Dark Dude (en español)

Overview

Rico Fuentes tiene 15 años, vive en Harlem y es norteamericano de primera generacion. Estamos a los finales de los 60 a principios de los 70 del pasado siglo. Su padre y su madre son cubanos, de procedencia muy modesta y oscuros de tez, su hermana pequeña es tambien mulata. Su padre tiene problems con el alcohol.
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Overview

Rico Fuentes tiene 15 años, vive en Harlem y es norteamericano de primera generacion. Estamos a los finales de los 60 a principios de los 70 del pasado siglo. Su padre y su madre son cubanos, de procedencia muy modesta y oscuros de tez, su hermana pequeña es tambien mulata. Su padre tiene problems con el alcohol.
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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up–This is the Spanish-language version of Hijuelos’s award-winning novel (S & S, 2009). Rico Fuentes, 15, escapes from his Harlem home, and, like his favorite character Huck Finn, embarks on a road adventure with his friend Jimmy. They end up “thousand miles away,” cleaning the outhouse toilet on a remote farm in Wisconsin. Although the novel is set in the ’70s, Rico’s compelling story will speak to teenagers who face the same contradictions in today’s public schools and in homes where parents and kids live between two cultural worlds. Rico was born in New York, to Cuban parents who migrated to the U.S. before the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Besides the violence in his high school, his father’s tiredness after long and exhausting working days, his mother’s anguish counting every single penny, and Jimmy’s heroine addiction, Rico is constantly harassed by his schoolmates and neighbors because he is white and mistakenly taken for an Anglo-Saxon. In Wisconsin, surrounded by white people, he discovers the true meanings of race and cultural identity that go beyond skin color. This is a great novel and an important addition to collections in libraries serving communities with significant Cuban-American populations.–Freda Mosquera, Broward County Library, FL
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
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
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
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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9788444143163
  • Publisher: Everest de Ediciones y Distribucion, S.L.
  • Publication date: 11/1/2009
  • Language: Spanish
  • Edition description: Spanish-language Edition
  • Pages: 430
  • Sales rank: 1,431,847
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.60 (d)

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.

Biography

While reviewers often liken Oscar Hijuelos' dreamy, rich novels to the works of Gabriel García Márquez, Hijuelos himself takes exception to the comparison. These reviewers are "myopic," he told a writer for The New York Times. "I love Yeats and Flann O'Brien."

And the language in Hijuelos' novels is indeed as poetic as the language of his Irish heroes. When The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, the story of two Cuban brothers who move to Spanish Harlem in the 1950s to make their mark as singers, appeared in 1990, readers and critics waxed ecstatic about Hijuelos' writing.

Hijuelos, a second-generation Cuban-American who was born in New York City, writes about assimilation and identity, love and loss, and the power -- and pain -- of family life. In Our House in the Last World, Hijuelos' first book, he explores the world of memory and displacement, following the fortunes of a Cuban family transplanted to New York in the 1940s. In The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, for which Hijuelos received the Pulitzer Prize, Hijuelos created the Castillo brothers, Nestor and Cesar. Their story was recounted through Cesar's memories and fantasies, as he lived out his last days in a seedy hotel. In researching the book, Hijuelos steeped himself in Latin music from the period and in his own remembrances of his childhood on Manhattan's 118th Street. The result is a highly charged yet tender distillation of past, suffused with a crystalline sense of detail that brings Nabokov to mind.

Hijuelos attributes some of this obsession with memory to his heritage. "Latins are predisposed to thinking about the past," he told the Times. "Catholicism has a lot to do with it because Catholicism is a contemplation of the past, of symbols that are supposed to be eternally present."

With The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien (1993), he took his exploration of memory in a different direction, telling the story from the perspectives of several female narrators, and stretching them across several generations. In 1999s Empress of the Splendid Season, he switched perspectives again for the story of a cleaning woman whose life is a stark counterpoint to that of her wealthy employer's. Three years later in A Simple Habana Melody, Hijuelos returned to "when the world was good," in 1920s Havana with a love story told by a Cuban composer whose infatuation inspires him to write the most famous song of his career.

Good To Know

Writers Donald Barthelme and Susan Sontag were among Hijuelos's teachers at City College of the City University of New York.
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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 24, 1951
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., City College of the City University of New York, 1975; M.A.,1976

Read an Excerpt

one

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

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First Chapter

ONEWell, 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.
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Introduction

Discussion Questions

1. What are some of the main challenges Rico and his family face living in Harlem? Describe Gilberto's and Jimmy's experiences also.

2. List some of the characteristics, beyond the physical, that make Rico different. What characteristics does he show while living in Harlem?

3. How does Rico fit in his environment in Harlem? How does the community relate to him? Consider the Jo Mama School shooting, and the drug dealing and heroin use with Jimmy.

4. How does Rico view his light skin color? How does his view change from Harlem to Wisconsin? Does he feel comfortable in his own skin?

5. Rico hit a low, where he wants to escape his family, school, and street life in Harlem. He asks Jimmy to show him how to use heroin. How does this become a turning point in their lives?

6. The feelings of hopelessness for both Rico and Jimmy culminate in Jimmy catching fire. How does Rico rescue Jimmy? What do we learn about Rico?

7. Discuss the hitchhiking trip that Rico and Jimmy take as they run away from New York. Would this make you more or less likely to hitchhike yourself? Of all the characters they meet, who stands out most for you?

