Little Brown and Company, 2012. 250 pp.
Genres: Young Adult Fiction
I have to admit that I wasn’t very interested in reading Boy21 when I first received it. It was assigned to me for class and I took one look and thought, “oh great, a sports book.” What I discovered was something so much more. I think this is one of those books that has been overlooked and underrated.
Finley is very likable and relatable on some levels. We certainly don’t share the same interests or background, but he’s very introspective (her refers to himself as a non-talker) and I can be that way too. I was more so when I was a teen. Finley loves basketball, his girlfriend, and his family. That’s pretty much the extent to his life. It was immediately obvious to me that Finley used basketball as a sort of escapism. While that’s fine to some degree, I think Finley was using it as an excuse to check out and he allowed basketball to get his priorities out of whack.
On the outside, it seems like it’s about basketball and his friendship with Boy21. In reality, it’s about how people and friendships can change us. Finley’s friendship with Russ allowed him to break out of his shell and see who he really wanted to be and what was important to him. I think the setting is particularly important in understanding this novel. Finley is confronted daily with the danger of where he lives. His proximity to the Irish Mob is constantly placing him in danger. It also says a lot for his friendship with Russ, since the Irish live on one side of town and the blacks live on the other. Both Russ and Finley rise above this though. They don’t let it stand in the way of their friendship or their futures. They also form a sort of kinship
I was quickly engaged and though the book is by no means fast-paced, I devoured the second half of it in a sitting. The book is much more character driven than plot driven, but the plot really picks up toward the end. It’s almost jarring the change between character focus and plot focus. I actually think it’s a short-coming of the novel. The plot development at the end seems to jump out of nowhere, though it did keep me reading until the end. The ending is satisfying enough, but I finished feeling like I needed something more. I think what the book does well is illustrate the dangers that some urban teens face and show how friendships can change our lives.