Efrain's Secret by Sofia Quintero 2010
IQ "I think about how often people are too busy judging what others in dire straits are doing when they should be giving thanks that they are not in a position to know with absolute certainty that they would not do the same." Efrain pg. 227
Efrain Rodriguez is going places. He is a high achiever (well on his way to being valedictorian) and determined to get into an Ivy League college. The main problem is his family can't afford to send him to an Ivy. His mother works long hours and his father left the family to live with a younger woman and start a new family with her. After Efrain receives his less-than-stellar (for an Ivy) SAT score, he realizes that he needs to take a SAT prep course, but his mother can't afford that either. All Efrain wants is to be able to go to an Ivy and make something of himself and be able to help his mother and younger sister out, so he turns to drug dealing. "Convinced that by temporarily capitulating to society's negative expectations of a boy like him, he can eventually defy them." (back cover). Soon Efrain is lying to everyone that he loves and it's proving to be a lot harder to get out of the drug selling trade than he thought it would be.
Efrain Rodriguez and his story is a must read. It's not enjoyable, I HATE that someone who works hard and gets good grades faces the very real possibility of not being able to go to the college of his/her dreams. But this is an important story, one that on the surface some readers may think they can not relate to. However, even if you can afford to go to whatever college you want (my guess is that most of us can't), you can still get something out of this story. The characters have a plethora of stories and they offer a glimpse into the lives of people that often get ignored by everyone. Stereotypes are shattered. Efrain's life is hard, "Most people use an alarm clock to wake up in the morning. I rely on my worries." (pg. 206) but he hardly complains, he simply states that he knows he has to work hard and do everything on his own. The few times he slips into complaint mode, it's understandable. The author does of an excellent job of showing the reasons as to why anyone would enter the drug dealing business through Efrain and his friend Nestor. They enter for different reasons; Efrain to pay for college, Nestor to take care of his family. The author does not paint drug dealing in a glittery light, she presents the facts and allows readers to determine on their own if they think what Efrain and Nestor did was justified. She shows the appeal drug dealing has. Efrain and Nestor saw no other way to make ends meet, they began selling drugs to help those they loved even though their dealing drugs hurt those who loved them the most. This is a novel about men and Thieu relationships with their family, friends, and girlfriends. Chingy (whose real name is Rashaan but he looks like Chingy, hence the nickname) and Efrain have a solid friendship, one that anyone would be lucky to have with their own best friend, same goes with Nestor and Efrain. It's a shame that they don't all hang out anymore (they stopped hanging out once Nestor dropped out of school and began selling drugs); their conversations are open and often times entertaining (especially Nestor and his urban legends. I also loved the part where they argue over whether the expression is "Word is bond" or "Word is born." I say word is bond!). Efrain and his father Rubio (which means "blonde" in Spanish, his real name is Cesar) have a tense relationship since Rubio walked out on Efrain, his little sister Amanda and his mother. Rubio is a womanizer,"The only thing Mandy and I got from Rubio is the last name Rodriguez but according to the U.S. Census, so do over eight hundred thousand other people. Rubio probably fathered half of them." (pg. 17) Efrain refuses to talk to Rubio, although Rubio is trying to make things right (he doesn't go about it in the best of ways but he's trying). Their relationship is filled with bumps, but there's hope.
I do wish that we had learned more about Chingy. Most of the book talks about the relationship between Nestor and Efrain. Nestor becomes a well developed character bu Chingy remains largely undeveloped. The reader knows a little bit about him, but I would have liked to learn more about Chingy. Also at times this novel read too much like a textbook or admissions guide to getting into college. Efrain and Chingy seemed to be lecturing at you. Their conversations seemed stiff for high school students. However, one character who remained candid and real was Candace. Candace is a girl Efrain is interested in and she has quite a story. She is a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, her family moved up to the Bronx after the hurricane hit. At first I was confused as to who she was living with (her mother, Mrs. Lamb and her aunt Ms. Lamb), but other than that her story is a great addition to the plot. Candace talks about why people didn't feel the need to leave New Orleans when they heard about the upcoming hurricane and she talks about the chaos that occurred afterward. Reading about the relationship between Candace and Efrain was one of the most delightful parts of the story. They have secrets but they are loyal to each other and they respect each other. In reading about their relationship all I could think about was 'where can I find a guy like Efrain?' Lol (I also wanted to know where I could find a teacher like Senorita Polanco).
Efrain's Secret at times seems to have too much going on. The author juggles lots of smaller stories, but the end result while a bit unbelievable is satisfying. There is a dramatic climax that is both expected and unexpected and the ending is not devastating, but it's not either. It's left open as it should be. The multiple stories of Efrain, his family, Nestor and Candace make this novel better and more unique. The story is never a depressing drag, after all it focuses on guys and their conversations are usually pretty funny :) I do think the author was too heavy handed in explaining the college process, but it's important for people to know and if teens aren't learning about how to apply for college from their school counselors than I hope a book like this becomes an indirect resource. The SAT vocab word that heads each chapter is a nice touch.
Disclosure: Received from Doret as part of a trade (I gave her Crossing). I'd say we both got a good deal out of it =) thanks so much Doret!