8. Exploring the bonds that bind a family is a major theme in this story. What torments Rico as he leaves New York? How does he relate to his family while he is in Wisconsin? How does the "family" in the farmhouse affect Rico and Jimmy?

9. The book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is Rico's favorite. How does his story parallel that of Huck Finn's?

10. Arriving in Wisconsin feels like a dream to Rico and Jimmy. Describe some of their adjustments and differences. How does Rico'sfeelings of being an "outsider" continue?

11. Gilberto is a major influence on Rico. How difficult is it for Rico when Gilberto moves from Harlem to go to college in Wisconsin? Then, when Rico comes to the farm Gilberto is Rico's guide. Discuss the bond between Gilberto and Rico.

12. Blond, blue-eyed, educated Midwesterner Sharon becomes Rico's first real girlfriend. How does their relationship help both of them grow?

13. How do Jimmy and Rico feel when they complete the Dark Dude comic book and submit it to DC Comics? What does this show us about Rico? Discuss the outcome of the submittal and the letter from DC Comics. Were you surprised?

14. What do you imagine is the next chapter in Rico's journey?

15. What makes people who they are? Is it how they look? Their language? Their ethnic heritage? Where they grow up? Discuss the elements of the book that support your answers.

Activities

1. Rico and Jimmy create a comic book series with their superhero, the Dark Dude. Try creating a comic book. Create a superhero that reflects characteristics you would like to embody. Write or illustrate it yourself, or get a partner. There are good guides in the book on how to get your comic published. Do you think you could get yours published?

2. Regional language is a distillation that reflects ethnicity, culture, and class. The language of Harlem included "jive," "lame," and "dark dude." In the book the language of Wisconsin includes "outhouse," "hankering," and "neat." Find more examples from the book, making lists of New York City words and Wisconsin words. What do these words reflect about the cultures and ethnicities they come from? Can you create a list of words that reflect your region's language? Compare it to other regions.

3. Find Internet images, books, and magazines that have pictures of Harlem and also of farmland Wisconsin in the late 1960s. Try creating a photo collage that reflects the two very different environments. Then make a list of similarities and differences. How strange would it be to move from one to the other for you? How might it change you?

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.

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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. What are some of the main challenges Rico and his family face living in Harlem? Describe Gilberto's and Jimmy's experiences also.

2. List some of the characteristics, beyond the physical, that make Rico different. What characteristics does he show while living in Harlem?

3. How does Rico fit in his environment in Harlem? How does the community relate to him? Consider the Jo Mama School shooting, and the drug dealing and heroin use with Jimmy.

4. How does Rico view his light skin color? How does his view change from Harlem to Wisconsin? Does he feel comfortable in his own skin?

5. Rico hit a low, where he wants to escape his family, school, and street life in Harlem. He asks Jimmy to show him how to use heroin. How does this become a turning point in their lives?

6. The feelings of hopelessness for both Rico and Jimmy culminate in Jimmy catching fire. How does Rico rescue Jimmy? What do we learn about Rico?

7. Discuss the hitchhiking trip that Rico and Jimmy take as they run away from New York. Would this make you more or less likely to hitchhike yourself? Of all the characters they meet, who stands out most for you?

8. Exploring the bonds that bind a family is a major theme in this story. What torments Rico as he leaves New York? How does he relate to his family while he is in Wisconsin? How does the "family" in the farmhouse affect Rico and Jimmy?

9. The book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is Rico's favorite. How does his story parallel that of Huck Finn's?

10. Arriving in Wisconsin feels like a dream to Rico and Jimmy. Describe some of their adjustments and differences. How does Rico's feelings of being an "outsider" continue?

11. Gilberto is a major influence on Rico. How difficult is it for Rico when Gilberto moves from Harlem to go to college in Wisconsin? Then, when Rico comes to the farm Gilberto is Rico's guide. Discuss the bond between Gilberto and Rico.

12. Blond, blue-eyed, educated Midwesterner Sharon becomes Rico's first real girlfriend. How does their relationship help both of them grow?

13. How do Jimmy and Rico feel when they complete the Dark Dude comic book and submit it to DC Comics? What does this show us about Rico? Discuss the outcome of the submittal and the letter from DC Comics. Were you surprised?

14. What do you imagine is the next chapter in Rico's journey?

15. What makes people who they are? Is it how they look? Their language? Their ethnic heritage? Where they grow up? Discuss the elements of the book that support your answers.

Activities

1. Rico and Jimmy create a comic book series with their superhero, the Dark Dude. Try creating a comic book. Create a superhero that reflects characteristics you would like to embody. Write or illustrate it yourself, or get a partner. There are good guides in the book on how to get your comic published. Do you think you could get yours published?

2. Regional language is a distillation that reflects ethnicity, culture, and class. The language of Harlem included "jive," "lame," and "dark dude." In the book the language of Wisconsin includes "outhouse," "hankering," and "neat." Find more examples from the book, making lists of New York City words and Wisconsin words. What do these words reflect about the cultures and ethnicities they come from? Can you create a list of words that reflect your region's language? Compare it to other regions.

3. Find Internet images, books, and magazines that have pictures of Harlem and also of farmland Wisconsin in the late 1960s. Try creating a photo collage that reflects the two very different environments. Then make a list of similarities and differences. How strange would it be to move from one to the other for you? How might it change you?

Read More Show Less

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