It is the 1990s and Dave, son of Harvard educated hippies, is one of only a few white kids in his Boston middle school. Having a difficult time connecting with the other students, he becomes drawn to Marlon, a black kid from the projects who seems to have similar interests; video games, the Boston Celtics and getting into the better high school. They become friendly but both are ashamed of their home life and there is always a distance between them even as they become closer. They spend hours watching vintage basketball games and have
conversations about lots of subjects. These boys are cerebral, observant and intellectually curious, and though they are still young, we witness their coming of age as they come to terms with who they are and what they want for the future. Their unlikely friendship is faced with many challenges stemming from prejudices based on color, race and religion, as they search to find their individual identity.
I felt compassion for both Dave, as he struggled to fit in, got pushed around on the bus, wanted cool, new sneakers, and begged his parents to put him in private school, and Marlon, son of a single mother with mental illness who lived in the projects with so many hurdles leading to a better life.
Sam Graham-Felsen addresses race and privilege, the vast differences in what is attainable, and the difficulties that are inherent based on background and various family circumstances in Green. His use of neighborhood language was both entertaining to read and at times difficult to comprehend but lent to the authenticity of the boys, their relationship, the neighborhood and the environment. I enjoyed this debut novel, based on the author’s life growing up white in a mostly black and Latino middle school, and I look forward to meeting Sam Graham-Felsen this month in an upcoming event at the Westport Library.
As Seen On Goodreads:
Boston, 1992. David Greenfeld is one of the few white kids at the Martin Luther King Middle School. Everybody clowns him, girls ignore him, and his hippie parents won’t even buy him a pair of Nikes, let alone transfer him to a private school. Unless he tests into the city’s best public high school–which, if practice tests are any indication, isn’t likely–he’ll be friendless for the foreseeable future.
Nobody’s more surprised than Dave when Marlon Wellings sticks up for him in the school cafeteria. Mar’s a loner from the public housing project on the corner of Dave’s own gentrifying block, and he confounds Dave’s assumptions about black culture: He’s nerdy and neurotic, a Celtics obsessive whose favorite player is the gawky, white Larry Bird. Together, the two boys are able to resist the contradictory personas forced on them by the outside world, and before long, Mar’s coming over to Dave’s house every afternoon to watch vintage basketball tapes and plot their hustle to Harvard. But as Dave welcomes his new best friend into his world, he realizes how little he knows about Mar’s. Cracks gradually form in their relationship, and Dave starts to become aware of the breaks he’s been given–and that Mar has not.
Infectiously funny about the highs and lows of adolescence, and sharply honest in the face of injustice, Sam Graham-Felsen’s debut is a wildly original take on the struggle to rise in America.
About the Author:
- Author of the novel, Green (Random House, Jan 2018)
- Nonfiction writing published in The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, Mother Jones, New York, the Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, and Buzzfeed
- Chief blogger on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign
- Born and raised in Boston; worked as peanut guy at Fenway Park