Lifelong best friends and basketball teammates Elijah, Dylan, and Michael become reluctantly entangled with a Baltimore street gang.
When Michael offers his friends each a pair of $400 Kobe 10 sneakers and won't explain how he got them, Elijah knows he should say no. In the end, loyalty to his friends and the desire to get out of his own ratty shoes prevail. Trouble inevitably follows in the form of a smooth-talking gangster who always seems to know Elijah's—and, more frighteningly, Elijah's mother's—whereabouts. Elijah longs for his father, who left when Elijah was a child, but gains a father figure in Banks, a gruff ex–military man who hires Elijah to help with yardwork and seems to delight in setting him impossible tasks. As the obligations attached to the shoes and other extravagant gifts slowly and grimly become apparent, the boys find themselves faced with impossible choices. Defy the gang and face consequences, or become even more enmeshed? Each boy's decision is informed by another inevitability: Elijah, book-smart and athletically gifted, is headed toward college, but the fates of the other two are less certain. The portrayal of the gang is pared-down, more symbolic than realistic, but the stakes are high, and the sense of impending doom is heavy throughout.
A taut, haunting tragedy. (Fiction. 12-18)