Today’s review is a guest review by three teenage characters from Brad Boney’s The Nothingness of Ben: eighteen year old Quentin Walsh, his sixteen year old brother, Jason and Jason’s seventeen year old boyfriend, Jake McAlister. We hope you enjoy their thoughts on the young adult LGBT novel, Boy21 by Matthew Quick.
Title: Boy21 by Matthew Quick
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Imprint: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: 249 pages
You can lose yourself in repetition–quiet your thoughts; I learned the value of this at a very young age.
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 to take care of his disabled grandfather alone. He’s always dreamed of getting out someday, but until he can, putting on that number 21 jersey makes everything seem okay.
Russ has just moved to the neighborhood, and 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, but answers only to the name Boy21–taken from his former jersey number.
As their final year of high school brings these two boys together, a unique friendship may turn out to be the answer they both need.
Three Amigos’ Review:
Quentin Walsh: I’m a wreck.
Jason Walsh: Me too.
Jake McAlister: I thought about you guys the whole time.
Quentin: Jason, did you know what you were doing when you picked this?
Jason: No. Jake and I were talking one night about how to promote the blog—
Jake: I’m obsessed with pageviews now.
Jason: —and he’s the one who came up with the idea of asking Kathy if we could do a book review, since she’s a super cool mom with boys of her own.
Jake: Plus, you already did that interview with Brad. So the readers know you.
Quentin: I’m all for stopping by Kathy’s site again. But—
Jason: Let me finish my story, please. So I was reading through my Google news, and I saw the finalists for the L.A. Times Book Prize. I’m not really a YA reader, because most of it’s for girls, but this was a finalist in the YA category, and it’s written for boys. The guy who wrote it, Matthew Quick, also wrote The Silver Linings Playbook, a movie we all three loved. I thought it was a perfect fit. But you know I never read blurbs past the first sentence or two, so—
Jake: He hates knowing even the most basic plot.
Quentin: He’s been that way ever since he saw his first movie.
Jason: I’m sorry I didn’t know what it was about when I picked it. But it was a good experience for me. I found it very cathartic.
Quentin: I’m not saying it was a bad experience. I just could have used some warning, that’s all.
Jake: Do you mind if I fill everyone in on what’s going on here?
Quentin: No, please do. I’m sorry.
Jake: We’re not going to talk about the plot of Boy21, because to talk about the plot would be to ruin the ride. And we’re simply not going to do that. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about the book in terms of theme. First, let me say, there is absolutely nothing gay about this book. Still, it’s a love story between two teenage boys.
Quentin: From the perspective of a straight guy, I would say that’s 100% accurate. It’s about the transformative power of friendship.
Jason: And not all love stories are romances.
Jake: The two boys, Finley and Russ, have lost three parents between them. Neither of them has a mother. And that’s what Quentin is going on about. This is a story about kids trying to cope in the world without their parents. And for those of you who don’t know Quentin and Jason’s story, their parents were killed in a car accident two years ago.
Quentin: This book unhinged me.
Jason: We were both finishing it last night in our rooms upstairs. We have rooms across the hall from each other. At a certain point we didn’t even bother trying to pretend we weren’t bawling our heads off.
Quentin: Quick understands set up and payoff, and when the payoff came, it shredded me emotionally.
Jake: The book is set in Bellmont, PA. I don’t even know if that’s a real place or not, but it’s a rough town. The characters are poor. The story is narrated by Finley. He comes from a mob controlled Irish neighborhood and is the only white player on the high school basketball team. This book is as much about basketball—
Quentin: I would challenge that. Quick very much sets basketball up to be a source of personal growth and achievement, learning how to be a team player and all that crap, but then he flips it and exposes the insanity of putting a game before the people we love. That was one of my favorite parts of the book.
Jason: There’s a lot of talk about basketball. I know absolutely nothing about the sport, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the story.
Jake: Finley lives with his dad and his grandfather, who has no legs. His mom’s absence is not explained at first. Finley doesn’t talk much. He has a girlfriend named Erin, who accepts his silence and loves him. They dream of getting out of Bellmont.
Quentin: Erin reminds me a lot of Dakota.
Jason: I can see that. They both know how to hang without talking all the time.
Jake: Then along comes Russ, whose parents were recently murdered. I don’t know how to describe Russ.
Quentin: I do. He’s what I would have been were it not for my brothers and Travis. He’s stepped out of reality in order to keep breathing. He calls himself Boy21 and talks about being from outer space. His whole psyche is splintered. Nothing makes sense, except the glow-in-the-dark stars he has plastered to his ceiling. When he turns off the lights and looks up, he imagines his mom and dad are among those stars. There’s no comfort for a boy who has lost his parents. Not at first, at least. Only escape.
Jason: The basketball coach, who I wanted to slap half the time, asks Finley to watch out for Russ at school, and the two become friends.
Jake: And that’s about all the plot you’re going to get from us.
Quentin: Except at 66%, the story takes a left turn that I wasn’t crazy about at first.
Jason: Me either. I was ready for things to start getting better at that point.
Quentin: I was worried the story couldn’t recover. But it did. That’s what readers need to know. There’s a big left turn late in the book, but Quick does right the ship by the end. And the ending is not Pollyanna at all. Hope does not come without sacrifice. And there’s a series of Harry Potter references that pay off nicely.
Jason: How did you react, Jake?
Jake: When I finished it last night, the first thing I did was hug my mom and tell her that I love her.
Jason: That’s a good reason to read it.
Jake: We know lots of moms read Kathy’s reviews. If you are a mom with a teenage boy, here’s why you should give him this book—because when he’s finished, he will thank you for being the best mom a boy ever had. I guarantee it.
Quentin: And if you’re an orphan like us, beware. Make sure you’re ready to take this on.
Jake: Any criticisms?
Jason: Yes. The writing is very polished, but the story is told in first person present, which is all the rage after The Hunger Games. I don’t really have a problem with the present tense. I got used to it, but I know some people find it annoying, so be warned if that’s you. Personally, and this is probably because Dad used to say this—
Quentin: “Unless you’re J.D. Salinger or Alice Walker, stay away from first person.”
Jason: Thank you. Holden Caulfield is the standard. Bring that, or stick to third person. Finley’s voice isn’t distinct enough to warrant the first person narrative. I think it would have been stronger in third person. But that’s just me.
Quentin: I agree. But then I was similarly brainwashed, and The Catcher in the Rye is the greatest novel about a teenage boy ever, so don’t invite comparisons.
Jake: I think you’re both nit-picking. It worked fine for me. I didn’t even notice it. Now, when they make this into a movie and I hear the first-person voice over, I’m going to scream bloody murder.
Quentin: Jesus, you’re right. Did you see on his website that Mr. Quick makes $12,000 for a two hour public appearance with Q&A? Do you think we could get that kind of payday?
Jason: You’re delusional.
Quentin: Come on, little brother. There are three of us. So technically, they’re only paying $4000 each. We’re a bargain.
Jason: Stop being silly.
Jake: If you’re looking for something with a little more grit, we highly recommend Boy21. It’s not a walk in the park, but it’s deeply emotional and has something good to say about the human race. If you’re a mom with a teenage boy, and you’re trying to get him to read more, this would be a great place to start. And you’d probably enjoy reading it too and talking about it with him.
Quentin: And then, head over to our blog, where our day job is reviewing movies. We’re not even competition for Kathy.
Jason: We’re seeing that Oz thing this week, right?
Jake: Right. James Franco. Now there’s a career we can sink our teeth into.
Quentin: The gayest movie star I ever met was a straight dude named James Franco.
Buy Link: Amazon
Three Amigos’ BLOG