by Guest Contributor Bianca Laureano, originally published at Love Isn’t Enough
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.
In all honesty, I am a friend and fan of Sofia Quintero . She gave me a review copy of her latest young adult (YA) novel Efrain’s Secret after we attended a morning taping of The People’s Court with her father. When she shared her next book was a YA novel focusing on young men of color, I knew LIE readers would want (and need) to know about this text. Many of us on LIE have shared numerous times how difficult it is to find good books for young men and boys of color that affirm their identity and encourage them to be excited about reading.
Sofia is very much aware of these issues. This is her first YA novel, but when I worked for a program to encourage literacy among youth in East Harlem, I purchased all three of the hip-hop fiction novels she wrote under the name Black Artemis. She also graciously joined a group of 7th and 8th-grade students who chose her text to read for the semester. They were able to ask her questions about her characters and writing. It was a highlight of my time working in East Harlem.
It took me about two weeks to finish Efrain’s Secret. The first six pages had me tearing up because I knew I had in my hands a very important piece of literature for young men of color. The character dialog alone–Sofia’s choices of sentences and words–is affirming.
Sofia agreed to answer some questions about the text, which is NOW IN STORES! If your bookstore does not have it, ask them to get it.
Sofia often offers readers a sample chapter to read online for FREE and has done the same with Efrain’s Secret. Read the sample chapter here.
What was your motivation for writing Efrain’s Secret?
The story for Efrain’s Secret has been incubating within me since 1985. That summer, a high school senior from Harlem named Edmund Perry was shot to death by a plain clothes police officer in Morningside Park. It caused a great deal of controversy because Eddie had just graduated from Philips Exeter and was going to start college at Stanford that fall. And yet the police officer and almost two dozen witnesses stated that Eddie and his brother had mugged and assaulted him. It was such a tragedy. No winners in that one. This was the summer before my senior year of high school. I was an honor student myself, hoping to attend an Ivy League college, but I wasn’t oblivious or immune to the forces that could derail me. I had classmates like Eddie who were leading double lives, and this fascinated me. What compels people to attempt to reconcile what society insists is irreconcilable? This and related questions are recurring themes in my work, and Efrain’s Secret is my first exploration of this theme from the perspective of a person who is young and male. Continue reading