Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Review: Boy21 by Matthew Quick
In the city of Bellmont, where mobs covertly rule the streets and it’s not safe to ask questions, Finley tries to lead a quiet existence of basketball, basketball, and more basketball along with his girlfriend, Erin, whose brother is part of the Irish mob. But the arrival of Russ shakes up Finley’s life—for Russ, who is a nationally ranked high school basketball player, has been through some pretty recent trauma, and now insists on being called Boy21. Finley doesn’t know how he, of all people, can help Boy21, but when terrible things befall him, Finley finds solace in this true friend.
Set in an unsettlingly realistic world of poverty, violence, and racism, BOY21 gifts readers with the subtle magic that contemporary literature can possess.
The setting of Bellmont may be one that some readers are not familiar with, a poverty-ridden city ruled by the invisible hands of mobs. BOY21 is not a “mob story,” but the presence of mobs in Bellmont does play a role in explaining characters’ behaviors. Neither is BOY21 a story about race: instead, race is a conscious presence in the story, but does not dictate its plotline. This kind of refreshingly realistic and relatable take on issues such as race and poverty will, I hope, be emulated in YA to come.
But I haven’t yet begun to talk about the best thing about BOY21, which is…its characters! Finley is an easy protagonist to like, despite—or perhaps because of—his reticence. We like him partly because of his harmlessness—which is what other characters think of him as well—but also because we can see the potential in him to overcome his own tragedy and find his voice. Boy21 is believable in his mannerisms and you come to feel both sympathy and regard for this extraordinary yet humble young man.
The ending feels a little bit like wish fulfillment to me, but it proved to be only a small dent in what was otherwise a satisfying reading experience. BOY21 may not be fast-paced in the way of action stories, but it’s hard to put down in its own right.
Cover discussion: Eccentric and fascinating... just like Boy21 (the character and the book *smiles*).
Little, Brown / March 5, 2012 / Hardcover / 256pp. / $17.99
e-galley received from publisher and NetGalley.