Teen Stuff: Boy21, by Matthew Quick

While there is a basketball theme to the book, Boy21 is not a sports book, and it’s not just for teens. It is a heartfelt and fast paced story of loss, family, friendship, and competition. It's also a book that is on many "best of 2012" lists regarding young adult fiction. From the writer of Sorta Like A Rock Star and The Silver Lining’s Playbook, we meet Boy21, who is one unique teen.

Set in a fictional blue collar suburb of Philadelphia, Boy21 centers around Finley, AKA White Rabbit, who selectively doesn’t say much and calls himself a “minimal speaker.” He goes about his life playing basketball, living with his hardworking father, and hanging out with his fellow ball-playing girlfriend, who is pretty much his only friend. Together they long to get out of the rough and tumble life in Belmont, which is mainly divided between Irish Americans and African Americans.

Life proceeds as normal until one day his coach lets him in on a little secret. There is a new kid heading to town, and Coach wants Finley to keep a big secret about the new kid and stick to him like glue as he helps guide him as he transitions to the new school. It sounds easy enough, but ends up being more challenging than Finley thought. Russell, who calls himself Boy21, has lost his parents in a tragedy and heads to Belmont to live with his grandparents. His coping mechanisms (acting as though he’s from another planet) are hard for Finley to grasp at first, but as the story progresses the boys learn a lot from each other as they find out that they have more in common than just basketball. These boys are coping with more than any teen should, and how they conquer their demons and rise above leaves for a magical ending.