Appetizer: Finley doesn't say much. The two things he's passionate about are basketball and his girlfriend, Erin. He and Erin live in Bellmont, PA. Gang wars and the Irish mob impact all aspects of life there. All Erin and Finley want to do is escape and a basketball scholarship would save them both.
When his coach asks Finley to help convince a new boy to try to join the basketball team, Finley will have to choose between the team and his own future as he finds his starting position in danger of going to Russ, the new boy. Russ has experienced a trauma recently, one that has left him broken and believing that he is from space, with the name Boy21, and destined to leave the planet to soon. Despite Russ's break with reality, Finley may have more in common with the new basketball player than he can imagine and their developing friendship may bring up memories he has long refused to speak of.
When I first started reading Boy21, I was a little worried. I'm not a big sports novel person, but after Russ/Boy21 was introduced, the book appealed more. I loved the tension that Finley felt about wanting to help Russ and maintain his spot on the team. I also initially liked the gang tensions and how it impacted the daily lives of characters who wanted nothing to do with that lifestyle.
I liked Finley's voice. There are a lot of wonderfully rich descriptions throughout the novel that I really liked.
There's also a Harry Potter sub-plot that amused me.
But having said that, about 2/3 or 3/4ths of the way through the story, the plot took a turn that I wasn't crazy about. And from that point forward, the book pretty much lost me.
I am very excited to have a book recommendation for my students who play basketball.
"Sometimes I pretend that shooting hoops in my backyard is my earliest memory." (p. 1)
"And then one day a girl appeared in my backyard. She had blond hair and a smile that seemed to last forever.
"I live down the street," she said. "I'm in your class."
I kept shooting and hoped she'd go away. Her name was Erin and she seemed really nice, but I didn't want to make friends with anyone. I only wanted to shoot hoops alone for the rest of my life." (pp. 2-3)
"In my memory, she hits dozens of shots before I get the ball back, but she doesn't ever leave my backyard--the two of us keep shooting for years and years." (p. 3)
"'My friend Russell and his wife were murdered last February.' The word murdered gets stuck in my ear and suddenly it feels like someone is jabbing a finger into my throat. I begin to cough a little, but Coach keeps talking. It takes a few minutes for my mind to process the rest of his words. "The details aren't important right now. But the event has had a dramatic effect on Russell junior. He's spent some time in a group home for kids who suffer from post-traumatic stress. The Allens here in town are his closest relatives and even though they don't feel quite up to taking on a troubled teenage boy, because Russell requested it, they have agreed to care for him until he goes to college next year."
I suddenly realize that Russell will be eligible to play for our basketball team. And even though Coach is talking about the aftereffects of a murder, I'm ashamed to admit that Immediately begin worrying about my starting position." (p. 27)
"'Russell isn't exactly going by the name Russell at this moment in his life.' Coach glances out the windshield with this vacant look on his face. "Russell now likes to be called Boy21." He nods a few times, as if to say he isn't joking.
"Why?" I say, noting that twenty-one is my basketball number. Could this night possibly get any weirder?
"The people at his group home and his local therapist have both recommended that we all call him Boy21 out of respect for his wishes. They say he now needs to exert control over his environment in some small way, or something like that. I don't know anything about therapy, but I think after all that's happened the boy could sure use a kindhearted friend. That's what this is about. We'll call him Boy21 tonight and work on getting him back to Russ before school starts." (pp. 30-31)
"'You are an Earthling?' Boy21 says to me.
I swallow and nod.
"I am programmed to treat all Earthlings with kindness. Greetings. I am Boy21 from the cosmos. I am stranded here on Earth, but I will be leaving soon. Enter into my domestic living pod." (p. 37)
"'You don't talk much, do you?' Boy21 asks, looking over his shoulder.
"Did something happen to you?" he asks.
Truth is, many things have happened to me, both good and bad, stuff that would take a lot of words to explain, too many words for me.
There's part of me that wants to discuss my past, why I don't talk much, outer space even, everything, but it's like my mind is a fist and it's always clenched tight, trying to keep the words in." (p. 41)
Tasty Rating: !!!