Basketball has always been an escape for Finley. He lives in gray, broken Bellmont, a town ruled by the Irish Mob, drugs, violence, and racially charged rivalries. At home, he takes care of his disabled grandfather, and at school he’s called “White Rabbit”, the only white kid on the varsity basketball team. He’s always dreamed of getting out somehow with his girlfriend, Erin. But until then, when he puts on his number 21, everything seems to make sense.
Russ has just moved to the neighborhood. A former teen basketball phenom from a privileged home, his life has been turned upside down by tragedy. Cut off from everyone he knows, he now answers only to the name Boy21—his former jersey number—and has an unusual obsession with outer space.
As their final year of high school brings these two boys together, “Boy21” may turn out to be the answer they both need.
Summary from Goodreads
The greatest strength of Boy21 is Finley’s narration. He has a unique way of describing the world, and one which I haven’t often seen portrayed in YA fiction. (Caveat: this is not the type of book I would normally pick up, so it’s not like I’m an expert here.) His voice never falters and throughout the story the reader is completely immersed in his worldview.
I also thought that Quick treated a number of strands in a really interesting and well-done way. The view of Finley’s coach changes over the course of the book in a way that helps pull the book out of simply being a sports book into being something that larger groups of readers will appreciate. This was also true of the relationship between Finley and his father and grandfather. It was nuanced, without easy answers, but also full of real affection and care for each other.
Despite the strengths of the book, I did see a few problems. First, an issue of first person narration: we are so much inside of Finley’s head that everyone else–even Russ and Erin, Finley’s girlfriend–came across as flat to me. They are defined by their relationship with Finley, and it’s hard to see them as more than that.
But I also felt that Finley’s characterization fell a little short. He does change over the course of the story–notably with his selfishness towards Erin, which really annoyed me at the beginning of the book. And yet there were several big moments that seemed oddly off–where things seemed obvious (in one case) or suddenly out of joint with the way the characters had been described previously (in another case). I wish I could be less vague, but spoilers.
I know other people have had a vastly different reaction to this book than I did–Sophie Brookover has a nice post about it over at the Printz Blog, for instance–so if you’re interested, don’t hesitate on my account!
As a side note to the text, it’s great to see a cover that shows a black character front and center, but it did make me expect the book to be narrated by Russ, when in fact it’s Finley who’s our narrator. I don’t know if that’s an issue, exactly, but it was an odd gap between how I thought the book was going to unfold and how it actually did.
Book source: public library
Book information: Little, Brown, 2012; YA. Cybils finalist in the YA Fiction category.