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Dark Dude

Dark Dude

4.5 12
by Oscar Hijuelos

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He didn't say good-bye. He didn't leave a phone number. And he didn't plan on coming back - ever.

In Wisconsin, Rico could blend in. His light hair and lighter skin wouldn't make him the "dark dude" or the punching bag for the whole neighborhood. The Midwest is the land of milk and honey, but for Rico Fuentes, it's really a last


He didn't say good-bye. He didn't leave a phone number. And he didn't plan on coming back - ever.

In Wisconsin, Rico could blend in. His light hair and lighter skin wouldn't make him the "dark dude" or the punching bag for the whole neighborhood. The Midwest is the land of milk and honey, but for Rico Fuentes, it's really a last resort. Trading Harlem for Wisconsin, though, means giving up on a big part of his identity. And when Rico no longer has to prove that he's Latino, he almost stops being one. Except he can never have an ordinary white kid's life, because there are some things that can't be left behind, that can't be cut loose or forgotten. These are the things that will be with you forever.... These are the things that will follow you a thousand miles away.

For anyone who loved The Outsiders -- and for anyone who's ever felt like one -- Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Oscar Hijuelos brings to life a haunting choice and an unforgettable journey about identity, misidentity, and all that we take with us when we run away.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Hijuelos, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, has said that his first YA novel is a novel he wished he'd read as a teen. His themes are classic-alienation, the search for identity-but his approach is pure Hijuelos: Cuban-American, musical and very, very funny.

Rico Fuentes, his 15-year-old narrator, is a "dark dude" in late-'60s Harlem, a Cuban-American so light-skinned that, he says, he carries " 'get-jumped,' money 'cause I attracted both Latino and black takeoff artists who saw my white skin as a kind of flashing neon sign that said 'Rob me.' " His best buddy Jimmy, who illustrates Rico's "homegrown" comic-book stories about superheroes like "El Gato" and "the Latin Dagger," is becoming a junkie. Rico's mother pretends not to understand his English, blaming him for the childhood illness that put the family in debt. Kids get shot at school ("an incident involving gunplay," as the principal describes it) and his dad wants to send him to his uncle's military school in Florida.

