He didn't say good-bye. He didn't leave a phone number. And he didn't plan on coming back - ever.
In Wisconsin, Rico could blend in. His light hair and lighter skin wouldn't make him the "dark dude" or the punching bag for the whole neighborhood. The Midwest is the land of milk and honey, but for Rico Fuentes, it's really a last resort. Trading Harlem for Wisconsin, though, means giving up on a big part of his identity. And when Rico no longer has to prove that he's Latino, he almost stops being one. Except he can never have an ordinary white kid's life, because there are some things that can't be left behind, that can't be cut loose or forgotten. These are the things that will be with you forever.... These are the things that will follow you a thousand miles away.
For anyone who loved The Outsiders -- and for anyone who's ever felt like one -- Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Oscar Hijuelos brings to life a haunting choice and an unforgettable journey about identity, misidentity, and all that we take with us when we run away.
"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
I thought I would love this as I"m Cuban American, but truth be told, I didn't finish it, so I delayed doing the review. I thought, right up front, that like other writings of Hijuelos, the control of language, the flow and vividness, is excellent. He chooses to use his protagonists' voice, not a distancing one, so you're in there with Rico. Sometimes, as good as a writer may be, the connection lags. For me, there it is. But that doesn't speak to the book so much as my age or me not being the right reader for it at this time.
This was not Mambo Kings, for readers seeking some similar experience. Still, it's not aimed at an adult audience. It's Y/A. And maybe knowing that colored things (no pun intended) for me. The language is raw for YA (or maybe I"m just old fashioned). If you think the younger person in your family can handle a coming of age with more of the starkness of a real life full of dysfunction and racial/ethnic issues, then here you go. If you think obscenities are not for your younger reader, then find another read.
I will add that military school was often a threat to the misbehavers back in my Cuban-immigrant heydays. It's interesting to see that crop up. I don't know if "white" families often resorted to this, but this definitely was one solution to the unruly/problem child back in the day. Not saying it was a great idea, just saying it was REAL.
While that was real, I will say that lighter skin and hair was VALUED in my Cuban growing up days in the 60s and 70s--whether NY or Miami. I've had ladies in my family of the fair skin and natural blond hair and light eyes type (granted, few), and they were not ostracized or picked on or treated poorly in the family or in the "ghetto" we immigrated to. Like Rico I experienced the unpretty side of NY. (Have no idea re Wisconsin, but do of Miami, where the Cuban presence was and is strong). LIght skin was desirable, even in guys--los rubios, the rare ones. And girls sometimes dyed their hair with lighter streaks or pale blond or lighter shades of brown. Hair relaxing was not unknown. Weird skin lightening concoctions were not unknown. Dating a whiter guy/blond guy was sometimes, disgracefully, referred to as "improving the race." This, granted, was my perception/experience. Not being light or blond, I couldn't say what it would have been. Rico is the opposite side...the "green monkey" amongst the brown. So it's a different perspective.
Strong writing. Strong voice. Difficulties of growing up. The outsider. New places. For the YA reader who can take a dose of the less than ideal realities.
Coming of age novel2011/3/22
This book is a interesting read. It is squarely aimed at the young adult market and deals with many coming of age topics. It is more a book about identity than teenage angst though and has much to recommend it to older readers and fans of Mr Hijuelos. Not as good as 'Mambo Kings' but better than 'Fourteen Sisters' would be my verdict. Rico is Latino but doesn't fit in with his family because of his blond hair and pale skin and doesn't fit in with the white kids at school either because of his Cuban identity. Living in a drug and crime ridden neighbourhood (Harlem, New York) he can no longer stand and on the verge of being sent to military school for truancy he runs away with a drug addict friend to a farm in Wisconsin. The book doesn't linger or explore the impact that being a runaway can have on the families left behind but has some gritty, reality check moments. It doesn't glorify being a runaway but doesn't criticise runaways either which may sit bady with some parents. There are some graphic descriptions of heroin taking and violence. Once in Wisconsin, Rico works in a gas station in sort of a no mans land between his old life in New York and new life on the farm. At the gas station meets all manner of people who help or hinder him, black guys criticise him for being nervous and disrespectful and white guys beat him up for looking puny. The guns and reality of the real world still touch the country farm and Rico realises he can't run away from all his problems. This book is all about the characters, their interactions and changes a new environment has on their identity rather than having an action filled plot but it is a wonderfully told story. Mr Hijuelos is hard to beat for creating likeable characters and memorable settings. His writing style is also simply beautiful.
Unable to deal with the pressure of living in Harlem, the frequent jumpings by just about everyone in his neighborhood because he's a light-skinned Latino, Rico Fuentes leaves for Wisconsin. Rico can blend in the Midwestern farm country with his light skin so well he's generally mistaken for a white. It's just what he needs, and the longer he stays on his friend's farm, the more he thinks he'll never go back to New York. But appearances aren't everything, and even if Rico is mostly enjoying his stay in Wisconsin, he still can't forget the family he left behind. And he eventually realizes that you can't change who you are no matter how far you travel from where you're from.
