2020 Alphabet Soup Author Challenge – Boy21 – Matthew Quick

Genre: Young adult, Mental Illness, Family

Narrative Style: First person, chronological

Rating: 3/5

Published: 2012

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: For Finley and his girlfriend, Erin, basketball is everything. It is their ticket out of their downbeat neighbourhood and they spend long hours training together. When Finley’s coach asks him to look after Russ, a much sought after basketball player who has suffered such a severe trauma he has retreated into the persona Boy21, things change for him completely. Both boys are forced to face up to the tragedy in their lives. 

Reading Challenges: 2020 Alphabet Soup Author Challenge

I admit I bought this specially for this challenge, having no Q authors on my shelves – either physical or kindle. I’d seen the film of Silver Linings Playbook so I’m not sure why I didn’t pick that. This sounded interesting but unfortunately didn’t live up to its potential.

Finley is an interesting narrator and his family relations were convincing in their detail. Life was difficult for Finley, living in a rough neighbourhood, having to look after his disabled, alcoholic Grandfather while his father worked night shift and getting picked on for being the only white person on the school basketball team but as long as he was able to play and spend time with Erin, he was fine. So far so good, I thought. The scene was successfully set.

However, when Russ – Boy21 – is introduced into the story, things become less convincing. His persona didn’t really ring true. Although, undoubtedly, people do retreat into fantasy – in this case, believing they are from outer space – in order to avoid very real tragedy, I just couldn’t quite believe in Russ. Similarly when he recovers after starting to play basketball again, it just feels too easy.

One of the most interesting aspects of this story was the friendship between Finley and Russ, both of whom have suffered from tragedy. However, it is suddenly cut off as Finley is given a chance to escape but he will never be able to return to Belmont. I felt this was a shame and made the novel seem a bit pointless.

At the beginning of the novel, we are told that Finley’s mother is dead and that no one talks about it. Hints are made about the Irish mafia throughout the novel, particularly after Erin is involved in a hit and run accident that stops her from playing basketball. When the full story is revealed it is little wonder that Finley never wanted to talk about it but it does come quite late in the story and with little to really prepare the reader for what was to come. After Finley and Russ reveal the details of the violent acts in their lives, their usefulness to each other is clearly over as Quick then allows Finley the escape he was always wanted. Again, it felt too easy and unrealistic.

Overall, I did feel compelled to read on and it was an interesting story and I suppose for a younger audience, it was perhaps more important to have an optimistic ending rather than a realistic one but ultimately, I fell it didn’t quite ring true.

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