"A new and authentic voice of the urban Latino experience." --Esmeralda Santiago, author of When I Was Puerto Rican
In a stunning narrative combining the gritty rhythms of Junot Diaz with the noir genius of Walter Mosley, Bodega Dreams announces the arrival of a writer who The Village Voice has already hailed as "a Writer on the Verge."
The word is out in Spanish Harlem: Willy Bodega is king. Need college tuition for your daughter? Start-up funds for your fruit stand? Bodega can help. He gives everyone a leg up, in exchange only for loyalty--and a steady income from the drugs he pushes.
Lyric, inspired, and darkly funny, this powerful debut novel brilliantly evokes the trial of Chino, a smart, promising young man to whom Bodega turns for a favor. Chino is drawn to Bodega's street-smart idealism, but soon finds himself over his head, navigating an underworld of switchblade tempers, turncoat morality, and murder.
Growing up in Spanish Harlem, Chino knew he needed three things to survive: a solid friend (his pana
), a decent nickname--not some lame thing his parents had called him, like Tito or Googie--and a reputation that he would rather lose a tooth or get his ribs broken than back out of a fight. With the help of Sapo, "the meanest and ugliest kid on the block," Chino manages to make it as far as college before his life is endangered. He even attracts the attention of Nancy Saldivia, a beautiful Pentecostal girl so genuinely devout that she has earned the high school nickname "Blanca." In a typically vivid passage at the start of his debut novel, Bodega Dreams
, Ernesto Quiñonez writes:
Blanca wasn't allowed to wear jeans but she made up for it by wearing tight, short skirts. She always carried a Bible with her and never talked bad about anybody and at school she only hung around with her Pentecostal friend, Lucy. Lucy was a hairy girl who never shaved her legs because it was against her religion. Blanca had hairy legs as well, but Lucy's legs were so hairy that everyone called her Chewbacca.... When the cruelty toward Lucy became too much for Blanca, she'd punish the boys by being the coldest, most serious person in school. Only Blanca could get away with this because she had an angelic face that almost made you want to sing Alleluia. Made you want to pick up a tambourine and join her one night in her church. Make a joyful noise to the Lord so she would begin to jump up and down to all that religious salsa. And maybe you'd be lucky enough to cop a cheap feel as the Holy Ghost took over her body.
Our narrator's luck is running out, though, and when Sapo introduces him to the mysterious, powerful Willie Bodega, Chino finds himself helplessly drawn into a criminal network. Even if Chino and Sapo's world is far from your own, you can't help but succumb to Quiñonez's funny, rapid-fire prose and his uncanny gift for dialect. The author's dead-on renderings of verbal tics and rhythms fit seamlessly into his depiction of the vibrant culture of East Harlem. Bodega Dreams
is an unusually accomplished debut with all the right ingredients: distinctive characters, a troubling plot, and a seductive voice. --Regina Marler