Review of “Boy 21” by Matthew Quick

I put off reading this forever. From the blurbs I thought: boys, basketball, drugs, violence, ugh. But there were competing pressures: (1) the author is Matthew Quick, who wrote Silver Linings Playbook; (2) I keep seeing rave reviews for this one; and finally (3) the cover kept calling out to me, with its promise that something really, really good was somehow in this book. And it was!


Finley McManus is a high-school senior who lives in a working class Irish and Black mob-dominated town outside of Philadelphia with his depressed single father and his amputee alcoholic grandfather (“Pop”). We don’t know how they got into those straights, but Finley, the narrator, isn’t talking about it. He doesn’t like to think about unpleasant aspects of his life and so instead, he plays basketball, practices basketball with his girlfriend Erin (who also is a good player), and makes out with Erin when it’s too dark to play. Erin and Finley are not harassed by local gangs only because Erin’s older brother Rod provides protection for the whites in the neighborhood.

Everything in Finley’s life changes when his coach insists he befriend a new kid, Russ Washington, who is the son of friends of the Coach. Russ’s parents were recently murdered, and Russ has taken on the persona of “Boy21” from Outer Space. Coach wants to help him get back to “real life” and especially, to basketball, because back in LA, Russ was a big basketball phenom. But Russ not only plays Finley’s position, he wears Finley’s number. Can Finley give up what is so vital to his sanity to help someone else? Can Boy21 return to Earth?

Discussion: This is the first book in a long time that, for me, approached the quality of a John Green book. It has heart and soul and characters you just fall in love with. At times it’s hilarious. It skirts around being heartbreaking but never really falls over the cliff, because the love and hope and faith of the characters keep both them and you from tumbling over the edge. Does the girl, Erin, remind me of Jennifer Lawrence in the movie “Silver Linings Playbook”? Well, yes, but that’s not a bad thing! And the young boy, Finley, is a doll. Erin, who is his girlfriend, is trying to explain to Finley why the troubled Boy21 likes him:

“It’s because you’re a good person. It’s because you’re easy to be around. It’s because you are you. You don’t put demands on people and you never say anything negative – ever. So many people suck the life out of everyone they’re around, but you don’t do that. You give people strength just by being you.”

I wish I were like that. But since I’m not, it’s great to “get to know” characters who are, in a book like this.

Evaluation: Matthew Quick wrote Silver Linings Playbook, and you can recognize many of its same qualities in this terrific book: warmth; quirky humor; love and loyalty of family and friends; the role sports plays in cementing relationships; and the tragedy and beauty of the human condition. Highly recommended!

Rating: 4.5/5

Note: While sports plays a role, this is not a sports story!

Published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2012


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15 Responses to Review of “Boy 21” by Matthew Quick

  1. Sandy says:

    (First of all, you don’t give yourself enough credit!) No way I would have given this book a second glance, even if it WAS written by Matthew Quick. I’m reading about 50 pages a week in print these days, so I’m going to see if I can find it on audio. Of course, I’m adding 5 books on my iPod for every one I listen to…

  2. Beth F says:

    Well, I doubt I would have even considered this one until I read your review. I wonder if I own it.

  3. bookingmama says:

    I read this one on my Kindle and loved it. Now that I see your review I remember that I never got around to reviewing it!

  4. Don’t think I would have given this one a second glance … now I want to read it!

  5. Trish says:

    I almost clicked away without commenting but then saw your 4.5 and then the comment about this not just being a sports book and then I went and read the rest. 😉 I’m wondering if I could also get my brother to read this one! I’m not a HUGE fan of John Green (I like him but don’t go gaga over his stuff) but I’m going to put this on the list.

  6. BermudaOnion says:

    Wow, I want to read this one now! Of course, I still need to read Silver Linings Playbook.

  7. bookharbinger says:

    I’ve wanted to read Matthew Quick since before the movie, but I didn’t know any bloggers or friends who had, so thank you for reviewing this! I’m excited to read Boy21 now or his newest (which I have an ARC of, but can’t remember the title). I appreciate the John Green comment too. I think that’s great if it approaches that quality. Didn’t Francisco Stork blurb this? We are both fans of his. 🙂

  8. Ti says:

    I may have given this one a chance based on that wonderful cover but your review REALLY makes me want to read it.

  9. I started this and didn’t finish i need to get back to it as I loooooved SLP the book. (the movie not so much)

  10. Okay, I hate that cover, and I have to admit I would have been judging by that alone. Glad it was a pleasant surprise for you!

  11. This sounds wonderful. I’m adding it to my wishlist.

  12. stacybuckeye says:

    I need to read Silver Linings since I did really like the movie. It’s good that Quick didn’t disappoint his fans with this one.

  13. I bought Silver Lining soon after I saw the movie. I want to read that one first but I would read this one no matter what!

  14. litandlife says:

    Another book that I would have passed right by without your great review!

  15. Jenners says:

    I’ll have to check it out … especially because there is no movie version for me to compare it to in my head. I think my reading of Silver Linings Playbook suffered because of my love of the movie!

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