Author: Matthew Quick
Released: March 5, 2012
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Goodreads Summary: Basketball has always been an escape for Finley. He lives in gray, broken Bellmont, a town ruled by the Irish Mob, drugs, violence, and racially charged rivalries. At home, he takes care of his disabled grandfather, and at school he’s called “White Rabbit”, the only white kid on the varsity basketball team. He’s always dreamed of getting out somehow with his girlfriend, Erin. But until then, when he puts on his number 21, everything seems to make sense.
Russ has just moved to the neighborhood. A former teen basketball phenom from a privileged home, his life has been turned upside down by tragedy. Cut off from everyone he knows, he now answers only to the name Boy21—his former jersey number—and has an unusual obsession with outer space.
As their final year of high school brings these two boys together, “Boy21” may turn out to be the answer they both need.
First off, I admired the dedication that Finley and Erin (his girlfriend) have towards becoming better basketball players. While Erin is a naturally talented basketball player who is the star of her Varsity team, Finley lacks the natural talent and works hard to be the best point guard that he can. Finley’s father tells him that he can always “outwork talent,” and that is exactly what he does, training with Erin before school even starts. I wish I had that kind of motivation in my body!
Finley lives with his dad and his Pop in a town pretty much ruled by the Irish Mob…a fact everyone knows and no one talks about. If you’ve ever seen the movie Gone Baby, Gone, that’s pretty much what I pictured when I pictured this town in my head. In a town where no one asks questions, Finley has learned that it’s best to just keep quiet…and that’s just what he does best.
When his coach asks him for a favor — to help basketball star Russ/Boy21, the son of a former friend — Finley does everything his Coach asks him to with no questions asked. Russ uses the persona Boy21 to hide from the real-world after experiencing a huge tragedy. Boy21 is a creature from outer space who is sent to “observe human emotions on Earth,” and he likes spending time with Finley since his quiet has a “calming presence.” But Coach wants Finley to get Russ away from the Boy21 persona and back into life, especially basketball. I thought it was unfair of Coach to put so much pressure on Finley. I mean, it’s his senior year, he’s been training so hard, and he’s just supposed to step aside and let a stranger take his spot? That’s a difficult pill to swallow in the first place. Add to it that the person taking your place acts like he’s from crazy-town, and it’s that much harder.
Coach tells Finley that he chose him to help Russ because they have a lot in common, but it’s not really until the end (when both boys are ready to let go of the silence of their tragedies) that you find out not only what they have in common but why Finley holds so tightly to his cocoon of silence.
When tragedy strikes Erin, Finley is completely lost. I almost felt worse for Finley than Erin because of how helpless and hopeless he feels at first. It has been their goal all along to escape from Bellmont and start a fresh life together. But he is left wondering if they’ll ever make it out. And more importantly, if they will make it out together.
I was torn between liking/disliking Finley’s Coach. While I think he wanted Finley to truly be a friend to Russ and help him become grounded again, I couldn’t help but wonder if Coach was a little motivated by the selfishness of wanting such an amazing ball player to help his team. After Erin’s accident, it didn’t seem like Coach was there for Finley like he should have been, especially after putting such a large responsibility on him with Russ.
I would recommend that you have a tissue handy (just in case) for the last 20 pages or so. My heart just broke (even more!) for Finley, and I was rooting with all of my heart for him to be able to find some happiness!
I’ll be adding this to my classroom library, and I can’t wait to get it into the hands of my students. I know this book will appeal to boys and girls, but it has a great cover and story to really draw in some of my more reluctant boy readers. I’ve added Matthew Quick’s Sorta Like A Rockstar to my summer TBR, and I’ll be anxiously looking forward to his next book!