Rico, an outsider par excellence, is good at finding paths still further out. He's got Huckleberry Finn from literature as one type of guide and Gilberto from the neighborhood as another. Gilberto, "the big brother I never had," has won the lottery and used it toward tuition at Milton College in rural Wisconsin. Grabbing Jimmy, Rico lights out for Gilberto's place, in search of his freedom, like Huck and Jim. Hijuelos gives Rico months on a communal farm with hippies, a small-town girlfriend with a cop brother, and encounters with racists before his a-ha! moment ("Where you are doesn't change who you are"). Like Dorothy returning from Oz(an adventure also referenced here), the inevitability of the conclusion doesn't matter: it's the smooth, jazzy flow of the narration, the slides between Rico's rootlessness and the book's strong sense of place that count. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
KLIATT - Janis Flint-Ferguson
Rico Fuentes is a struggling New York City high school student. Although he is Latino, he is cursed with the fair skin and hair of an Irish ancestor and in 1960s New York that makes him the enemy. In his public high school he is a victim. Tired of being bullied, by classmates and by his mother, Rico decides that the time has come to leave New York. One of his older friends, Gilberto, has taken lottery winnings and is in Wisconsin to go to college. Rico decides that if it is good enough for Gilberto, it is good enough for him, so he convinces his friend Jimmy, another victim of abuse, to join him. The two hitchhike their way cross-country to the farm that Gilberto rents in Wisconsin. There they become part of a commune of artists and students who live in a house without indoor plumbing. For Rico this is an eye-opening experience. High school readers will appreciate the struggles and the humor of being a "fish out of water." Rico becomes seriously involved with Sheri, the daughter of divorced parents, whose father is a drunk and whose mother offers to help Rico complete his high school diploma. But in the time away from New York City, Rico is still having a hard time determining his identity. Along with deciding what to do about his high school diploma, he also has to decide what to do about who he is. Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson
VOYA - Francisca Goldsmith
Winner of a Pulitzer Prize for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1989), Hijuelos joins the group of well-established literary authors who have intentionally written a young adult novel. Borrowing aspects of his own Cuban American youth-early illness, Spanish Harlem, 1960s television iconography-Hijuelos weaves a compelling and insightful tale of one outsider's coming-of-age. Unlike his friends and family, Rico's white skin sets him apart in the eyes of the street. Tiring of a high school where little learning can happen and beatings are meted out from African American and Latino guys who see him as Other, not quite Latino, Rico and his friend Jimmy, a reformed heroin addict, flee to Wisconsin to live in the hippie farm household organized by their older New York friend Gilberto. Rico works through his guilt at leaving his stern Moms and often drunk Pops, his frustration at being unable to have his comics writing taken seriously either by publishers or Jimmy, a relationship with a troubled girlfriend, and continuing issues arising from ethnicity and appearance. Hijuelos throws a lot of issues into Rico's path, and the resolution is quick and tidy, but the imagery is rich and the content sure to engage teen readers. Reviewer: Francisca Goldsmith
Children's Literature - Kathie M. Josephs
What a simply fantastic book! How many times in your life have you wanted to just walk away and never look back? How many times have you not liked who you are? Many teens feel this in their darkest moments, and they come to a crossroads where they can make a decision that will have a tragic outcome or somehow survive and learn they can't run away from who they are. Rico is a young Cuban boy who inherited his Caucasian traits from his grandfather. As a teen living in Harlem and wanting to fit in, his white skin prevents this from happening. He is exposed to drugs, fights and goes to a public school where a student is shot in the hall. Jimmy, a good friend, draws wonderful comics and Rico keeps trying to tell him that they are good enough to be published. Believing this will never happen, Jimmy turns to selling drugs to get his money. When Rico has to rush his friend to the hospital after he is burned in one of the drug deals, Rico realizes that he has no future where he is and can only come up with one plan—running away. His plan develops and when Jimmy is well enough to go home, he talks him into running away with him to Wisconsin where his best friend Gilberto, who used to reside in Harlem, lives. After making it there safely and staying for some time, Rico again faces those who don't like something about him and he gets beaten within an inch of serious injuries. One day in July, something happens that makes both him and his friend Gilberto set out to retaliate as though they still lived in Harlem. Does Rico manage to go back home and become the Cuban that he is or has he honestly forgotten his heritage? The author does an amazing job at drawing the reader into each page. He doesnot pull any punches when describing events and this helps make the story so unbelievably real. Most of us want to believe that good overpowers evil and hate, but many live in environments where this is just simply not true. I know I was cheering for Rico throughout the book and absolutely could not put this book down. It is inspiring, poignant, realistic, and readers will be able to identify with the strong emotions found deeply embedded throughout the story. I highly recommend this book for both teens and adults. Reviewer: Kathie M. Josephs
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up

Rico Fuentes, 15, hasn't had an easy life. He spent part of his childhood in a hospital, his mother blames him for her misery, his loving father is a drunk, and, because of his light Cuban skin, he's hassled by peers. With escalating problems at his 1960s New York City school and his friend Jimmy spiraling dangerously out of control because of drugs, Rico decides to run away, taking Jimmy with him. They head for Wisconsin and Gilberto, who's gone off to college and is living on a hippie farm. There, in the "land of milk and honey," Rico saves Jimmy's life and finds acceptance-by others first and, ultimately, of himself. The protracted narrative is by turns sentimental, humorous, and sad, but Hijuelos creates a memorable character who will resonate with readers wrestling with their own identity issues.-Terri Clark, Smokey Hill Library, Centennial, CO

