High school senior Finley McManus lives with his dad and disabled grandfather in Bellmont, PA, which is a suburb of Philadephia. Bellmont is not a great place to live; residents must deal with violence, racial tension, drugs, and the Irish mob. Finley wants to get out of Bellmont, and he figures the only way this could happen would be if his girlfriend, Erin Quinn, receives a college basketball scholarship. Finley, who wears number 21, on his basketball jersey, works hard to perfect his playing skills and loves the game, but he will never be as good as Erin.
Russ Washington, whose parents were murdered, has come to Bellmont to live with his grandparents. Before his parents were murdered, Russ was a brilliant student and star point guard, being recruited by dozens of colleges. The trauma of the murder has changed him, and he is having problems coping.
Coach Wilkins, who coaches the Bellmont High School basketball team, secretly asks Finley to befriend and keep an eye on Russ. Although Finley is worried that Russ could take his spot on the team, he agrees to help his coach. Finley discovers that Russ is extremely unusual, and their relationship turns out to be a turning point in both of their lives.
I read Boy 21 as an ARC awhile ago, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I loved everything about this book—it was awesome! It has so much in it—humor, romance, sports, and a great plot line! When Boy 21, aka Russ, was introduced, I was laughing out loud at his “antics”. Boy 21 tells Finley that he is waiting for his extra-terrestrial family to pick him up, and that he was sent to earth to study human emotions! The things that Boy 21 does and says and Finley’s reactions are priceless! The characters in the book are so likable and real! I especially like the cafeteria scene where Boy 21 claims, “We are not rabbits!” I loved this character. Even when he wants to play basketball again, he purposely messes up because he doesn't want to take Finley's starting position away from him.
The two boys are foils for one another. Finley is the only white player on an all-black basketball team; conversely, Russ has been the only black member of an all-white team! Both boys sport the number 21 on their jerseys; both have had tragic events happen to them in their young lives. Each uses basketball and friendship to each other as coping mechanisms to deal with their respective tragic situations.
Coach Wilkins, at first, comes across as having a caring and compassionate attitude. However, as the story progresses, it turns out that he has ulterior motives. He takes advantage of Finley’s loyalty to him and to the team when he pushes Finley to get Russ back on the basketball court. Erin, Finley’s girlfriend, respects that Finley doesn’t want to give Russ’s secret away, even to her. Without giving anything away, I will say that I was mad and upset at the situation that happened to her.
Readers don’t have to be basketball fans to enjoy this book; it has something for everyone! I highly recommend it for junior high, high school, and public libraries!
**Reviewer’s note: The copy reviewed was an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.