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Richie's Picks: 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 
"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 
"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 
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 
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_ (
Moderator  _ 
Moderator  _ 

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.

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