A wonderful debut novel that moves with the rhythm of the streets.
Andre Battel’s Jamaican grandfather calls him “champion,” after the winner of a TV show they watch every morning over breakfast. Pa-Paw teaches him to cook eggs and tries to keep him on the level. That's a tough goal for a 10-year-old whose father smokes weed to fuel his fantasies of being a reggae drummer. The streets of Milton, Mass., come alive in these pages, thumping with music and the smell of burning blunts. Andre dribbles through the crowds on the corners and past the girls showing their stuff at school, on his way up the basketball ladder as a winner, a champion. But there's much that's beyond his control. His father disappears for months at a time. School becomes only a measure of his powerlessness as he questions authority and its consequences. He starts running errands for Team Seven, the local pot-selling gang he joins at age 11, making the “munchies run” for the older guys. He earns money for these errands and learns what is cool and what is not in a neighborhood where everyone knows everyone’s business. Andre narrates most of the book in the first person, and as he ages, the rhythm of his speech gains steam and he speaks more and more the street code of Team Seven. He graduates to dealing drugs and smoking his product for a continuous buzz. Burke’s words meld with Andre’s progression into hell until "the dark cloud over my head exploded, it was like the perfect storm and felt like watching a nurse jab a needle into my arm.” The deluge is a shooting that can make or break this young man’s life.
Burke crafts a street-smart tale of the possibilities and temptations of growing up. There is power in his words, and the tale moves like a locomotive right to the end.