If you follow a handful of popular writers for young people on Twitter you may have noticed over the last few weeks a heated debate on boys and books. Or rather boys in books. Or books by boys with boys in books. Or something.
So it is with rather excellent timing that this book, about a boy and books, written by a boy, is published. However, I am not cynical, and in no way would state that sometimes arguments are made on social media in order to publicise things. This is a damn good book, about a young man, written by a man, and should be celebrated and read by everyone who wants a good cry, and to feel a bit more hope in the world.
Finley lives in Bellmont, a dilapidated town in Philly run by a mixture of Irish mobsters and Black gangs. His home life is pretty awful, with his dad working all hours and his Pop, who lost his legs when Finley was small, now an alcoholic and requiring constant care.
Finley also is a very quiet boy. It is implied that he went through phases of selective mutism as a child, and now, aged 17, he isn’t great at standing up for himself. Fortunately for him he has basketball, and his wonderful girlfriend Erin, and these things collectively keep him more or less going.
Then his Coach asks him to befriend a new boy who has come to live in Bellmont after the tragic death of his parents. Russ is obsessed with space, and prefers to be known as Boy21. However, slowly a friendship is formed between the two boys, and together they help each other heal a little.
This book took me two commutes and a lunch hour to read and I was sobbing a little inside by the end of it. There aren’t that many books that are written for young people, or at least star young people, that are about friendship. Bravery, yes. Romance, magic, sex, mental health, all these things (and these things also make up part of the story), but it is the friendship that makes this book so lovely.
I also loved reading a well-written book that talked about sport, and its place in social mobility in America. Finley knows he isn’t a good enough basketball player to get a college scholarship, but the boys who are can get a ticket out of Bellmont, often more easily than the kids with a brain. Sport is used by the rich as a way of enticing the poor to join their world, not as equals, but as objects of entertainment; if these colleges didn’t need the poor boys who play b-ball all day to win them championships they wouldn’t even consider letting them in to their elite institutions.
This book also talks about race, sexism, and disability and there lies its only problem-there is often too much stuff. It is a short book, and a quick read, but it contains a lot. However, I still really enjoyed it, and would recommend it. The Silver Linings Playbook was one of my favourite reads a couple of years ago, and this book shows Matthew Quick as an author with very much more than one string to his bow.