Chapter Excerpt

Imperative  (adj.) necessary, pressing

Application fee to Harvard University: $65
Tuition per year for a full-time student: $32,557
Annual room and board: $11,042
Average SAT score for incoming freshmen: 2235 (although Harvard ain't trying to admit that)
My chances of getting into any Ivy League college with an SAT score of 1650: worthless

I type "SAT prep" into a search engine when Chingy yells, "Yes!" from the computer station next to me. "I got a 1560." The librarian puts a finger to her lips. After mouthing an apology, he asks me, "How'd you do, cuz?"

"You don't want to know, kid."

"C'mon, man." Chingy's giddy because the average SAT score of an incoming freshman at Howard is only 1530. Being senior class president and having a GPA of 3.5, he's headed to D.C. next August. That is, if his older brother Baraka doesn't convince Chingy to join him at Morehouse in the ATL. "I know you did better than me," he says, leaning over my shoulder to peek at my monitor.

"I got a 1650," I finally say.

"Yo, I think you broke the school record, man! Mrs. Colfax said that back in 1986, this girl scored 1050 on the old version of the test." Chingy activates the calculator on his computer desktop and types in some numbers. "Yeah, E., you did it! A score of 1050 on the old test is only a 1515 today. Congratulations, man!" I feel like a fraud but still give Chingy a pound for being a good sport about my outscoring him. "Get a teacher to mention that in a recommendation. That way you won't sound arrogant in your essay. Stay shy, cuz."

"You don't get it, kid," I say. "I have to retake the damn thing." A 1650? I studied all summer. After borrowing every prep book I could from any library within walking distance--Princeton Review, Nova, Kaplan, you name it--I spent a few hours every week practicing math problems and memorizing hundreds of vocabulary words. When I took the test three weeks ago, I swore I scored much better than I did on the preliminary exam last October. But all that work did me no good.

I open up a new window in my browser to search for the next test dates. Thankfully, even the colleges with December 31 deadlines will accept scores from the test scheduled for late January. With November around the corner, however, that gives me only two months to study. As I write down the test date and registration deadline, I tell Chingy, "Harvard ain't checking for no 1650."

But Chingy's already back at his station, pimping out his class ring on the Jostens Web site. A sales representative is coming to our high school next Friday, so today all the homeroom teachers handed out catalogs and order forms. You can design your ring on the company Web site, then print out an order form to give to the rep along with a fifty-dollar deposit. As Chingy adds and subtracts features, the subtotal on his monitor rises and falls. "Yo, E., what you think?" he asks. I roll my seat over to his computer. With a tap of the mouse, Chingy rotates the ring on the screen--a bulky model from the "Champion" series in white gold--so I can see it from all sides. "Smooth?" he asks as he clicks an onyx onto his design. "Or the majestic cut?" Chingy taps the mouse again, and the black stone morphs into a polygon.

"Definitely smooth. All those cuts are too busy," I say, kicking off to roll back to my own station. "What happened to stay shy? You ain't Allen Iverson."

"Dude got jokes." Chingy clicks back to the smooth onyx. The price of his ring drops twenty-five bucks but still costs over three hundred dollars. "Yo, you know what Leti told me? Some wild child just transferred to our school."

"Yeah?" Leticia Nunez is Pedro Albizu Campos High School's one-woman news network. She provides breaking stories on public affairs and human interest along with occasional unsolicited editorials, but her specialty is--you guessed it--gossip. I suppose when your best friend is GiGi Gonzalez--the hottest chick in school--a girl has to make her claim to fame some other way. I scan my search engine results and click on the link for an SAT prep company whose name I recognize from subway ads.

"This kid is from K-Ville."


"You know . . . New Orleans. Katrina."

"Oh." At a hundred fifty bucks per hour with a minimum commitment of twenty hours, I can forget about one-on-one tutoring. But I've already tried the cheapest option--studying independently with books and software--and that ain't cutting it. "Leticia must have it twisted. Why would he transfer to a high school in New York City so many years after the hurricane? That makes no sense, kid."

"She's been here since Katrina, and according to Leti, homegirl got kicked out of Mott Haven High School because she threw a chair in a teacher's face."

"That's gangster." Enough with the bochinche. That 1650 put me in a serious bind. Even if I had a new computer with a fast Internet connection at home--which I don't--my gut tells me only a live class that meets for six to eight weeks before the next test date will make a worthwhile difference in my score, but how much does that cost? Eleven hundred bucks, that's how much. Even though it means being limited to the public library's hours, I check out online courses as a last resort. The least expensive one is four hundred dollars. Even if I skip the prep course, I still have to shell out another forty-five dollars registration fee for the January test. No fee waivers for a second shot at the Ivy League for me. Plus, eighteen bucks for the answers to last month's test so I can see which ones I got wrong. And that's just the beginning because there are no scholarships for students just to apply to college.

There goes my class ring. As much as I want one--as much as I deserve one--I can't buy one now. But, really, when did I ever? Deserving a ring and being able to afford it are two different things, and a man has to set priorities and make sacrifices. It's all good. I'll get a ring in four years when I graduate from Harvard. With a crimson stone, baby, veritas engraved around it. Word is born.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpted from Efrain's Secret by Sofia Quintero
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.