High school senior Efrain Rodriguez has very lofty goals. His dream of attending Harvard seems unattainable not only because of the college’s prestigious status, but more so because of his family’s socioeconomic situation. Growing up in the Bronx has never been easy, what with his father leaving and starting a different family, and having to see friends make poor decisions in the midst of the toughness of the ‘hood. But Efrain wants to rise above and be an Ivy Leaguer, and ends up stooping lower than he expected by selling drugs on the streets to afford tuition.
Author Sofia Quintero obviously knows this setting well, growing up in the Bronx and being a part of a Dominican-Puerto Rican background. The setting, in my opinion, was the best part of this novel. I could imagine Efrain doing his day-to-day thing in his neighborhood and in his school, without feeling bogged down by the lack of hope in most working class Hispanic or black families. The author reveals just enough of Efrain’s heritage to help us understand him as a character.
Speaking of characters, the secondary ones in this novel are severely lacking in depth and voice. Efrain’s girlfriend is a transplant from post-Katrina New Orleans with an emotional story to tell, a story that doesn’t quite get finished being told. Drug-selling buddy Nestor has so much potential as a critical part of Efrain’s story, but his character comes up shallow and dry.
The end of the novel left me wanting to know more about living in the Bronx and striving for more, as the author has apparently done with her life. Efrain’s Secret is definitely worth reading, but don’t be surprised if you feel left in the dark.
by Sofia Quintero
Published by Knopf