This story made me laugh out loud but also broke my heart.
Growing up in Boston, the year is 1992. David Alexander Greenfeld aka “Green” feels like the only white boy at Martin Luthar King Middle. That is not entirely accurate because there is Kev, the other one. Green is navigating his way through middle school with hippie parents, second rate shoes, and his absence of color. A chance meeting at a bus stop on the first day of school will create a friendship so deep it will challenge the way the two friends will think. Especially coming close on the heels of the Rodney King police beating and Reginald Denny retaliation.
The narrative divides into eleven chapter each with its unique title, referring to some history, item or event. The first section named the Machine is so funny that I almost ran out and bought that tracksuit. The second chapter Shocked refers to the shock of the Celtics draft picks that OD’d two days later. Green tells his story in present tense and takes us on a unique coming of age story. Graham-Felsen is a master in character development particularly, the protagonist and his friend Mar. Each character juxtaposed against each other displays the division of race, wealth, and religion even though share the same dreams. Green is a 13-year-old boy who struggles with his Jewish identity, living in a hippie’s world, and racial tension in a setting of relative privilege. His only friend Mar, or Marlon, a sensitive black tween lives in the projects who studies passionately with the aspirations to be a student at Harvard. They form a fastidious bond when they share certain geeky qualities, a dream of a Harvard education, and the Celtics. Their relationship is put to the test when they start to write their exams for Boston Latin High School, a guarantee to place in college, possibly Harvard. Cracks become great fissures as their differences become highlighted through the strain of the 6th grade and of the inequities of life.
Green, is a poignant story told through the eyes of a 12-year-old. I was traveled back to my youth, a complex time of negotiating friendships, insecurities, and acceptance. All the moments of middle school so cringe-worthy to think of as an adult. The smells, the cafeteria serving mystery ingredients, and lily white Filas. The King student interactions felt so real you felt like a buddy among the tribe, often fighting, cheering, or jeering in the moment.The one thing I found difficult to rock was the lingo with steez. I had to google the urban and gangsta dictionary several times. That made the narrative a bit cumbersome for myself but it kept the dialogue real. After all, it’s a tweens tale in the hood.
Green explores the history of a pivotal era of Clinton and Rodney; a climate of racism and brutality in the 1990s. But there is also Boston’s rich history of the visit of Nelson Mandela after his release, the relentless Curse of the Bambino, and poor Billy Buckner and the 10th inning of the world series. The “Curse of the Coke. Messed up every, the Celtics, the Sox, the whole damn city.”
With memorable and quirky characters, skilled writing, humor, and a pang of sadness, Green makes an impression about the diversity of and the disparities of life in Boston in the 90’s. I highly recommend this novel.
Thank you, NetGalley and Random House Publishing for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.