Kirkus Reviews
Fifteen-year-old Rico Fuentes, who refers to himself as the "palest Cubano who ever existed on the planet," feels impelled by circumstances involving drugs, truancy and family to flee Harlem for Wisconsin; it's the 1960s and his good friend Roberto, a lottery winner, is attending college and has rented a farm nearby. Hijuelos, who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989), explores issues of race, identity, prejudice and outsiderness in his affectionately written, sometimes raw teen debut. Smart, confused, a good-hearted bookworm from the ghetto who feels an affinity with Huck Finn and writes imaginative comic-book superhero stories, Rico ultimately comes to see that "where you are doesn't change who you are." In spite of several graphic scenes dealing with drugs and violence, this novel is very much geared to young adults; indeed, it sometimes seems as if the author is trying to pack in too much advice, making for a somewhat loose narrative. Even so, young readers will genuinely care about Rico and be carried along on his journey of discovery. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)
From the Publisher
"Dark Dude's journey toward self-discovery is a compelling read. Today's teens will be thrilled to discover a voice as authentic and accomplished as Oscar Hijuelos's" - Ellen Hopkins, New York Times bestselling author of Crank and Glass

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
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980L (what's this?)
File size:
452 KB
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt


Well, even if they say life can be shitty, you really don't know the half of it until you've dug up an outhouse. This was the fourth time in twelve months that I'd gotten down into the nitty-gritty and goop of it -- and I'd had enough, for crying out loud. But I was doing it for my old neighborhood bro Gilberto, not just 'cause he'd have smacked me in the head if I didn't, but as a thank-you-man for letting me stay on his farm for so long. That's right, a farm.

Anyway, let me tell you about how this New York City kid ended up around the corner from where he lived, about a thousand miles away, in Wisconsin.

First of all, you've got to be hearing music just now -- not with corny-assed violins and trumpets, but maybe some cool Motown -- you know, something way better than the kind of diddly country or polka music you can go nuts trying to avoid on the radios out here. Then you got to imagine time going backwards, and everything slipping into reverse, not to when there were dinosaurs or medieval-assed knights trying to slay dragons, but just a few years.

Now picture me on my stoop, on a hot New York City summer afternoon, with two comic books -- a Spider-Man and a Fantastic Four -- rolled up in my back pocket and dying to be read. While some kids are playing stick-ball down the street, I'm fused to the stoop 'cause I'm supposed to be going to the A&P with my Moms, but she's been taking forever to get back from wherever she's been.

I'm on my former altar boy best behavior, despite the comics I've just "borrowed" from the stationery store, and I have a pious look on my face, the one I always put on while wishing I could be doing something really devious instead, like tossing water balloons or dumping out a full garbage can at unsuspecting strangers from the rooftop, stuff I never have the nerve to do.

So I was just sitting there when my pal Gilberto Flores, all six foot two of him, came bopping up the hill from Amsterdam Avenue, wearing the biggest grin I'd ever seen in my life.

No one else looked like Gilberto. He wore a giant Afro, had a scar down the side of his face, big ears, and smiled all the time.

I was always glad to see him.

"So, Gilberto, why you looking so happy?" I asked him.

He could barely contain himself. "Rico, my man," he said, a toothpick between his lips, and stroking his goatee the way he did whenever a girl with a nice butt went walking by, "I'm rich!"

"What do you mean, 'rich'?" I asked, used to hearing all kinds of BS from him.

He strode over to me and planted one of his size-twelve feet on the highest step. "You remember that lottery ticket I bought a few weeks back at Jack's stationery?"

"Sure, I was with you," I said, nodding.

"Well," he started, bending his lanky frame closer to me. "I hit that jackpot. And I do mean hit it!"

"No shit?" I said, jumping up. "You mean like a million?"

"Nah, man. I didn't get all the numbers," he said, shaking his head. "But enough of them to make me some beaucoup bucks!" And he slapped me five.

"Like how beaucoup?" I expected him to say maybe a couple of thousand.

"A lot!" he said. "Enough to get me the hell out of here!"

"Yeah? How much?" I asked again.

He looked around the street. Then he pulled a little pad out of his back pocket and wrote down a number.

"Say what?" I smacked my forehead. "Damn, Gilberto, are you being for real? Like seventy-five thousand bucks?"

"Hey, not so loud!" he said. "And keep it under your hat, all right?"

"But for real?" I could feel my face heating up.

"You best believe it," he said, his smile stretching from ear to ear. "Anyways, I got something for you, my little bro."

