‘Boy21’ by Matthew Quick — Review

Boy21 imageI have a complex relationship with the books I read. They’re never consumed in an anechoic chamber, devoid of light and sound; where time and the world stop and it’s just me and the words the page. The reading of a book happens within the moments of a day, hard-fought to find, where I open up both the book and myself so we can come together. I’m looking for meaning. I’m looking for insight. I’m looking for connection. With the characters and story, with the writer, and also with myself. Why aim for objectivity? I just don’t get it.

BOY21 – Matthew Quick



Young adult?

You better believe it.


I knew you’d ask that. The cover got me first. Then I read the blurb on the back and actually laughed out loud. In a book store. With people around me. So I bought the book.

Why not read Silver Linings Playbook first? I mean, that’s a serious book.

You know that for a fact do you?

Well, I haven’t read it yet, but it was made into a movie that won Oscars.

You’ve read it?

No. But I have seen the movie.

Says it all really.

So why bother? I mean, YA. Sheesh.

Yeah, so it’s not a perfect book. I did have some issues around Finley McManus – the protagonist – his backstory and how it informs his life at the time of the story.

So —

Hold on. Despite my questions, it never held me up. I never had to put the book down and give serious thought to the choices the author made in character and story development. I was able to suspend belief for the two days it took me to read this book. And you know what?


I’m all the better for of it. It’s a thoughtful story of two unlikely friends both coping in their own ways with deep trauma. Finley manages by being a master of compartmentalisation and a man of few words. Everything in his life is squared off into neat little boxes which he can keep the lid on: the death of his mother; his grandfather whose legs are missing; and, his girlfriend who’s only his girlfriend when it’s not basketball season. And then there’s BOY21, Russell Allen. A high school All-American basketball star who’s moved to Bellmont following the murder of his parents. Though when Russ arrives in Bellmont, he’s not Russ, but BOY21, an alien sent from outer space to conduct research into how earthlings experience emotions.

It was basketball and aliens that got you, wasn’t it?

Completely. I empathised deeply with how Finley and Russ/BOY21 buried their heads in the sand so as not to deal with the harsh hand life had dealt them. And through the story, how, together, their struggles intertwine as their fortunes vary.

I bet, being YA, the writer had to pull a lot of punches?

It’s not as visceral as what I’m used to. In the absence of the deep, penetrating gaze literary fiction promises, there was space for me to appreciate the type of reader who comes to this book. One that might be looking to it as a refuge or a guiding light.

So a happy ending that ties everything nicely together?

Yes and no. An ending that satisfied and left me smiling. Even a sniffle of two as I choked up. But open enough to hint at both the hope and uncertainty of the future. Sometimes power is at its greatest when it’s restrained and wielded with consideration and compassion.

But YA, bro?

Get over yourself. Your cynicism says more about you than me.

 Ken Ward   

BOY21 by Matthew Quick is published by Little, Brown Books (2012)

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