Dark Dude is a mildly interesting and very realistic novel about cultural identity. For some reason, I just couldn't get very into this book; the theme appeals to me but the story itself is nothing spectacular. I appreciate the detail included in Dark Dude, especially the stark differences between Harlem and small town Wisconsin; however, this because a bit too much with Hijuelos' very descriptive inclusions of drug use which I found sick to read about even though I recognize its realism. I like Hijuelos' depiction of race relations because it shows that no place in America, whether metropolis or small city, USA, is free of ethnic prejudices. Protagonist Rico, a generally pretty go-with-the-flow kind of guy, fits nicely into this equation with his Cuban roots and light complexion, a predicament which causes him trouble or discrimination wherever he goes. Despite finding him a little boring and dreamy, I ended up enjoying Rico's contemplations and conclusions about life. Dark Dude isn't a particularly great novel, but it does provide a unique take on the meaning of identity.
Thought I didn't particularly enjoy Dark Dude, fans of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Amor and Summer Secrets by Diana Rodriguez Wallach, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain may.
When New York City native Rico Fuentes winds up in Wisconsin (the Land of Cheese and Honey), the 15-year-old is a stranger in a strange land, indeed. DARK DUDE, an episodic novel that chronicles the misadventures our hero, is the latest instance of an established novelist entering YA terrain for the first time. Like Sherman Alexie, who brought a Native American perspective to THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN, Oscar Hijuelos brings an outsider's perspective -- in this case, a Latino one in the form of a boy from Cuba who happens to have inherited his Irish grandfather's light-skinned, fair-haired genes.
A sprawling book at 439 pp., DARK DUDE dwells in the Big Apple for its first 125 pages as Hijuelos details Rico's unhappiness in a neighborhood of school shootings, drug deals, and racial strife. When Gilberto, an older brother figure to Rico, wins the lottery and leaves for a college in Wisconsin, doors with a Midwestern perspective open for our young protagonist. The catalyst that finally sends Rico and his drug-addled pal, Jimmy, westward-ho comes when Rico's parents decide to send him to his strict uncle's military academy down in Florida as punishment for repeatedly skipping school.
Once in Wisconsin, the novel settles to a leisurely pace. There is no real sense of rising action and climax; instead, a lazy and interesting narrative based on identity and coming of age plays out as Rico and Jimmy join Gilberto in a sprawling farmhouse of hippie-like lodgers. Rico, who looks as white as a peeled apple, has enough of a wholesome American look to fit in, but he doesn't attend school for fear of being busted and sent home. Instead he takes a graveyard shift job at a gas station in the middle of Nowhere, Wisconsin. Like the miscreants and petty thieves that populate the Mississippi River in THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN (Rico's favorite book), this station brings all sorts of drifters -- some quite dangerous -- to our hero, who quickly learns that bad people don't just live in America's big cities.
Hijuelos ultimately wins readers over with the characterization of Rico, a winsome kid trying to do right in a world of temptation, greed, and crime. He makes his bid for a pretty girl, holds on to his dream of authoring a comic book for DC Comics, and gets used to life on a farm, all while wondering about the parents he left back in New York City. Baby boomers will enjoy the 70s feel of this book, and high school readers will take to Rico's ever-present trials by fire. It may not be destined to be a classic, but ultimately DARK DUDE is worth the ride for fans of Latino and YA literature alike.
Courtesy of Teens Read Too2008/9/18
How many teens have wished they could escape the darkness of their lives and live in a land of milk and honey? Rico Fuentes does just that in DARK DUDE by Oscar Hijuelos.
Rico is one-hundred-percent Cuban, yet he struggles daily to identify with his Cuban peers. His mom and little sister have brunette hair and cinnamon colored skin. His dad has both dark wavy hair and dark eyes. But Rico, with hazel eyes and fair skin with freckles, looks white. In Harlem, that pretty much guarantees daily harassment.
When Rico has to change to a public school, he is exposed to drugs, crime, and violence like never before. Early in the school year, a student is shot and Rico watches in shock as his new classmates celebrate a day off. Soon Rico's skipping school to avoid random beatings. When his pops finds out, he warns Rico that he'll be spending the summer with his military uncle in Florida.
It's not until his friend Jimmy is rushed to the hospital due to a drug-related accident that Rico realizes he has only one way out. He must find a way to Wisconsin to stay with his friend, Gilberto, on his farm. When Jimmy is released, Rico talks him into going to Wisconsin with him. After a road trip to remember on the way to the farm, they wonder what they've gotten themselves into when Gilberto immediately puts them to work painting the outside of the dilapidated farmhouse in exchange for their room and board.
Rico finds farm life in Wisconsin to be much slower than in Harlem. He spends a lot of time re-reading his favorite author, Mark Twain. Then he finds himself attracted to a girl whose father has a drinking problem. He'd never realized that his own experiences with an alcoholic dad could be helpful to someone else. As the months go by, Rico begins to look at himself, and those around him, differently. More importantly, he begins to accept himself.
DARK DUDE is a gritty read. The projects, the bars, and the backstreets of Harlem become real to the reader as Mr. Hijuelos drops you into each scene, and he creates a character with so much promise, but with so much working against him, that we cannot stop at each chapter break. Instead we read on, praying that nothing bad will happen to Rico, and when it does, we find ourselves urging Rico on, to find the best in himself, to reach for those dreams we know he wants. This is a realistic yet inspiring read for anyone who wants to find a way to make a different choice, to find the person they really want to be.