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
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 Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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.)
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
KLIATT - Janis Flint-Ferguson
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 planrunning 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
Children's Literature - Kathie M. Josephs
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
VOYA - Francisca Goldsmith
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)
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