2003. Chicago Review Press. 286 pp.
This book has been the most “lost/stolen” book in my high school library. When another copy “took a walk” this year, I decided to check out the remaining copy to see for myself why it’s been so hard to keep on the shelves. “Once a King” is actually the sequel to Sanchez’s first book “My Bloody Life,” however, I had to read this one first since my library didn’t have any more copies of “My Bloody Life” left for me to borrow as they had also “taken a walk.”
Reymundo became a member of the Latin Kings gang in Chicago when he was just a young kid. His abusive home life, homeless street life, and early gang life with the Kings is detailed in “My Bloody Life.” In “Once a King” Reymundo explains why he decided to walk away from the Latin Kings, how hard it was to turn his back on this former way of life, and how/why he hurt so many in his attempt to rehabilitate himself in prison and in his life without the Kings.
From the first pages of his Introduction, readers are caught up in Sanchez’s life, and his sincerity. He explained why he had to choose a fictitious name for himself and his characters to protect his life and theirs from retaliation by the gang. In “Once a King,” Sanchez gives a no-holds barred look at gang life, and the effects it had on him mentally, physically and emotionally. From his scarred background comes a phoenix rising from the ashes, as we see Reymundo trying to make something of his life. His goal in sharing his painful experiences is to keep teens who are reading his book away from gang life.
“Once a King” is riddled with raw language and descriptive narrative, but its no holds barred method of communication will entice the most reluctant of readers aged 14 and older. Public and high school libraries should make it a point to have many copies of Sanchez’s books on their shelves, including “Lady Q: The Rise and Fall of a Latin Queen” written with Sonia Rodriguez, as teens need to understand that gang life is not everything they have glorified it to be.
Though multiple copies of his first two books have “taken a walk” from my high school library shelves, it is just a matter of time until fresh copies find their way back onto them to educate a fresh generation of students. I will look for “Lady Q” and “My Bloody Life” over the summer, and add them to my reading repertoire. You should do the same.