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Cover image for Boy21
Other title(s):
Boy 21

Boy twenty-one

1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Little, Brown and Co., 2012.
Physical Description:
250 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
Finley, an unnaturally quiet boy who is the only white player on his high school's varsity basketball team, lives in a dismal Pennsylvania town that is ruled by the Irish mob, and when his coach asks him to mentor a troubled African American student who has transferred there from an elite private school in California, he finds that they have a lot in common in spite of their apparent differences.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR Upper Grades 4.9 8.0 quiz: 151132.

Reading Counts RC High School 5.4 14 Quiz: 59531.
Electronic Access:


Call Number

On Order



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.

Author Notes

Matthew Quick graduated with a double-majored in English and secondary education from La Salle University in 1996. He taught literature and film at Haddonfield Memorial High School in New Jersey for several years, before leaving in 2004 to become a fiction writer. He received his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Goddard College in 2007. He writes for young adults and adults. His young adult books include Sorta Like a Rock Star, Boy21, and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. His adult books include The Silver Linings Playbook, which was made into an Oscar-winning film, and The Good Luck of Right Now.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 6

School Library Journal Review

Gr 8 Up-High school senior Finley lives with his widowed father and disabled grandfather and dreams of escaping the violence, Irish mob, and racial conflicts of Bellmont, near Philadelphia. His passions are basketball and his girlfriend, Erin. The only white player on his team, Finley trains intensively for his final season as point guard. When Coach Wilkins tells him that Russell Allen, a sensational but troubled basketball player, is enrolling in his school, Finley is puzzled by the coach's insistence that he befriend Russ. Despite their vastly different backgrounds, the two boys gradually connect. As Russ begins to emerge from the emotional trauma of his parents' murder, Coach Wilkins is determined to have him play, costing Finley his starting position and #21 jersey. Then, Erin is the victim of a hit-and-run accident. Finley's world is upended, and this time Russ offers comfort. Mysteriously denied access to hospitalized Erin, Finley learns that she was a target of gang violence and has been safely "relocated." Throughout this page-turner, Finley's stoic, pensive, compassionate demeanor; Russ's intriguing obsession with outer space; the conflict between friends over basketball; and Erin and Finley's commitment to each other ring true. Coach Wilkins's manipulation of Finley and the team sports dilemma of merit vs. talent will spark discussion. Although Irish mob connections with Finley's family and Erin's brother are briefly mentioned, Erin's accident and the abrupt conclusion that sends her and Finley into hiding, under mob protection, are not well explained. Nonetheless, characters are memorable and well developed; dialogue is crisp and authentic; and issues of responsibility, fairness, and loyalty will engage readers.-Gerry Larson, formerly at Durham School of the Arts, (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

High school senior Finley has always hoped that his basketball skills will help him escape the dead-end streets of Bellmont, a racially divided town outside Philadelphia, where his future seems bleak. As the only white guy on his school's basketball team, Finley is acutely aware of the uneasy relationship between Bellmont's substantial Irish- and African-American populations. Then Finley's coach introduces him to Russ, a black teenager who, ever since his parents were murdered, has retreated into a strange internal world, claiming to be an extraterrestrial known as Boy21. As Finley and Boy21's friendship slowly strengthens, they help each other change and grow; both boys attempt to understand past tragedies in their lives, as well as a new one involving Finley's girlfriend, Erin, which further disrupts Finley's understanding of the world. As in Sorta Like a Rock Star, Quick comes perilously close to overstuffing his story with offbeat characters and brutal twists of fate. Yet his emotionally raw tale retains a delicate sense of hope and optimism, making it a real gut punch of a read. Ages 12-up. Agent: Douglas Stewart, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

When Russ moves to decrepit, race-torn, Irish-mob-ruled Bellmont after his parents brutal murder, the schools basketball coach (a family friend) turns to team leader Finley to help him acclimate, but also to convince former-phenom Russ to play ball again; since the tragedy he goes only by "Boy21" and insists hes from outer space. Despite inherent awkwardness, the two boys are immediately comfortable together: reserved, compassionate narrator Finley doesnt push Boy21 to be someone hes not ready to be, and a tender friendship develops. That basketball is only a cursory detail in their relationship becomes clearer when tragedy also strikes Finleys life and basketball "just doesnt seem so important anymore." Russs alien alter ego gracefully, almost unnoticeably, dissolves as he sees his friend in similar anguish; his coping as Boy21 suddenly seems like a logical reaction to such disorienting pain. Fascination with the cosmos is a recurring theme, both as acknowledgment of our tininess within the enormous universe and as a soothing force of stability. Every aspect of this multilayered novel harmonizes: secondary characters such as Finleys girlfriend Erin and his handicapped grandfather are artfully likable; non-gratuitous threads of organized crime and violence add grittiness and are woven through the plot with finesse; excellently set-up twists display Quicks mastery of pacing; authentic dialogue and deft character development ensure both our emotional investment in these richly complex boys and also our empathizing with their main commonality -- feeling like "youre not the person on the outside that you are on the inside." katrina hedeen (c) Copyright 2012. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

