quite the contrary, Rodriguez hopes that his book, a cautionary tale, will help at-risk youth avoid a life of violence and keep them in school.
Parents who are willing to let their high schoolers read this book should engage in a dialogue about the consequences of gang activity -- as well as the consequences destructive behavior.
The book has received much critical acclaim, receiving a Carl Sandburg Literary Award and a Chicago Sun-Times Book Award. And the author himself is deeply involved in community organizations.