A coming-of-age novel about race, privilege, and the struggle to rise in America, written by a former Obama campaign staffer and propelled by an exuberant, unforgettable narrator.
“A riot of language that’s part hip-hop, part nerd boy, and part pure imagination.”—The Boston Globe
Boston, 1992. David Greenfeld is one of the few white kids at the Martin Luther King, Jr., 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. 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 American dream.
Praise for Green
“Prickly and compelling . . . Graham-Felsen lets boys be boys: messy-brained, impulsive, goatish, self-centered, outwardly gutsy but often inwardly terrified.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
“A coming-of-age tale of uncommon sweetness and feeling.”—The New Yorker
“A fierce and brilliant book, comic, poignant, perfectly observed, and blazing with all the urgent fears and longings of adolescence.”—Helen Macdonald, author of H Is for Hawk
“A heartfelt and unassumingly ambitious book.”—Slate
From the chief blogger of Barack Obama's first presidential campaign comes a provocative debut that wrestles with matters of race, white privilege, and institutional prejudice head-on. The subtly humorous, surprisingly touching coming-of-age narrative is told from the perspective of Dave, one of the only white students at King, a predominantly black and Latino public middle school in Boston. At the start of sixth grade in 1992, he befriends Marlon, a smart black student from the nearby housing projects with a passion for the Celtics and a gorgeous singing voice. The pals wade through typical middle school drama together flirting with "shorties," getting bullied by tougher classmates, handling academic stress. Their friendship survives most of the upheaval, until competition over a girl and Dave's ease at getting ahead get in the way. The significance of the boys' backgrounds is obvious Dave might be an outlier at school, but he and his Harvard-educated hippie parents are more set up in life than most in his gentrifying neighborhood. Where Graham-Felsen shines is in his depiction of the pressures put on Marlon to rise above his circumstances and to cope with his mother's mental illness. The novel is also a memorable and moving portrayal of a complicated but deep friendship that just might survive the weight placed on it.
YA set in the 90s. Unique enough.
There are some unique elements to Green: namely the setting being in the 90s and a white kid in a black neighborhood (and school). This was enough to draw me in and I think the author does a good enough job with plot development and characterization to keep most readers engaged. I loved that Marlon was a nerd, but also Dave’s protector. I didn’t love Dave’s voice (far too much unnecessary slang). Also, as a fan of hip hop and basketball, those elements helped the novel be a little bit more enjoyable.