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The Whole Sky Full of Stars    by Rene Saldana, Jr. order for
Whole Sky Full of Stars
by Jr., Rene Saldana
Order:  USA  Can
Wendy Lamb Books, 2007 (2007)

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* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Eighteen-year olds Barry and Alby have been best friends since first grade. When Barry's Pop died, Alby stood beside Barry, keeping his friend occupied and encouraging him to get out of the house. Alby was proud when he found hubcaps for the 1964 Ford Galaxie Pop had given Barry as a graduation gift. Besides their spending time together refurbishing the Ford, Pop trained Barry as a boxer, 'hitting the bags' since fifth grade. Before his death, Pop told Barry, 'Take care of her (Momma).' Momma works two jobs, fourteen-hour days, five to six days a week and it's taking a toll on her.

Barry notices that Alby is acting strange of late and using gambling lingo. The reputation of bully Ciro and his muscle gang is well-known. So, when Barry spots Alby talking to Ciro, he asks his friend, 'You okay, man?' Alby tells Barry 'Who do you think you are, thinking you need to come in and rescue me? I can take care of myself.' As Barry walks away he mutters to himself, 'It's called friendship, idiot!' Alby is indeed in trouble with loan shark Ciro, who has a broad attitude about giving out loans; interest free for a month and 15% interest the second month. Ciro also runs illegal poker nights in his garage. Alby has been told by Ciro not to tell anyone about the loans and card games.

As the time zooms closer for repaying Ciro $500, Alby only has $300. He devises a scheme to make money, suggesting that Barry enter the Man o' Might boxing competition coming to town in a week. With Alby as manager, there'll be easy money, with a 60/40 split. And if Barry's good enough and defeats each opponent, he can move to the Fence o' Fury contests. Barry knows those fights are brawls, but he thinks of Momma's deteriorating health - the money would come in handy. As Barry makes preparations in the locker room before the first match, he remembers Pop's words: 'It's all about technique, mi'jo. You've got to know it up here and in here' - pointing to his head and chest - 'If you do, there's no stopping you.'

Rene Saldana's The Whole Sky Full of Stars is a brisk, tension-building read, focusing on the abuse of a long-time friendship and examining whether the damage is redeemable. Saldana gives an insider's view of wheeling and dealing in underground boxing. Among his works are The Jumping Tree and Finding Our Way: Stories. The author is a big fan of boxing but not of gambling.

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