BOY21 Summary

Matthew Quick

BOY21

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BOY21 Summary

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Boy21 is a fascinating novel by award-winning author Matthew Quick. Quick, also known as Q, is perhaps more famous for one of his other novels, The Silver Linings Playbook¸ which was made into an Oscar-winning film starring Bradley Cooper. Boy21 takes readers on a similar ride as Quick’s other novels by investing readers in the complex workings of its main characters. Critics point to the novel’s overall themes of hope, transformation and community, as well as Quick’s admirable writing style, in making Boy21 such as success from start to finish.

The narrative begins with Finley, a self-proclaimed ‘minimal speaker’ living in a rough world. Finley hails from Belmont, a fictional town in Philadelphia populated by blue collar Irish and African Americans. The reader comes to understand that an unspeakable tragedy has befallen Finley, something that is not revealed but that has changed his outlook on life. Because of his tragic past, he has devoted himself almost entirely to basketball, as well as to his family and a girl named Erin. These are the spheres of Finley’s life as he attempts to survive in Belmont amidst the mob, drugs and violence. The racial tension is also palpable, and while his father must work to provide for the family, Finley must look after his disabled grandfather at home.

Though Finley wishes to see the world, to make it out of his small bubble, his hope lies in basketball, in always putting on his jersey with the number 21 written on it, and making a difference through his favorite sport. His life is soon changed, however, with the arrival of a new kid in town. The new kid, Russ, answers only to the name Boy21. Russ, too, has endured an unspeakable tragedy in California and is now in Belmont attempting a new life. While he was once a basketball prodigy who also wore a jersey with the number 21, he now will not even pick up a basketball due to the trauma of his past.

Finley wants nothing more than to focus on basketball and Erin. With Boy21’s arrival, however, he is recruited to help mentor Boy21. Finley would prefer to finish his final year of high school—and the basketball season—without risking his relationship with Erin or his love of basketball. Yet the two boys become friends oddly enough, providing both of them a well-needed balance from going it alone in the world.

Quick’s novel addresses the coming-of-age tropes of identity and community, as well as the confusion often evidenced during this adolescent timeframe, a period often infused with love, hurt and clarity. The novel captures its characters’ complex natures while adding both pathos and humor to the mix, providing rich characters that are symbolic of larger themes. Critics have rightly commented on the fact that, though basketball is at the center of the novel, the narrative appeals even to non-sports fans. Unlike other young adult novels where sports might take up the entirety of the plot resulting in a play-by-play of a team’s exploits, basketball in Boy21 is a symbolic trope. Basketball allows Finley and Boy21 to not only express themselves when words fail, or where there simply are no words, but it allows them to communicate in a social sphere with others.

At its core, Boy21 reveals how people from opposite sides of the world, and people from differing social classes, can actually have so much in common when given the space to figure themselves out. Quick shows the reader how people are connected in so many more ways than they perceive, and how these connections can help individuals to affect change in others, and in doing so, to affect change in the community-at-large.