Boy21 (by Matthew Quick)

10 08 2012

It’s been a long time coming since the cat encountered a writer that was so disarming in his intentions as Matthew Quick. With Sorta Like a Rock Star, Amber Appleton formed the perfect antidote for distrust and pessimism, and with Boy21, Matthew Quick has done it again! Boy21 is so genuinely honest and warm that it’s hard to find fault in this book about hurtful pasts, present friendships, and hopeful futures.

In the summer leading up to senior year, Finley is gearing up to be on his high school basketball team one last time. For the past three years Finley has been the only white kid on an exclusively black basketball team, earning him the name White Rabbit, a nickname he doesn’t particularly like, but just endures, because that’s what you do in his neighborhood. For Finley, who lives in Bellmont, a fictional town near Philadelphia, basketball is more than just a game. Finley likes to pretend that his earliest memory is shooting hoops in his backyard with his dad. But the almost ominous preface hints to the reader that Finley has a dark past that he’d rather not talk about. All Finley hopes is that basketball will one day become his and his long-time girlfriend Erin’s way out of Bellmont and he will do everything to make that happen, even mock break up with Erin during basketball season every year so they can both just focus on basketball.

Finley’s world gets shaken when his coach shows up and asks him for a favor: take care of Russ, who’s been so severely traumatized by his parents’ murder that he now only goes by the name Boy21 and is obsessed with space and has lost all interest in the game. Coach seems to think that Finley will understand what’s going on with Russ and that he will get him to play ball again. And when coach asks you something, you do it, so Finley agrees, even if that means that his starting position as a point guard is threatened…because Russ is actually Russell Lane, one of the most promising basketball point guards of the entire country, sought after by many colleges.

Even though Finley has found refuge in not talking much at all (one of the reasons why Boy21 says Finley has a calming presence), his voice in the book (a first person narration) is a powerful, yet also unreliable tool.  As a reader you know that Finley is holding back when he describes his Irish mob-run neighborhood, or when he talks about his dad or never mentions why his Pop is legless. Like in so many poignant (contemporary) YA novels, what gives truth and power to this novel is voice.  In this case, it leads to a very menacing atmosphere, and there’s a constant threatening tension, one that you feel can only lead to even more heartbreak.

Both Finley and Boy21 have a tragedy in their past, but the two boys manage to grow – silently – towards each other. However, basketball and their healing friendship cannot prevent that the danger of living in a mob-run neighborhood hits too close for comfort, and Finley is forced to face his past after all. In a story of trauma it is obvious that both boys will have their own individual paths to follow, but it’s a pity that in the last part of the book the friendship vs. conflict plotline between Finley and Boy21 seemed to be resolved a bit too quickly.

In a book that reads remarkably like Good Will Hunting (brilliant movie!), the ending may come a little bit too forced, but it’s where Matthew Quick shows his true colors: you are nothing if you don’t have hope. In a less than perfect world, friendship (ánd Harry Potter!) will get you through.

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