Richie's Picks: EFRAIN'S SECRET
- Richie's Picks: EFRAIN'S SECRET by Sofia Quintero, Knopf, April 2010, 240p., ISBN: 978-0-375-84706-6; Libr. ISBN: 978-0-375-94706-3"Welcome to your lifeThere's no turning back"-- Tears for Fears, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World""'What freakin' college costs thirty grand?'"'The best.'"'Oh, is that right?' Snipes laughs again. 'What do they teach for thirty G's that you can't learn at the College of Mount Okeydoke?'"'How to run the world.' It may sound like a slick response but that's real talk. 'And that's thirty G's per year and not including room and board.'"Snipes finally straightens up. He finishes off his rum and sits back down beside me. 'You really out there slinging so you can afford to go to some rich white boy's college? Da Man's University.' He laughs at his own joke. I neither laugh nor answer. 'You think a nickel bag here, a white top there is enough to take you where you trying to go?'"'With all due respect, why does it matter why I want to do this?' I ask. 'So long as my incentives fuel my hustle and move your product, we're both good.'"He leans over and scoops the money off the table. 'You want D Man's U that bad?'"'Yes, sir.'"'I see you there,' he says. 'Not on no sellout shit either. I see you keeping it real. Representing. You gonna become one of my good friends in high places, aren't you, E.?'"'I swallow. Damn straight.'"Likely valedictorian Efrain Rodriguez may have broken the school record with his 1650 score on the SATs, but he is sure that he needs to retake the test in January and score much higher if he's going to have a shot at Harvard. Meanwhile, Mrs. Colfax, the guidance counselor at his South Bronx high school is betting against Efrain's success; his father, having now made a baby with a neighbor, is around the corner and of no use that Efrian can see; and his loving mother can do little more than work endlessly at her low-paying job in order to keep a roof over the heads of Efrain and his sister Mandy. Efrain's school has not provided all of the high school courses he really should have, and he desperately needs cash for a top-of-the-line SAT prep course. His afterschool tutoring gig is just not cutting it monetarily."Bus boy, bartender, ladies of the nightGrease monkey, ex-junky, winner of the fightWalkin' on the streets it's really all the sameSelling souls, rock 'n' roll, any other game"-- Huey Lewis and the News, "Workin' for a Livin'And so Efrain tracks down his estranged friend Nestor, who gets him an afterschool job on the streets as one of Snipes's soldiers, selling drugs. Efrain momentarily encounters the thought that he should be pushing Nestor out of this high-stakes occupation -- rather than letting Nestor introduce him into it -- but this moment will, too, pass. And when he lets show some of his contempt for what he, himself, is doing, Nestor -- who has quit school to financially support the household in which his single mom and his big sister both have young children --gives Efrain his own take on careers:"'No, the man's not only his job, but the jobs is the main part of who he is.' Nestor pauses as if to give the point time to sink. 'And if you think about it, E., it makes perfect sense. A man's job says a lot about him. It tells you what he's good at, what kind of people are around him most times, who relies on him for what...Man, just the fact that he has a job --- no matter what it is -- says something about the kind of man he is. So, no, how a man makes his ends may not be the end-all, be-all of who he is, but it's a big part of it, E. A real big part. So when I say a girl gets with you knowing that you're slinging, you gotta hold her suspect--'"'And what if your girl doesn't know?' I ask."Nestor thinks about it for a second. Then he just shrugs. 'Then I guess the one who's suspect is you.'"EFRAIN'S SECRET is quite an unusual tale. It has me thinking of Chris Lynch's INEXCUSABLE, that one being a story told from the point of view of a teen rapist who seeks to justify his inexcusable behavior.In contrast to the Lynch story, the setup here is far more subtle because when thinking in terms of equal opportunity and social justice, I am naturally feeling attracted to this great student, this kid of color who dreams of making it from the inner city to the Ivies. I was further seduced by the fact that his guidance counselor is an incompetent and self-serving naysayer.But Efrain Rodriguez is a calculating thug who cloaks himself in his disadvantages to justify his abhorrent behavior. He is a young man ready and willing to throw over his community; shrug off relationships (family, friends, teachers, girlfriend who anyone with half a brain would kill for); and thoroughly ignore the human effects of the business in which he becomes engaged and from which he begins reaping big bucks. F-everybody; I'm getting what I want, is Efrain's basic moral code. But since he's not an easy-to-hate loud, dumb jo...err..student athlete, it is easy to be taken in by him.Pay close attention to the girlfriend from K-town Efrain throws overboard in his selfish scrambling. Her personal tale is the perfect counterpoint to that of this poor excuse for a human being. Sure, Efrain may, in fact, be persuaded to "do the right thing" (or do one right thing) in the end. But, by then, it's too late, baby.Richie Partington, MLIS
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