Basketball provides the backdrop for a friendship pushed to its limits in this tale told from the alternating perspectives of two teen boys growing up in a tough inner-city neighborhood reminiscent of Camden, New Jersey.
Biracial Nasir and African-American Bunny had been best of friends until last summer, when Bunny, Whitman High’s star basketball player, is recruited away to private, suburban St. Sebastian’s and its high-powered basketball program. The once-prideful reputation that he garnered winning for the home team, à la real-life Camden legend Dajuan Wagner, turns to insult, rage, and anger as his former classmates question whether Bunny is preparing to leave them and the neighborhood behind for good. After losing Bunny, Nasir begins to build a relationship with his perennially troubled black cousin Wallace, a wayward child who needs much more support than the world has afforded him and who lashes out frequently in numerous exhausting ways. Meanwhile, the lightning-smart Keyona, Bunny’s girlfriend and biggest remaining Whitman fan, hopes to rekindle the friendship between Bunny and Nasir. By and large avoiding upfront race talk, Ribay makes his point by drawing characters of color full of complexity and contradiction. A genuine touch of Filipino flavor—Nasir’s mom grew up in the Philippines—demonstrates that one can step beyond reductive black/white–only portrayals of inner-city neighborhood life.
A well-executed book featuring complex, diverse characters we rarely meet—a real winner for its heartbeat, compassion, and integrity. (Fiction. 14-18)