I was fortunate enough to meet author Matthew Quick at NCTE back in November. I picked up a copy of his book and promised myself I would read it soon. Then I got the opportunity to head Mr. Quick read a bit from the book and speak about writing it and I was hooked. I read Boy21 a few days after coming home from NCTE and I’m still thinking about it. I expected to like the book due to Quick being a Jersey boy and the Jersey roots of the story. I’m also a basketball fan and figured it would be good for me to have another go-to sports book for some of my readers. After reading Boy21 I realized it is much more than a sports book. As one of my students said upon completing the book, “Mrs. G, it’s not just a book about basketball. It’s about life. And it’s really good.”
Finley lives in Bellmont, a dying town where racism, the Irish mob, and poverty are a part of life. Finley is one of the few white kids in his high school, where his team mates refer to him as “White Rabbit” because he’s the only white guy on the varsity team. He’s a hard worker who may not be the best on the team but just may be the most disciplined and most dedicated. He hopes that basketball will be a way out of Bellmont for himself and his girlfriend Erin, who is a fantastic basketball player. They practice together all summer in preparation for their senior year. But things take a turn for the bizarre when Coach shows up one night and asks Finley to look after a new student (and hopefully a new member of the basketball team).
Russ is a weird kid. Coach explains to Finley that his parents were recently murdered and since then Russ has been shutting the world out. He’s moved back to Bellmont to live with his grandparents and get a fresh start. But when Finley meets him, he realizes that Coach was not entirely truthful. It turns out Russ is one of the top-rated high school players in the country, or at least he was. Now, he refers to himself as Boy21 and has a bizarre obsession with outer space. Oh, and he no longer has any interest in basketball. Coach wants Finley to look after him and convince him to play basketball again, even though that means Finley will probably lose his spot on the team if Russ decides to play.
And then something terrible happens to Erin, and Finley and Russ must deal with the tragedy and loss in their pasts, and the possible losses they may suffer in the future.
As my student said so eloquently when he handed back our classroom copy of Boy21, this is a book about life. Smart, funny, raw, and touching, it’s a book I can confidently recommend to all of my readers, from reluctant to voracious. The characters are real and their lives are not perfect. I found myself wanting to dive between the pages and rescue Finley, Russ, and Erin. But at the same time, I knew that none of them would allow themselves to be rescued. Boy21 is a book I am looking forward to handing to a lot of my John Green fans, because Quick’s book is smart and witty while still making the reader’s heart break and put itself back together again.
Highly, highly recommended!
*ARC courtesy of the publisher, from NCTE