Reaching into another pocket, he pulled out some bills, his fist tight around them, like they were drugs, slipping them into my hand.

"That's two hundred, but don't let on that I gave this to you, all right?"

Two hundred dollars! I didn't even look at them, just stuffed those bills into my pocket.

"But why you giving me this?" I asked.

"Because you were with me when I bought the ticket! Remember how I rubbed your head? It worked, man! You brought me the luck!"

"Yeah?" I asked, feeling proud of my head.

"You most certainly did!" Then he grabbed me by my neck and started rubbing my head as if to relive the moment. I hated the lame-o, itchy-ball crew cut my Moms insisted I get every summer, but hey, didn't it turn out to be his lucky charm?

He spun me around a few times, then said, "Go buy your Moms a new dress, or whatever you want. Buy some of those sci-fi books you're so crazy about, all right?"

"Damn," I said. "Nobody's ever given me these kinds of bucks before." I felt like jumping up and down. "Thanks for the solid."

"Ah, it's nothing." He rapped me on my shoulder. "You're just my little bro, that's all."

Well, that was kind of true. At eighteen, and being three years older than me, Gilberto was like the big brother I never had. I mean, he was always teaching me things.

Like how to fly a kite from a tenement rooftop without tumbling off the edge.

And to tame pigeons with a broomstick and red handkerchief.

To carve toy cars from balsa wood, and to whistle really loud.

The way to sneak into the movie theater on 110th Street on Saturday afternoons.

How chicks trust guys who wear penny loafers.

And how to tell if a girl is wearing falsies. ("Their boobies get this crumply thing happening.")

Gilberto even tried to get me into ice skating once (sort of ), taking me down to Wollman Rink in Central Park, where he, an ace speed skater, used to meet his fancy, East-Sidey girlfriends. No matter how many times I wiped out, he was always there to help me up, telling me, "Try it again, Rico, 'cause the next time you'll nail it."

I mean if it wasn't for Gilberto, I probably wouldn't have ever gone anywhere outside the neighborhood, the guy always telling my Moms, who was forever watching my ass, that he would look after me. His eyes were so sincere and warm that she would cut me slack sometimes, as long as I was with him. So I guess we were like brothers, even if we didn't look that way, Gilberto being this dark-skinned Puerto Rican and me being, well, the palest cubano who ever existed on the planet. No joke.

In fact, Gilberto was one of the only guys in the neighborhood who didn't rag on me for looking like a whitey. Sometimes he got into the faces of dudes who'd call me a white "Wonder bread" MF, and he even whupped some butts on my behalf.

Now, we just hung out on my stoop, trying to stay cool. And I don't mean cool in the street way, but because it was just so freaking hot. As in pigeons looking dazed while they pecked around the sidewalk. As in sewers stinking like hell.

"My man, I got to be going now," he said, getting up. "Got me a date." And he did this thing with his hands, like he was drawing the shape of a really fly-looking girl in the air. "I'll catch you later, Rico, all right?"

"Sure. Have fun, man," I answered. "And thanks for the bucks, Gilberto," I added, feeling suddenly rich myself. As he went off whistling, all merrily, towards the avenue, I didn't envy his big win, like I might have with someone else. It was just one of those things -- like it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

For a while I watched that stickball game run its course down the hill, the guys playing it, with just broomsticks and thirty-five-cent pink Spaldings, really cursing up a

storm and smoking pot between innings: They didn't give a damn about anything or anybody, like they didn't have any respect. I mean, there was this skinny Puerto Rican kid, named Poppo, jumping up on a car hood to catch a fly ball and leaving his sneaker prints and dents on it, like who the hell cared! And you could even tell which of them was a junkie, like this guy named Bumpy. He just sort of took forever to get his act together at the plate (which was just a manhole cover). With an unlit cigarette dangling between his lips, he was moving real slow as if he were a scuba diver in the ocean, or one of those astronauts walking on the moon.

