Alonge inaugurates a new basketball series set in Oakland, California, with a story featuring a young man trying to figure out basketball and life.
Who exactly is Justin Shaw? Is he “a good boy,” as his friend Omar, the Nigerian store owner, tells him? Is he “a nobody, a zero,” as he himself thinks? Maybe his imaginary headline has it right: “Simpleton Gives into Peer Pressure, Ruins Life.” Though he grew 7 inches last spring and is now 6-foot-4, at Bushrod, the local basketball court, he’s no good, “a mess of arms and legs, uncoordinated like you wouldn’t believe.” The brief novel is both a satisfying basketball story and an African-American boy’s first-person account of finding his way in the world. He’s reading Don Quixote and is kind of like the fictional protagonist, except his windmill is the social scene of Bushrod and his unfortunate, sometimes-disastrous, attempts to fit in. When Justin and his best friend put together a team to play the invincible Ghosttown team, it seems that a Rocky-style battle of underdog vs. the mighty is in the offing, but debut author Alonge plays the game just right and stays true to his protagonist, letting Justin face the giants while knowing he’s really playing for bigger stakes.
A satisfying character study that will leave readers racing to get the simultaneously publishing second installment, Janae, starring the tough, sharpshooting girl standout on Justin’s team. (Fiction. 13-18)