All About Adolescent Literacy

All about adolescent literacy. Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12.
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Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos

Dark Dude

Dark Dude

Age Level: 12-14

Buy Dark Dude

Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos

About the Book

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.

Possible Discussion Questions

  • 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?
  • Exploring the bonds that bind a family is a major theme in this story. What are some of the main challenges Rico and his family face living in Harlem? 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?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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.

Extension Activities

  • 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.
  • Regional language is a distillation that reflects ethnicity, culture, and class. The language of Harlem included "jive," "lame," and "dark dude." In the book, Wisconsin's language includes "outhouse," "hankering," and "neat." Make a list of New York City words and Wisconsin words from the book. What do these words reflect about the cultures and ethnicities they come from? Make your own list comparing your region and an area you've visited or read about.
  • Search for pictures of Harlem and Wisconsin farmland 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?

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