Efrain's Secret

Efrain's Secret

3.0 3
by Sofia Quintero

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Ambitious high school senior Efrain Rodriguez dreams of escaping the South Bronx for an Ivy League college like Harvard or Yale. But how is his family going to afford to pay for a prestigious university when Moms has to work insane hours to put food on the table as it is? And Efrain wouldn’t dare ask that good-for-nothing father of his who has traded his family… See more details below


Ambitious high school senior Efrain Rodriguez dreams of escaping the South Bronx for an Ivy League college like Harvard or Yale. But how is his family going to afford to pay for a prestigious university when Moms has to work insane hours to put food on the table as it is? And Efrain wouldn’t dare ask that good-for-nothing father of his who has traded his family in for younger models. Left with few options, Efrain chooses to do something he never thought he would. He embarks on a double life—honor student by day, drug peddler at night—convinced that by temporarily capitulating to society’s negative expectations of a boy like him, he can eventually defy them.

Sofia Quintero makes a stunning debut writing for young adults with this gritty, complex, and real exploration of the life of an urban teen whose attempt to leave one world behind for a better one could cost him everything.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Adult author Quintero (Divas Don't Yield) delivers an in-your-face YA debut, a passionate polemic on racial politics in urban America. Couched in an explosive morality tale, the story is narrated by a driven high school senior in the South Bronx with the odds stacked against him (“...although I'm very smart, I'm too brown and too poor. In other words, I could never be smart enough”). To raise money for an Ivy League education, Efrain resorts to selling drugs (“I'm tired of being the good boy who never has anything to show for it.... Doing the right thing is supposed to be its own reward, but that's not enough to pay my tuition”). His efforts to justify his choice, understand his actions, and come to terms with myriad unforeseen consequences—especially after he gets caught—are felt on every page. Relevant SAT vocabulary words (like “pittance” and “apprehend”) begin each chapter, and seamlessly interwoven subplots, including Efrain's complex connection to his philandering father and his evolving relationship with Candace, a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, make the story that much more emotionally resonant. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"A gritty and well-written novel . . . this stands out in the field of young adult urban novels and will be as appealing to readers as it is accomplished."
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review)

"Quintero delivers an in-your-face YA debut, a passionate polemic on racial politics in urban America."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"It is Quintero’s effortless grasp of teen slang that gives her first-person story its heart."
Booklist (starred review)

Children's Literature - Patricia Williamson
This is a coming-of-age novel in the same vein as Scorpions by Walter Dean Myers but with a grown-up edge to the story. This book follows the life of Efrain who must, based on his circumstances, make some very difficult life decisions. Efrain wants to go to college and has a dream of life outside his current surroundings. He decides to make some money on the side to help out his family and in doing so sets himself up with a drug lord.. Efrain gets more and more involved in selling drugs, to the point that he can not get out without the fear of retaliation against his family and friends. His situation seems hopeless, but maybe there is a light at the end of his tunnel...you will have to read to find out. This book is not for those who are looking for an easy emotional read. It is very intense and often graphic about the world of those who choose drug dealing. It does not deal with the situation lightly and shows the reality of life for those who do get caught up. Efrain is a typical, dream-filled high school student whose aspirations for things greater than himself get interrupted by some extremely wrong, for what he thinks are the right reasons, choices that he makes. The story does not let him go into the situations lightly nor does it let him escape the consequences. Reviewer: Patricia Williamson
School Library Journal
Gr 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
Kirkus Reviews
Efrain Rodriguez, on track to be valedictorian at Pedro Albizu Campos High School in the South Bronx, is determined to break the barriers that have kept other low-income students out of ultra-selective universities such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Quintero, aka Black Artemis, author of urban fiction for adults, realistically and painfully depicts an Afro-Latino teen who has everything he needs to succeed. He is smart and handsome, and he feels love blossoming when he meets Candace, a Katrina survivor and exile from the South. But he is caught between his aspirations and his undeniable poverty, and very few encourage him to pursue his dream. In her YA debut, the author cleverly uses challenging SAT vocabulary words and their meanings to head each chapter and direct its theme; the word "repudiate - (v) to reject, refuse to accept" describes the grief of Efrain's mother when she discovers what he is secretly doing to earn money, for instance. Both Spanish and urban African-American vernacular dialogue add credibility to this innovative novel that is sure to spark discussion among students who are pondering their options. (Fiction. YA)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
780L (what's this?)
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Imperative  (adj.) necessary, pressing

Application fee to Harvard University: $65
Tuition per year for a full-time student: $32,557
Annual room and board: $11,042
Average SAT score for incoming freshmen: 2235 (although Harvard ain't trying to admit that)
My chances of getting into any Ivy League college with an SAT score of 1650: worthless

I type "SAT prep" into a search engine when Chingy yells, "Yes!" from the computer station next to me. "I got a 1560." The librarian puts a finger to her lips. After mouthing an apology, he asks me, "How'd you do, cuz?"

