Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico's Most Dangerous Drug Cartel

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico's Most Dangerous Drug Cartel Book Poster Image
Grim, brutal true story of teen assassins.

Parents say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

For readers with a serious interest in contemporary history, Wolf Boys offers an abundance of information on everything from Mexican political parties to NAFTA and the workings of the DEA. 

Positive Messages

While often overwhelmingly difficult, a choice can be made to take your life in a direction away from drugs and crime.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Laredo police detective Robert Garcia and federal prosecutor Angel Moreno (both children of Mexican immigrants) are dedicated, resourceful and determined to make a difference in a community many consider a hopeless cause.


Violence is pervasive and inescapable in Wolf Boys, and readers won't be able to keep track of the body count. People are shot, stabbed, kidnapped, tortured, even fed alive to tigers. Women and children beaten and sometimes killed. People are brutally murdered for revenge or simply as part of doing business. The killers, both adults and teenagers, go about their grisly work in an almost casual manner. Murder for them is no big deal.


While nothing sexual is graphically described, cartel members "vacation" at brothels and Gabriel begins his relationship with Christina when she's only 15.


A few instances of "f--k" and "s--t."


Mentions of brand names of everything from beer to retail stores is a constant. Cartel member dress in Versace and Valentino and drive Mercedes and BMWs. Gabriel is a fan of Tupac Shakur.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters smoke, drink, deal drugs, and use drugs. The neighborhoods of Laredo (at the time the book takes place) are filled with families whose livelihoods depend on a drug-dealing family member. Some of the young killers (including Gabriel) use a combination of tranquilizers and Red Bull.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico's Most Dangerous Drug Cartel is the true story of two boys from Laredo, Texas, who became assassins for a powerful and vicious gang of drug smugglers and the Mexican-American police detective determined to catch them. This is a book for very mature readers, as the violence is constant, brutal, and committed by characters feeling no remorse for their actions. People are shot, stabbed, kidnapped, tortured, even fed alive to tigers. Women and children are beaten and sometimes killed. Author Dan Slater, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal, offers a serious and extremely detailed account of the political, economic, and social complexities of the region that may overwhelm many readers.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Teen, 14 years old Written byskullqueenkiller1 May 15, 2018


its awesome. kid opinion. its proprietor.

What's the story?

WOLF BOYS puts a tragic human face on the havoc wrecked by the drug wars in Mexico and Laredo, Texas. Gabriel Cardona is a bright, popular high school athlete who goes from stealing cars to becoming a commandante and assassin in Los Zetas, a notorious drug cartel. Burt Reta is recruited for Los Zetas at age 12 or 13 and by 17 is known as a "mythic killer." Both come of age in a Laredo that is poor and increasingly the epicenter of the drug smuggling between Mexico and the United States. Author Dan Slater offers a chilling picture of a generation of young men along the border who find their identity in being feared and their reward in expensive cars and unimaginable amounts of cartel cash. While Gabriel is conflicted about the life he's chosen, Burt is not, killing simply because it likes it. Slater follows the boys from their earliest days with the cartel to their arrest and eventual convictions for murder.

Is it any good?

A violent, harrowing, and shocking true story that reads like a thriller and powerfully brings home the catastrophic cost of a losing war on drugs. Wolf Boys offers a vivid and sobering look at life for young men living in poverty along the Texas-Mexico border. Young men who see no part for themselves in the American Dream and are hard-pressed to resist the lure of money and power offered by working for the cartels.

While author Dan Slater has done a masterful job of research, the dozens of characters and amount of detail involved in the telling of the story could be a challenge for teens not accustomed to reading serious adult nonfiction. Parents may want to vet it first before passing it onto a teen.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Wolf Boys. Is it so extreme and constant that it's hard to continue reading? Or is it necessary in a nonfiction account where the author has to lay out the facts of the case? 

  • Gabriel was a big fan of Mortal Kombat. What impact do you think violent video games like that have on teens who may feel isolated or believe that life is stacked against them?

  • How do you think the killers' drug use affected their decisions and actions? 

Book details

  • Author: Dan Slater
  • Genre: Biography
  • Topics: History
  • Book type: Non-Fiction
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: September 13, 2016
  • Number of pages: 352
  • Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
  • Last updated: October 30, 2020

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history and thrillers

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate