Friday, August 24, 2012

Boy 21, by Matthew Quick: Spaceball

Boy 21
by Matthew Quick
Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 2012.
ISBN: 978-0-316-12797-4

Basketball is more than a sport to introverted Finley and his girlfriend Erin.  It has always provided an escape from their racially segregated and mafia ruled Philadelphia neighborhood, and the hardships in their daily lives.  When Finn's coach asks him for his help and discretion with a new student arriving for their senior year, Finn doesn't hesitate.  Boy 21, as the new kid is calling himself, believes he is an alien.  He arrives under sad circumstances, so traumatized that the former basketball prodigy can now no longer even pick up a basketball.  Despite the threat that Boy 21 poses to his starting point guard position, the boys are drawn to each other; Finn also knows about terrible truths you can't bear to voice.  This mesmerizing novel is much more than a simple sports story.  Compelling characters face their personal demons and find strength in friendship to heal and move forward.  The dialogue is excellent and the description rich.  This novel is a coup d'etat by Quick: reluctant male teenage readers will rip through this smart and well written novel before they can put it down.  Strongly recommended for libraries serving teens grades 9-12, but younger readers looking to read up may enjoy it as well. 

Book Talk Hook: The beginning of chapter 9, plus a brief summary, or some choice Boy 21 moments (some listed below)...I am so excited to add this one to my book talk stable!
Disclaimer: If this book wins no awards, Ima be so displeased with you ALA.  As I said in the above review, it is smart, well written, and yet about BASKETBALL.  Also, MAFIA.  Do you realize the glee you have produced in librarians working with sporty boys who rarely pick up a book, Matthew Quick?  A million times thank you. And thank you to the book designer, who designed a really cool cover that makes our job so much easier!

I am so eager to pawn this off on my students in just a few weeks days (sigh...).  I picked it up before bed around 9pm one night, and the next thing I knew it was 2 am.  This book is fantastic - I am an avowed bball h8r (oh, I know how to play, it just took six torturous years for me to make one basket...) but I wanted to read it because I'd seen some good reviews, and also because I felt I needed more books for boys who are straight up non-readers -and yet, I could not put it down.  The word choice was excellent.  No word feels wasted; the narrative feels weighted with thoughtful selection, and not in a distracting way. Consider this:
 Books are open all over the floor.  They're all about outer space.  Hundreds of constellations and galaxies and universes are spread out at my feet.  (p. 38)
 Be still librarian hearts!  Every word feels chosen with good reason.  The characters are raw, realistic, and multidimensional - they are kids with serious problems, but they are still seniors in high school.  And they're really good kids!
Despite all this, what really had me hooked on this was Boy 21.  I'm very excited to introduce him to young men of color, who don't have a huge selection of representatives in contemporary YA.  He is an athlete, but he's so much more.  Boy 21 is smart, does remarkably well in school, and has nerdy interests like astronomy and Harry Potter.  YA Authors:  show me more.  He has me at page 37, in the beginning of chapter 9, when he opens his bedroom door to Finn (and the reader) for the first time (yes, also my suggested Book Talk Hook), and then later, when he utters the following line (which, true story, made me guffaw):
 I saw you lying on your roof.  Behind that big tree across the street, I politely waited for your love partner to leave. (p. 49)
But Boy 21 can also make you sigh:
 We're stories too...They're probably people who wouldn't think our lives are real either, if we wrote exactly what happened to us in a book.  (p. 222)
I mean...dayum.  Meta.  
But really, Matthew Quick: library voices?  Awesome.   


evanroskos said...

great review! I'm a fan (and friend) of Quick's. Love that scene where Finn goes to Boy21's room. So many great scenes between the boys. And enough emotional reality and character depth for it to please avid readers as well as those who are reluctant. I think Boy21 really strikes the balance between accessibility and complexity that I personally strive for. Who WOULDN'T want a review like this! Hope your students love it as much as you! (and me!)

Scott Humfeld said...

This is one of the best reviews of BOY21 I have seen. While I am long past my teen years I was hooked immediately when I started BOY21 and loved the characters and the story.
Matthew Quick is such a gifted writer and master story teller.
I hope your "reluctant readers" will learn some valuable lessons from BOY21, no the least of which is a love of reading.
ps - Have you read Sorta Like A Rock Star by Mr. Quick? Do.

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