Author: Matthew Quick
Publication Date: 3/5/12
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Blurb (GR): Basketball has always been an escape for Finley. He lives in broken-down Bellmont, a town ruled by the Irish mob, drugs, violence, and racially charged rivalries. At home, his dad works nights and Finley is left alone to take care of his disabled grandfather. He's always dreamed of somehow getting out, but until he can, putting on that number 21 jersey makes everything seem okay.
Russ has just moved to the neighborhood. The life of this teen basketball phenom has been turned upside down by tragedy. Cut off from everyone he knows, he won't pick up a basketball, and yet answers only to the name Boy21—taken from his former jersey number.
As their final year of high school brings these two boys together, "Boy21" may turn out to be the answer they both need. Matthew Quick, the acclaimed author of Sorta Like a Rock Star, brings readers a moving novel about hope, recovery, and redemption.
There is not nearly enough YA books about friendships. For some strange reason, romantic relationships are promoted as more important. While I agree that at some point in life you do meet that special person who becomes your partner in everything, up until that point it is friends that help you out, support you, accompany you through life.
Friendship, the healing, supporting, non-judgmental type of friendship, is what Boy21 is about. Or is supposed to be about.
I love the idea of this novel. Imagine Finley, a reserved high school senior with some serious darkness in his past, whose only friend is his girlfriend/soulmate Erin. Finley's most favorite occupation, his therapy of sorts, is basketball. His goal for his last school year is just to be on the team and play well. Enter Boy21, another damaged young boy, a rising basketball star, who suffers from a mental breakdown after the death of his parents. Finley is entrusted to guard and partner with Boy21 in school. And also guide him back into playing basketball, because, among other things, what Boy21 had lost is his passion for the game.
There is a very interesting conflict here: Should Finley encourage Boy21 to play, knowing that he will for sure take his place on the team? Should he sacrifice his own dreams in order to save his new friend, because maybe basketball indeed has a power to heal Boy21, bring him back from the imaginary escape world he exists in now? What is more important - your friend's well-being or your own ?
To my disappointment, this conflict never really comes to the front of this novel, never develops to its full potential, never impacts the characters as strongly as it could and should have . The book that was supposed to be about Boy21 (you would assume, judging by the title) and about the friendship bonds between the two boys is diluted and often overshadowed by the side plots - Irish mob, Finley's girlfriend and family problems. In the end, only maybe 25% of the book is about friendship, and the rest - just everything else. I feel like Boy21 is a case of the writer having his fingers in too many (idea) pots. The main point of the story is just lost.
As often is with these things, I am a little baffled by the overwhelmingly positive critical reception of Boy21. It has already received some serious starred reviews from several major professional publication. His previous YA novel - Sorta Like a Rock Star is a much more accomplished work, in my opinion, and yet it went almost unnoticed.
Do I recommend Boy21? Yes, but with some reservations. However, I do wholeheartedly recommend Matthew Quick's Sorta Like a Rock Star.