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Efrain's Secret by Sofia Quintero
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Efrain's Secret

by Sofia Quintero

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I did enjoy this book although it had some flaws. this book was completely amazing until about page 215. When Nestor was shot i was completely confused. The author left us hanging until Chingy's visit. I would have liked to find out if Nestor had died earlier in the story. Then it all started downhill especially the end. I wanted to know about his chances in collage but instead i found out that Efrain and Candace have no secrets. That was not the ending i expected to get out of this book. ( )
  Anthony_Ruscio | Feb 16, 2011 |
“Being brown and broke has been a seventeen-year-test in just how badly I want an average life… Why does the valedictorian have to choose between my class ring and this SAT prep class? Why does a clean-cut teenager have to decide between showing up to my minimum-wage job and going to the movies with the most popular girl in school? Why do I have to fight so hard just for the mere chance to have it all?” (pg. 52. Quotes taken from ARC – language is subject to change.)

Efrain Rodriguez is the highest-achieving student at his high school in the South Bronx, and despite lots of people telling him that he will never get in (and couldn’t pay for it even if he did), he has his heart set on the Ivy Leagues. But money weighs heavily on his mind – his mom is working long hours just to get by, and his dad hasn’t exactly taken a strong interest in Efrain’s life since having a baby with his new girlfriend. Efrain feels like he needs to take his financial situation into his own hands, and his afterschool tutoring job doesn’t cut it anymore. So when an old friend who deals drugs approaches him with a chance to make a lot of money fast, Efrain thinks about all those choices he is forced to make in his life because of money. He surprises himself by saying yes.

As Efrain is drawn deeper into the world of dealing, and as his lies to friends and family multiply, the reader can feel the moment when everything falls apart looming over Efrain. You know that it’s coming, and that the fallout is going to be awful – it’s just a matter of when. And if that reader is me, the reader will be banging her head against a wall and shouting “No Efrain Stop Stop Stop No!” Because he genuinely doesn’t want this life, and he really doesn’t need this life if he will allow himself to rely on the people around him. But when Efrain starts to list the things that are stacked against him, you can feel his desperation and start to understand how he could possibly make this decision that goes against every part of his judgment and his sense of morality.

Efrain’s relationships with his girlfriend, mother, and sister, are well drawn, but his relationships with the men in his life are especially complex. Efrain grew up with two best friends, Chingy and Nestor, but the group split when Nestor started dealing drugs. Chingy will no longer have anything to do with Nestor, and his changing relationships with these two boys over the course of the book are one of the most compelling parts of the story. Nestor, who brings Efrain in to the drug trade, could easily have been a stereotype of the bad drug-dealing kid. At first glance that is all you see. But as the story digs down a little bit deeper into his life, he becomes a genuinely sympathetic character – a choice that makes the story much more interesting and less reductive. Efrain’s relationship with his absentee father follows a similar arc.

I did find the dialogue uneven, especially between Efrain and Chingy - sometimes it flowed freely and genuinely, and other times it sounded a little bit like a skit written by a guidance counselor about getting in to college. Efrain and Chingy go from slangy, loose conversations to this:

“In order to be as accurate as possible, I couldn’t just develop one code. I had to create a unique algorithm for each and every college.”

It takes me a second to grasp his point. “Because Hunter College may place more emphasis on your SAT score than, say, Harvard might?”

“Exactly! And there’s no way to assess that unless you talk to someone at every admissiosn office or, better yet, compile statistics on incoming freshmen.” (pg. 81. Quotes taken from ARC – language is subject to change.)

Suddenly we’re inside some kind of college admissions manual. I appreciate that the author is trying to get some information on college admissions into the hands of teens who pick up this book, but it could have been done a little bit more organically. And honestly, I’m a big fan of letting a story be a story.

While I found that I did have to suspend my belief a couple of times during the course of the novel, Efrain’s voice and his struggles were enough to pull me into the story. ( )
  twonickels | Nov 12, 2010 |
EFRAIN'S SECRET by Sofia Quintero, Knopf, April 2010, 240p., ISBN: 978-0-375-84706-6; Libr. ISBN: 978-0-375-94706-3

"Welcome to your life
There's no turning back"
-- Tears for Fears, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World"

"'What freakin' college costs thirty grand?'
"'The best.'
"'Oh, is that right?' Snipes laughs again. 'What do they teach for thirty G's that you can't learn at the College of Mount Okeydoke?'
"'How to run the world.' It may sound like a slick response but that's real talk. 'And that's thirty G's per year and not including room and board.'
"Snipes finally straightens up. He finishes off his rum and sits back down beside me. 'You really out there slinging so you can afford to go to some rich white boy's college? Da Man's University.' He laughs at his own joke. I neither laugh nor answer. 'You think a nickel bag here, a white top there is enough to take you where you trying to go?'
"'With all due respect, why does it matter why I want to do this?' I ask. 'So long as my incentives fuel my hustle and move your product, we're both good.'
"He leans over and scoops the money off the table. 'You want D Man's U that bad?'
"'Yes, sir.'
"'I see you there,' he says. 'Not on no sellout shit either. I see you keeping it real. Representing. You gonna become one of my good friends in high places, aren't you, E.?'
"'I swallow. Damn straight.'"