(Fiction. 12 up) ]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Finley pretends his earliest memory is shooting hoops in the driveway, where it was easy to zone out and forget what happened to his family. Now a senior, Finley doesn't talk much. My mind is a fist and it's always clenched tight, trying to keep the words in. Keeping the silence is important in his neighborhood, where the Irish mob and black gangs clash. Snitches and their families are ruthlessly punished. He and his girlfriend, Erin, play varsity b-ball and dream of getting away. When moneyed Russ moves to the neighborhood, Finley is worried about the newcomer's basketball superskills, but Russ has problems, too. After his parents' murder, he adopted the persona Boy21, a benevolent, emotionless alien stranded on Earth. Finley's glum reluctance to help Boy21 grows into surprising grace and friendship, and when Russ begins to heal, Finley confronts his own tragic past. Finley's relationships are sweet, supportive, and authentic. The revelation of what happened in Finley's childhood is heartbreaking, but the hopeful ending pays off. An unusual and touching story.--Hutley, Krista Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

THERE'S a lot more to playin' ball than just playin' ball. If you've spent time inside a hoops gym or run fives at the local streetball hot spot, you get this. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that pickup basketball, along with all the armchair philosophy that colors it, taught me the world. But to the uninitiated, basketball is nothing more than what it looks like: a game. And books set against the backdrop of a game are often labeled like cans of soup and stuck on shelves reserved for "reluctant readers." Novels with sports themes can certainly lure jocks into the library, but the best of them reach toward literature. In time for the N.C.A.A. tournament, two basketball-infused novels, "The Final Four," by Paul Volponi ("Hurricane Song"), and "Boy21," by Matthew Quick ("Sorta Like a Rock Star"), move beyond the pick-and-roll, albeit to different degrees. "The Final Four" addresses March Madness head-on. Volponi builds the novel around a semifinal game, a thrilling, quadruple-overtime marathon that pits the perennial powerhouse Michigan State Spartans against the Cinderella of this fictional tournament, the Trojans of Troy University (yes, Trojan War references are scattered throughout). The story takes place over the course of the four overtime periods. Basketball action is certainly at the forefront, but the reader is continually pulled out of the Louisiana Superdome and thrust into the back stories of four players: the Spartans' Malcolm McBride, the blue-chip freshman with an attitude, and Michael Jordan, the scrappy sub known as M. J., whose game bears little resemblance to that of his famed namesake; and the Trojans' Roko Bacic, the charismatic, team-oriented Croatian, and Crispin Rice, who, just before the tournament, publicly proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend. This constant halting of forward momentum grows tiresome, but Volponi uses the structure to flesh out the off-court lives of his characters. We learn that Malcolm and Roko, seemingly polar opposites, are both motivated by loss. We read M. J.'s thoughtful college essay depicting the intricate social order inherent in pickup basketball. And a newspaper article breaks down the tremendous amount of money generated by the annual tournament and explores whether these so-called amateur athletes should start getting a piece of the pie. Volponi looks at March Madness from several angles, and one of the book's strengths is that it never slips into any kind of narrative agenda. But there are missteps. Besides pacing issues, some of the on-court banter is silly and longwinded. (After a hard screen frees Malcolm for a 3-pointer, his teammate barks: "Money McBride! We're the new Shrek and Donkey." Malcolm, pointing at his opponent, replies: "No, he's Donkey. But I'll take that Money tag.") Still, Volponi adroitly renders authentic and inspired basketball action, and ultimately the game is what's on display here. Basketball functions much differently in "Boy21," Matthew Quick's beautiful novel set in the fictional working-class, Irish-mob-influenced town of Bellmont. For Finley McManus (not so affectionately known at his high school as White Rabbit), the game serves as both identity and escape. The book opens with Finley musing, "Sometimes I pretend that shooting hoops in my backyard is my earliest memory." He's a point guard and returning starter on his high school squad, though he's more of a role player than a star. Finley and his longtime girlfriend, Erin Quinn, who plays on the girls' team ("probably the best girls' player in the state - no exaggeration"), work tirelessly on their games. Their plan is to have successful senior seasons, graduate, then move far away from Bellmont. They're so committed to basketball, in fact, that they break up every season so their relationship won't become a distraction. Finley's world is shaken, though, when his coach asks for a favor. Transferring in is a new kid whose parents have been murdered. His name is Russell Allen, but he refers to himself as Boy21, and he believes he's from outer space. He also happens to be one of the top-ranked point guards in the nation. Finley's coach asks him to befriend Russ and help integrate him into his new environment. This sets up a wonderfully complex dynamic: If Boy21 is as good as advertised, Finley will lose his starting spot and his identity. But if Finley refuses to help, he'll be violating his own personal code: "I do whatever Coach asks of me. He's my coach." Quick masterly handles the friendship that emerges, letting it build organically toward a moving scene in which the boys share heavily guarded personal secrets. "Boy21" also manages to avoid classic sports-novel devices. The story doesn't lead to each team member setting aside ego or culminate in the championship game. In fact, the basketball season fades as dangerous neighborhood elements converge on the people Finley cares about. One of the most powerful moments is when Finley first begins to question his loyalty to the game and his coach. It is this depth that makes "Boy21" more than a first-rate novel fueled by basketball; it's a first-rate work of art. Matt de la Peña is the author of many novels, including "Ball Don't Lie" and his latest, "I Will Save You," which has just been released in paperback. He attended college on a basketball scholarship.