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Efrain's Secret Library Binding – April 13, 2010
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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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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. This is smart YA with a message and will appeal to teens and adults looking for some insight into kids who struggle to stay true to their goals for themselves and sometimes take a wrong turn. This is a powerful novel that will stay with readers long after it's done precisely because Quintero doesn't tie things up neatly or unrealistically.
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.
Unfortunately, (as in most peoples' lives), money is the biggest factor in trying to change your life. Efrain has filled out every financial aid form he can possibly think of in order to get to the Ivy League, but his SAT score had to be 2100 in order to get taken, and his test comes in at a very good number of 1650; unfortunately, he needs far better to get through those ivy-laden doors. He will need extra money almost immediately in order to pay the application fee to take the test again, as well as try to save for the $11,000+ room and board that he will need each year...and there isn't a job in the world that will allow him to go after what he wants. Well...there is one job that his old friend Nestor (who dropped out of high school) is currently working at. And soon, Efrain throws away all his pride in order to do something criminal. It's not really as if he's changed; he simply thinks that doing one bad thing for a great cause isn't all that bad. The police, however, feel differently, and Efrain's life is quickly turned upside down.
His dreams out the window and his family heartbroken, Efrain must find a way to right the wrong he's done. In addition, he must find the strength and the courage to stand up for a friend, even though his future will be changed forever.
As a single mom who works her behind off to make sure that my senior daughter can go to college, I completely related to this story of bravery, hardship, and financial woe. I have long been a proponent that the most deserving people should be the people who receive good things in the world, not just the people who can afford it. There are times in all our lives where we see the "easy get," but we have to stay on the straight-and-narrow, even when we see others "veer" off and end up getting what they want instead of what they deserve. There are many important lessons taught in this book that people of all ages need to learn. I applaud the author wholeheartedly.
Amy Lignor, [...] Reviewer