By Matthew Quick
Published 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Finley loves basketball - it makes him feel normal. On the court, he doesn't worry about the Irish Mob that runs his town, or taking care of his disabled grandfather, or that he's the only white boy on his team. He just plays and loves it. But basketball is about to get complicated for Finley - with the arrival of Russ, a nationally ranked ball player who has recently suffered a terrible tragedy. Will basketball bring these two together or drive a wedge between them?
I picked up an ARC of this at ALA Midwinter in 2012 and set it aside when I didn't read it ahead of its release date. As the year went on, though, I saw more and more excellent reviews of it, even some discussion on Someday My Printz Will Come. I kept thinking, "Okay, you need to read that one, Sarah," and, inevitably, some other book would come first. When I decided to participate in the Hub Reading Challenge, it was a no-brainer for me to read this one - I already owned a copy, plus it got great reviews. I am so glad I finally got around to it.
This is a relatively short book: it seems like nowadays a good percentage of YA (and even middle-grade) books are pushing 500 pages or more - so, by comparison, Boy21's 250 pages seems slim. But that doesn't mean this book is a lightweight. There are so many things happening in this book - the Irish Mob, race relations, grief and post-traumatic stress, friendship, romance, longing to figure out where your future lies, and finding the balance between the family you're born into and the family you choose. It's a lot of heavy stuff, but it is all handled spectacularly. This is a book that sneaks up on you - when I started reading, I didn't expect to be so completely sucked in by the story. I mean, I really didn't want to put this book down, and I think this is the book that busted me out of my reading slump. On the surface, it doesn't really seem to have the makings of a gripping read but that's exactly what it was for me - I was emotionally engaged throughout the entire novel, connecting with the characters and fiercely needing to know what would happen next. It's a quick read - short chapters and great writing keep you turning the pages as quickly as you can. The characters Quick has created are vivid and realistic - I really felt like I knew these boys, and I loved the development of their friendship over the course of the novel. I really loved the novel's ending - heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. I shed a few tears while reading this book and will definitely say this is one of the best books I've read so far this year. Highly recommended.
Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.