Academic ambition and hip-hop intersect in the South Bronx, where two friends spend a summer growing up and, unwillingly, apart.
Quintero details the summer of 1983, when the teens work what appears to be their final summer together as camp counselors. Raymond “Smiles” King is a smart, ambitious black teenager who has recently lost his mom to sickle cell anemia, and Guillermo “Nike” Vega is a Nuyorican Casanova and break-dancer who attempts to woo beautiful Sara, a new, mysterious girl in their neighborhood. Break-dancing and hip-hop are barely keeping their friendship together; shootings, neighborhood thugs, girls, and separate schools are no help. Racial and religious tensions are high not just in the Bronx, but in the Middle East, where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is killing thousands, and all the while, the fear of AIDS is ever growing. Writing in an alternating first-person narrative, Quintero masters the characters’ colloquialisms and voices—Smiles is sensitive, self-aware, and Nike is hot-tempered, quick to challenge; both aspire to better lives. Quintero’s ability to deliver musical references, knowledge of 1980s vernacular, and b-boy jargon rivals Nike’s acrobatic, intricate footwork. Aside from a couple moments of misused Spanish, the Puerto Rican slang is in tune. The story is powerful and thought-provoking, an homage to a climactic hip-hop era, when friends are caught between aspirations and predetermined social disadvantages.
A must-read for fans of Walter Dean Myers' All the Right Stuff and other lovers of proud urban realism. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)