The book’s precise focus enables troubling considerations of the role of race and class in America.

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THE HUSTLE

ONE TEAM AND TEN LIVES IN BLACK AND WHITE

In his debut, journalist Merlino traces the lives of his integrated junior-high basketball team and what happened to the players when the games stopped.

In 1986, Coach Willie McClain brought his basketball players, all black, from Seattle’s inner city to the affluent suburbs to form a team with a group of white players. For a single season, these young boys—who couldn’t have been more different—shared an initially wary then ebullient camaraderie that transcended race and class. But what happened after the season, asks the author, as these players made the transition from boys to men? Merlino returned to Seattle to find his old teammates and tell their stories. In one way or another, the white players all made their way; for the black players, however, the story was mixed. Through connections developed as a result of the team, all had the chance to attend quality private schools. Some adjusted, some didn’t. At 19, Tyrell was murdered; 20 years on, JT still hustled on the street; Myran was in prison. All were lured by the seemingly easy money of drug dealing as crack devastated their Seattle neighborhood in the late ’80s. Yet there were successes. Damian became a teacher and a preacher, Eric an auditor for the city with a solid middle-class life. None of the black players, however, lived without struggles in a class and racially divided Seattle. Merlino skillfully weaves the personal biographies with the biography of a city that relegated blacks to neighborhoods that were segregated and poor, to the margins of economic life, to public schools that were overcrowded and underfunded. He tells the story of the dispersal of Central Seattle’s black population, as Microsoft and Starbucks made it ripe for gentrification. But the heart of Merlino’s story is his teammates, black and white. He misses their youth and promise and loves and respects them all.

The book’s precise focus enables troubling considerations of the role of race and class in America.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-60819-215-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

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Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

COLUMBINE

Comprehensive, myth-busting examination of the Colorado high-school massacre.

“We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened,” writes Cullen, a Denver-based journalist who has spent the past ten years investigating the 1999 attack. In fact, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold conceived of their act not as a targeted school shooting but as an elaborate three-part act of terrorism. First, propane bombs planted in the cafeteria would erupt during lunchtime, indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of students. The killers, positioned outside the school’s main entrance, would then mow down fleeing survivors. Finally, after the media and rescue workers had arrived, timed bombs in the killers’ cars would explode, wiping out hundreds more. It was only when the bombs in the cafeteria failed to detonate that the killers entered the high school with sawed-off shotguns blazing. Drawing on a wealth of journals, videotapes, police reports and personal interviews, Cullen sketches multifaceted portraits of the killers and the surviving community. He portrays Harris as a calculating, egocentric psychopath, someone who labeled his journal “The Book of God” and harbored fantasies of exterminating the entire human race. In contrast, Klebold was a suicidal depressive, prone to fits of rage and extreme self-loathing. Together they forged a combustible and unequal alliance, with Harris channeling Klebold’s frustration and anger into his sadistic plans. The unnerving narrative is too often undermined by the author’s distracting tendency to weave the killers’ expressions into his sentences—for example, “The boys were shooting off their pipe bombs by then, and, man, were those things badass.” Cullen is better at depicting the attack’s aftermath. Poignant sections devoted to the survivors probe the myriad ways that individuals cope with grief and struggle to interpret and make sense of tragedy.

Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

Pub Date: April 6, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54693-5

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

BACK FROM THE DEAD

A basketball legend reflects on his life in the game and a life lived in the “nightmare of endlessly repetitive and constant pain, agony, and guilt.”

Walton (Nothing but Net, 1994, etc.) begins this memoir on the floor—literally: “I have been living on the floor for most of the last two and a half years, unable to move.” In 2008, he suffered a catastrophic spinal collapse. “My spine will no longer hold me,” he writes. Thirty-seven orthopedic injuries, stemming from the fact that he had malformed feet, led to an endless string of stress fractures. As he notes, Walton is “the most injured athlete in the history of sports.” Over the years, he had ground his lower extremities “down to dust.” Walton’s memoir is two interwoven stories. The first is about his lifelong love of basketball, the second, his lifelong battle with injuries and pain. He had his first operation when he was 14, for a knee hurt in a basketball game. As he chronicles his distinguished career in the game, from high school to college to the NBA, he punctuates that story with a parallel one that chronicles at each juncture the injuries he suffered and overcame until he could no longer play, eventually turning to a successful broadcasting career (which helped his stuttering problem). Thanks to successful experimental spinal fusion surgery, he’s now pain-free. And then there’s the music he loves, especially the Grateful Dead’s; it accompanies both stories like a soundtrack playing off in the distance. Walton tends to get long-winded at times, but that won’t be news to anyone who watches his broadcasts, and those who have been afflicted with lifelong injuries will find the book uplifting and inspirational. Basketball fans will relish Walton’s acumen and insights into the game as well as his stories about players, coaches (especially John Wooden), and games, all told in Walton’s fervent, witty style.

One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1686-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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