Likely valedictorian Efrain Rodriguez may have broken the school record with his 1650 score on the SATs, but he is sure that he needs to retake the test in January and score much higher if he's going to have a shot at Harvard. Meanwhile, Mrs. Colfax, the guidance counselor at his South Bronx high school is betting against Efrain's success; his father, having now made a baby with a neighbor, is around the corner and of no use that Efrian can see; and his loving mother can do little more than work endlessly at her low-paying job in order to keep a roof over the heads of Efrain and his sister Mandy. Efrain's school has not provided all of the high school courses he really should have, and he desperately needs cash for a top-of-the-line SAT prep course. His afterschool tutoring gig is just not cutting it monetarily.

"Bus boy, bartender, ladies of the night
Grease monkey, ex-junky, winner of the fight
Walkin' on the streets it's really all the same
Selling souls, rock 'n' roll, any other game"
-- Huey Lewis and the News, "Workin' for a Livin'

And so Efrain tracks down his estranged friend Nestor, who gets him an afterschool job on the streets as one of Snipes's soldiers, selling drugs. Efrain momentarily encounters the thought that he should be pushing Nestor out of this high-stakes occupation -- rather than letting Nestor introduce him into it -- but this moment will, too, pass. And when he lets show some of his contempt for what he, himself, is doing, Nestor -- who has quit school to financially support the household in which his single mom and his big sister both have young children --gives Efrain his own take on careers:

"'No, the man's not only his job, but the jobs is the main part of who he is.' Nestor pauses as if to give the point time to sink. 'And if you think about it, E., it makes perfect sense. A man's job says a lot about him. It tells you what he's good at, what kind of people are around him most times, who relies on him for what...Man, just the fact that he has a job --- no matter what it is -- says something about the kind of man he is. So, no, how a man makes his ends may not be the end-all, be-all of who he is, but it's a big part of it, E. A real big part. So when I say a girl gets with you knowing that you're slinging, you gotta hold her suspect--'
"'And what if your girl doesn't know?' I ask.
"Nestor thinks about it for a second. Then he just shrugs. 'Then I guess the one who's suspect is you.'"

EFRAIN'S SECRET is quite an unusual tale. It has me thinking of Chris Lynch's INEXCUSABLE, that one being a story told from the point of view of a teen rapist who seeks to justify his inexcusable behavior.

In contrast to the Lynch story, the setup here is far more subtle because when thinking in terms of equal opportunity and social justice, I am naturally feeling attracted to this great student, this kid of color who dreams of making it from the inner city to the Ivies. I was further seduced by the fact that his guidance counselor is an incompetent and self-serving naysayer.

But Efrain Rodriguez is a calculating thug who cloaks himself in his disadvantages to justify his abhorrent behavior. He is a young man ready and willing to throw over his community; shrug off relationships (family, friends, teachers, girlfriend who anyone with half a brain would kill for); and thoroughly ignore the human effects of the business in which he becomes engaged and from which he begins reaping big bucks. F-everybody; I'm getting what I want, is Efrain's basic moral code. But since he's not an easy-to-hate loud, dumb jo...err..student athlete, it is easy to be taken in by him.

Pay close attention to the girlfriend from K-town Efrain throws overboard in his selfish scrambling. Her personal tale is the perfect counterpoint to that of this poor excuse for a human being. Sure, Efrain may, in fact, be persuaded to "do the right thing" (or do one right thing) in the end. But, by then, it's too late, baby.

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
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FTC NOTICE: Richie receives free books from lots of publishers who hope he will Pick their books. You can figure that any review was written after reading and dog-earring a free copy received. Richie retains these review copies for his rereading pleasure and for use in his booktalks at schools and libraries. ( )
  richiespicks | Apr 18, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375847065, Hardcover)

Ambitious high school senior Efrain Rodriguez dreams of escaping the South Bronx for an Ivy League college like Harvard or Yale. But how is his family going to afford to pay for a prestigious university when Moms has to work insane hours to put food on the table as it is? And Efrain wouldn’t dare ask that good-for-nothing father of his who has traded his family in for younger models. Left with few options, Efrain chooses to do something he never thought he would. He embarks on a double life—honor student by day, drug peddler at night—convinced that by temporarily capitulating to society’s negative expectations of a boy like him, he can eventually defy them.

Sofia Quintero makes a stunning debut writing for young adults with this gritty, complex, and real exploration of the life of an urban teen whose attempt to leave one world behind for a better one could cost him everything.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:54:43 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Ambitious high school senior and honor student Efrain Rodriguez makes some questionable choices in pursuit of his dream to escape the South Bronx and attend an Ivy League college.

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