"You don't want to know, kid."

"C'mon, man." Chingy's giddy because the average SAT score of an incoming freshman at Howard is only 1530. Being senior class president and having a GPA of 3.5, he's headed to D.C. next August. That is, if his older brother Baraka doesn't convince Chingy to join him at Morehouse in the ATL. "I know you did better than me," he says, leaning over my shoulder to peek at my monitor.

"I got a 1650," I finally say.

"Yo, I think you broke the school record, man! Mrs. Colfax said that back in 1986, this girl scored 1050 on the old version of the test." Chingy activates the calculator on his computer desktop and types in some numbers. "Yeah, E., you did it! A score of 1050 on the old test is only a 1515 today. Congratulations, man!" I feel like a fraud but still give Chingy a pound for being a good sport about my outscoring him. "Get a teacher to mention that in a recommendation. That way you won't sound arrogant in your essay. Stay shy, cuz."

"You don't get it, kid," I say. "I have to retake the damn thing." A 1650? I studied all summer. After borrowing every prep book I could from any library within walking distance--Princeton Review, Nova, Kaplan, you name it--I spent a few hours every week practicing math problems and memorizing hundreds of vocabulary words. When I took the test three weeks ago, I swore I scored much better than I did on the preliminary exam last October. But all that work did me no good.

I open up a new window in my browser to search for the next test dates. Thankfully, even the colleges with December 31 deadlines will accept scores from the test scheduled for late January. With November around the corner, however, that gives me only two months to study. As I write down the test date and registration deadline, I tell Chingy, "Harvard ain't checking for no 1650."

But Chingy's already back at his station, pimping out his class ring on the Jostens Web site. A sales representative is coming to our high school next Friday, so today all the homeroom teachers handed out catalogs and order forms. You can design your ring on the company Web site, then print out an order form to give to the rep along with a fifty-dollar deposit. As Chingy adds and subtracts features, the subtotal on his monitor rises and falls. "Yo, E., what you think?" he asks. I roll my seat over to his computer. With a tap of the mouse, Chingy rotates the ring on the screen--a bulky model from the "Champion" series in white gold--so I can see it from all sides. "Smooth?" he asks as he clicks an onyx onto his design. "Or the majestic cut?" Chingy taps the mouse again, and the black stone morphs into a polygon.

"Definitely smooth. All those cuts are too busy," I say, kicking off to roll back to my own station. "What happened to stay shy? You ain't Allen Iverson."

"Dude got jokes." Chingy clicks back to the smooth onyx. The price of his ring drops twenty-five bucks but still costs over three hundred dollars. "Yo, you know what Leti told me? Some wild child just transferred to our school."

"Yeah?" Leticia Nunez is Pedro Albizu Campos High School's one-woman news network. She provides breaking stories on public affairs and human interest along with occasional unsolicited editorials, but her specialty is--you guessed it--gossip. I suppose when your best friend is GiGi Gonzalez--the hottest chick in school--a girl has to make her claim to fame some other way. I scan my search engine results and click on the link for an SAT prep company whose name I recognize from subway ads.

"This kid is from K-Ville."


"You know . . . New Orleans. Katrina."

"Oh." At a hundred fifty bucks per hour with a minimum commitment of twenty hours, I can forget about one-on-one tutoring. But I've already tried the cheapest option--studying independently with books and software--and that ain't cutting it. "Leticia must have it twisted. Why would he transfer to a high school in New York City so many years after the hurricane? That makes no sense, kid."

"She's been here since Katrina, and according to Leti, homegirl got kicked out of Mott Haven High School because she threw a chair in a teacher's face."

"That's gangster." Enough with the bochinche. That 1650 put me in a serious bind. Even if I had a new computer with a fast Internet connection at home--which I don't--my gut tells me only a live class that meets for six to eight weeks before the next test date will make a worthwhile difference in my score, but how much does that cost? Eleven hundred bucks, that's how much. Even though it means being limited to the public library's hours, I check out online courses as a last resort. The least expensive one is four hundred dollars. Even if I skip the prep course, I still have to shell out another forty-five dollars registration fee for the January test. No fee waivers for a second shot at the Ivy League for me. Plus, eighteen bucks for the answers to last month's test so I can see which ones I got wrong. And that's just the beginning because there are no scholarships for students just to apply to college.

There goes my class ring. As much as I want one--as much as I deserve one--I can't buy one now. But, really, when did I ever? Deserving a ring and being able to afford it are two different things, and a man has to set priorities and make sacrifices. It's all good. I'll get a ring in four years when I graduate from Harvard. With a crimson stone, baby, veritas engraved around it. Word is born.

From the Hardcover edition.

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