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Efrain's Secret Hardcover – April 13, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 8 Up—Efrain, 17, is the pride of his Bronx high school. He's respected by students, teachers, and family, and will probably make valedictorian. He tutors failing students after school. He wants to be the first Latino mayor of New York. If he can get his SAT scores up to 2200, he (we're meant to believe) has a shot at Harvard. His guidance counselor thinks he won't cut it at an elite school with his inner-city education, so he shouldn't bother applying. His divorced parents are poor and he knows dealing drugs is the only fast way to make tuition money. So starts an excruciating 50 pages of should he or shouldn't he, followed by 100 more of the slow buildup to Efrain's de rigeur arrest and tailspin. Quintero has an exacting ear for street slang, and despite the occasional expository creak, her dialogue sings. She has an obvious affection for her narrator, yet he never surprises readers. Nestor, his longtime friend and drug-dealing mentor, is more creatively realized. The last quarter of the book is action-packed and emotionally potent—it's a shame that the lead-up is so painstaking. The far-fetched premise—that Efrain feels he must deal to make tuition—calls Quintero's entire narrative into question. Even the worst guidance counselor has heard of student loans, let alone top Ivy League tuition waivers for poor students. Middle school teens, however, may relate to the novel's strong characters and gritty, if contrived, situations.—Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* To 17-year-old Latino valedictorian-to-be Efrain, the number 1650 is like a death sentence. With an SAT score like that, there’s no way he is going to get into Harvard and escape the poverty that has so exhausted his single mother, estranged Dominican father, and South Bronx community at large. With a $32,000 tuition staring him in the face, Efrain turns to his old pal Nestor, a dropout drug peddler who hooks him up with a similar gig. Even the arrival of a new girl in school, a gutsy Katrina survivor named Candace, can’t knock Efrain from his resolve to earn some serious cash. There’s nothing new here in terms of plot—you can see the hard life lessons and tragedy coming from way up the block—but Quintero imbues her characters with unexpected grace and charm. Nestor, for example, is perceptive and funny, and the drug-dealing scenes are filled with realistic small talk and buffoonery rather the pulse-pounding terror seen in movies. Mostly, though, it is Quintero’s effortless grasp of teen slang that gives her first-person story its heart. “Don’t front now like you weren’t stressing me,” Efrain tells Nestor, and hiding behind the code is an entire lifetime of conflicted emotions. Grades 8-11. --Daniel Kraus
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (April 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375847065
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375847066
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,186,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

After graduating from Columbia University with a BA in history-sociology and an MPA from its School of International and Public Affairs, Sofia Quintero began her first career as a policy analyst and advocate. She worked for various nonprofit organizations and government agencies including the Vera Institute of Justice, Hispanic AIDS Forum, and the New York City Independent Budget Office. After years of working on diverse policy issues, however, Sofia heeded her muse to pursue an entertainment career.

Determined to write edgy yet intelligent novels for women who love hip hop even when hip-hop fails to love them in return, Sofía wrote her debut novel EXPLICIT CONTENT under the pen name Black Artemis. Booklist said of her debut, "Fans of Sister Souljah's The Coldest Winter Ever will find this debut novel just as tantalizing. . ." Since then Sofia has authored four more novels and almost twice as many short stories and novellas including her award-winning young adult debut EFRAIN'S SECRET (Knopf 2010.)

She recently earned an MFA in writing and producing TV at the TV Writers Studio of Long Island University and contributed the children's anthology WHAT YOU WISH FOR, the proceeds of which go to build libraries for Darfuri children in Chad. Her journalistic writings have been published in Urban Latino, New York Post, Ms., Cosmopolitan for Latinas and El Diario/La Prensa.

As an educator, she is a writing mentor at Urban Word NYC, a teaching artist at the National Book Foundation's reading program BookUpNYC and the co-publisher of the hip-hop feminist curriculum Conscious Women Rock the Page. Sofia was nominated for the Women's Media Center Social Media Award in 2010 and is completing her next young adult novel SHOW AND PROVE.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Very Merry Shakespeare on July 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I personally believe all young adults from all backgrounds, countries, and financial "cliques" should go to their local bookstore and pick up a copy of this fantastic debut novel, that teaches us exactly how really difficult are the choices we have to make in life.

This book focuses on a young man by the name of Efrain. Efrain is one of those model students, who's headed straight for valedictorian status when his senior year comes to a close. He has put all his time and energy into getting the perfect SAT score in order to go to an Ivy League school to further his education. This young Latino man is incredibly smart, polite, his friends like him, his teachers love and want to write recommendations for him, and he serves as the head of household for his mom and younger sister. His mother is an extremely hard-worker who wants nothing more than for her son to get the "best" that life has to offer. Although she is separated from their father, Rubio, the man still lives down the street with the new family he traded his old family in for.

Not only does Efrain love his family, and works his "brain" off in order to get where he's going to secure the future he desperately wants for himself, but he also has met up with a new transfer to his school named Candace Lamb. Candace is another extremely bright young adult who originally came from New Orleans. She lost most of her family in the horrible hurricane, and is slowly trying to find the "spirit" that she once had in abundance. When she begins to date Efrain and learn about the struggle he is going through financially, she begins to come around. He becomes the one she can talk to about the horrific past she's been through, and she begins to reach out and trust someone again with her emotions.
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Format: Hardcover
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.

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...
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Format: Hardcover
Efrain is smart, and he knows it. He works hard in school and wants to go to Harvard, but getting there from his South Bronx neighborhood isn't so easy. He doesn't have the cash to take an SAT prep course to improve his score, and is frustrated by the disparity he sees around him and what he knows other kids have handed to them. He is never whiny about those disparities, but they are starkly presented in this story about race, class, ambition, friendship and family. He has the brains, but not necessarily the means, until he starts dealing drugs on the side, which at first seems an easy solution to provide a little extra for his family and be able to not scrape by. Even though it's something he's disdained in the past, Efrain goes from baby steps into a second life, one that has its own codes, rules, and, in a sense, family. He's always considered himself above all that, and is lured in in part for the money to pay for his classes, but in part because it reconnects him with his old friend Nestor. He's also dealing with seeing his dad and his new wife and kid, while his mom struggles to make ends meet, and a new girl in school who he wants to impress. Quintero fleshes out all of her characters, and while Efrain has our sympathies, the others, especially Candace, whose family came from post-Katrina New Orleans to New York, push him to learn and grow.

This novel isn't simply a morality lesson or about drug dealing or Efrain's financial circumstances. He's also observing how the choices his friends make affect their families and futures. Quintero weaves in real-life news like free tuition programs for low-income families as well as pop culture and history along with the complexities of growing up as Efrain does, with a system that feels stacked against him.
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