It’s hard to feel any degree of self-worth, to set goals and be happy in a town where dope dealers have the upper hand, prostitutes walk the streets, poverty lurks everywhere and the mob has the authority to either spare a life or end it.
Finley, Erin and Russ would go nuts in this town if they did not share an interest in basketball. They are the dominating players in Matthew Quick’s “Boy21.”
On the surface Quick’s novel might be judged as a book only about basketball but it really isn’t.
Although basketball seals the bond among Quick’s cast of characters, it is the intense interaction of these three high school students that bears the most weight.
They may not realize it at first but their lives will change considerably. Once blocked, painful memories re-emerge.
The young, heartbroken athletes must face and cope with tragic events that occurred in past family life.
And they struggle emotionally with the present, focusing on how their lives can be more positive.
They itch for the chance to get out of that rotten, miserable town in Pennsylvania where two cultures predominate and often clash: the Irish and African American communities.
Finley is one of the few Caucasian boys in his high school and the only white kid on the varsity basketball team.
For the last two years he has been starting point guard. With great Irish enthusiasm for the sport, those around him know him as “White Rabbit.” He likes carrots and is as quiet as a rabbit.
The main reason for his being called “White Rabbit,” stems from his class reading a depressing book by John Updike.
Erin, who becomes Finley’s girlfriend, is an excellent basketball player, often beating out the guy’s teams. She encourages Finley to speak out more often and to stand up for himself.
Enter a strange fellow who goes by the name, “Boy21,” his real name is Russ, and he and Finley will eventually develop a sincere and respectful friendship.
Finley is asked to mentor Boy21, who seems odd because he is so fascinated and obsessed with the cosmos, stars, galaxies and anything to do with space.
Boy21 claims that his parents will soon beam him up to the heavens where all family members will be together once again.
Students think Boy21 is simply crazy. By digging deeper inside, it is not so unusual to observe his intelligence that’s so superior despite his odd behavior.
It turns out that Boy21, taken from his former jersey number 21, is the same jersey number belonging to Finley. He and Finley have a lot in common, even though they are different.
Boy21, Russ or “Black Rabbit,” is the new kid in the neighborhood having transferred from an elite, private California school. He has his own troubles that continue to knaw at him.
There are many sad episodes throughout Quick’s novel that reveal the vulnerability and fears of Boy21, Finley, Erin and other family members, such as Finley’s dad and grandfather “Pop.”
Tears flowed easily for me as I became more and more engrossed with Boy21, Finley and Erin. Quick’s novel is extremely emotionally packed, vivid and, at times, frightening.
I admired Boy21 and Finley for finally opening up and having the strength to carry on.
There are other pluses and good reasons for reading “Boy21.”
Young people encouraged to read by their parents and teachers will learn a lot about friendship, loyalty and trust from this novel.
Kids who enjoy sports, particularly basketball, will be intrigued by Quick’s characters and love of the game.
On a larger scale, “Boy21” also might have an impact on community leaders, school counselors, sociologists and psychologists.
“Boy21” is an all-around good read featuring some remarkable characters who are quite capable of stealing one’s heart. Wherever there is heart, there is plenty of hope to go around.
Quick is also the author of “The Silver Linings Playbook,” which was recently made into a movie.
Carol A. Wright is a freelance writer and a former Manhattan resident.