But waiting for my Moms was getting old, and like I said, it was hot. So freakin' hot that I was tempted to jump in front of the open fire hydrant on the other side of the hill -- my stoop was just on top of the street -- all these little kids running in and out of its gushing waters to escape the heat. And let me tell you: That spray looked inviting as hell. But I guess I believed I was getting a little too old for that, even if I really wanted to, so I just packed the stoop in and headed upstairs, figuring that my Moms would turn up sooner or later.

Copyright © 2008 by Oscar Hijuelos


Meet the Author

Lori Marie Carlson is the author of two novels, two landmark bilingual poetry anthologies, and many other young adult and children's books. Oscar Hijuelos is a first-generation Cuban American and the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He has written six novels, the most recent of which is A Simple Habana Melody. They live in New York City.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
August 24, 1951
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
B.A., City College of the City University of New York, 1975; M.A.,1976

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Dark Dude 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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EGHunter01 More than 1 year ago
*Well-developed and engaging characters. *Intriguing. *Fascinating. *Believable. *Good summer reading. Allows the readers to truly understand the mind and emotions of a teen trying to survive in New York City. *Holds your attention. *Read the entire novel in one weekend. *Thought provoking. *Encourages the readers to follow their interests, their goals, and set dreams into motion to become reality. **Some situation descriptions may be frightening and cause readers to feel their heart racing as well as cause agitation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
oraymw More than 1 year ago
I cannot think of any situation where I would rather read this than The Catcher in the Rye. Essentially, this book is a cheap knock-off of Catcher in the Rye. The voice is nearly identical, except that Oscar Hijuelos swears a lot more (by a lot I mean about every page). The main character, Rico, is Holden Caulfield with Cuban parents. The story is very similar, kid runs away to find himself. The setting is similar until Rico runs off to live on a farm. The main point is that this is a cheaper, more shallow version of Catcher in the Rye. There is no plot, so if you really like a strong plot, then this isn't you. If you like beautiful prose, this isn't for you. If you like deep characters that have some sort of realization, this book isn't for you. If you like to read about people swearing, drinking, and smoking pot, then this book is for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
How many teens have wished they could escape the darkness of their lives and live in a land of milk and honey? Rico Fuentes does just that in DARK DUDE by Oscar Hijuelos.

Rico is one-hundred-percent Cuban, yet he struggles daily to identify with his Cuban peers. His mom and little sister have brunette hair and cinnamon colored skin. His dad has both dark wavy hair and dark eyes. But Rico, with hazel eyes and fair skin with freckles, looks white. In Harlem, that pretty much guarantees daily harassment.

When Rico has to change to a public school, he is exposed to drugs, crime, and violence like never before. Early in the school year, a student is shot and Rico watches in shock as his new classmates celebrate a day off. Soon Rico's skipping school to avoid random beatings. When his pops finds out, he warns Rico that he'll be spending the summer with his military uncle in Florida.

It's not until his friend Jimmy is rushed to the hospital due to a drug-related accident that Rico realizes he has only one way out. He must find a way to Wisconsin to stay with his friend, Gilberto, on his farm. When Jimmy is released, Rico talks him into going to Wisconsin with him. After a road trip to remember on the way to the farm, they wonder what they've gotten themselves into when Gilberto immediately puts them to work painting the outside of the dilapidated farmhouse in exchange for their room and board.

Rico finds farm life in Wisconsin to be much slower than in Harlem. He spends a lot of time re-reading his favorite author, Mark Twain. Then he finds himself attracted to a girl whose father has a drinking problem. He'd never realized that his own experiences with an alcoholic dad could be helpful to someone else. As the months go by, Rico begins to look at himself, and those around him, differently. More importantly, he begins to accept himself.

DARK DUDE is a gritty read. The projects, the bars, and the backstreets of Harlem become real to the reader as Mr. Hijuelos drops you into each scene, and he creates a character with so much promise, but with so much working against him, that we cannot stop at each chapter break. Instead we read on, praying that nothing bad will happen to Rico, and when it does, we find ourselves urging Rico on, to find the best in himself, to reach for those dreams we know he wants. This is a realistic yet inspiring read for anyone who wants to find a way to make a different choice, to find the person they really want to be.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book !!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago