An athlete and his coach team up to save a city threatened by heightened racial tension and violence in this historical novel.
Nehemiah Garvey is a man of faith and a high school basketball star in Newark, New Jersey. It’s the 1960s and the city has been torn apart by riots (or rebellions, depending on one’s perspective). Nehemiah wants to keep playing ball at Sagamore High School, where the talented Mickey Marcus is the coach. But Mickey is the only white coach left in the city and many powerful figures in the black community would like to see him go. Nehemiah and Mickey undertake some basketball diplomacy to help turn Newark’s reputation around. As one writer comments, “Sports can be a great racial equalizer.” Mickey keeps the reins and with Nehemiah leading the community on and off the court, the team launches a bid to win the national title. Little (After Obama, 2014, etc.) sets his fictional tale during the very real and turbulent events of the ’60s, using Newark as a window into the changing demographics of urban areas across the country. Racism is rampant and, as the author demonstrates when his narrative jumps forward in time, it’s still a pressing topic today. Decades later, Nehemiah and Mickey are still fighting to make Newark a peaceful city where whites and blacks have a fair chance for success and equal access to opportunity and safe housing. The author creates two admirable characters in Nehemiah and Mickey, and their multifaceted relationship is a high point of the novel. Little also includes scores of excellent quotes from U.S. presidents, activists, and scholars of the past and present, firmly situating the Newark events on a national stage. Yet the main arc of the narrative is a fictional story, despite the presence of historical figures such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. A clear explanation separating fact from fiction or an annotated cast of characters would have provided clarity, especially for those interested in history.
An engaging tale that combines sports, religion, and politics.