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!
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