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.
Discussion Questions 1. What are some of the main challenges Rico and his family face living in Harlem? Describe Gilberto's and Jimmy's experiences also. 2. List some of the characteristics, beyond the physical, that make Rico different. What characteristics does he show while living in Harlem? 3. How does Rico fit in his environment in Harlem? How does the community relate to him? Consider the Jo Mama School shooting, and the drug dealing and heroin use with Jimmy. 4. How does Rico view his light skin color? How does his view change from Harlem to Wisconsin? Does he feel comfortable in his own skin? 5. Rico hit a low, where he wants to escape his family, school, and street life in Harlem. He asks Jimmy to show him how to use heroin. How does this become a turning point in their lives? 6. The feelings of hopelessness for both Rico and Jimmy culminate in Jimmy catching fire. How does Rico rescue Jimmy? What do we learn about Rico? 7. Discuss the hitchhiking trip that Rico and Jimmy take as they run away from New York. Would this make you more or less likely to hitchhike yourself? Of all the characters they meet, who stands out most for you? 8. Exploring the bonds that bind a family is a major theme in this story. What torments Rico as he leaves New York? How does he relate to his family while he is in Wisconsin? How does the "family" in the farmhouse affect Rico and Jimmy? 9. The book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is Rico's favorite. How does his story parallel that of Huck Finn's? 10. Arriving in Wisconsin feels like a dream to Rico and Jimmy. Describe some of their adjustments and differences. How does Rico's feelings of being an "outsider" continue? 11. Gilberto is a major influence on Rico. How difficult is it for Rico when Gilberto moves from Harlem to go to college in Wisconsin? Then, when Rico comes to the farm Gilberto is Rico's guide. Discuss the bond between Gilberto and Rico. 12. Blond, blue-eyed, educated Midwesterner Sharon becomes Rico's first real girlfriend. How does their relationship help both of them grow? 13. How do Jimmy and Rico feel when they complete the Dark Dude comic book and submit it to DC Comics? What does this show us about Rico? Discuss the outcome of the submittal and the letter from DC Comics. Were you surprised? 14. What do you imagine is the next chapter in Rico's journey? 15. What makes people who they are? Is it how they look? Their language? Their ethnic heritage? Where they grow up? Discuss the elements of the book that support your answers. Activities 1. Rico and Jimmy create a comic book series with their superhero, the Dark Dude. Try creating a comic book. Create a superhero that reflects characteristics you would like to embody. Write or illustrate it yourself, or get a partner. There are good guides in the book on how to get your comic published. Do you think you could get yours published? 2. Regional language is a distillation that reflects ethnicity, culture, and class. The language of Harlem included "jive," "lame," and "dark dude." In the book the language of Wisconsin includes "outhouse," "hankering," and "neat." Find more examples from the book, making lists of New York City words and Wisconsin words. What do these words reflect about the cultures and ethnicities they come from? Can you create a list of words that reflect your region's language? Compare it to other regions. 3. Find Internet images, books, and magazines that have pictures of Harlem and also of farmland Wisconsin in the late 1960s. Try creating a photo collage that reflects the two very different environments. Then make a list of similarities and differences. How strange would it be to move from one to the other for you? How might it change you?
Lori Marie Carlson is the author of two novels, two landmark bilingual poetry anthologies, and many other young adult and children's books. Oscar Hijuelos is a first-generation Cuban American and the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He has written six novels, the most recent of which is A Simple Habana Melody. They live in New York City.
"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