Matthew Quick is my friend, but that’s not why I love his books. I love his books because they are beautiful, and soulful, and full of heart. In fact, they heart they are full of is enormous. Here in Quick’s third novel, BOY21, that big heart grows larger still. As I neared the end, I felt I was living out that seen in the Grinch when his heart grows so large that it explodes the screen meant to encompass it. I read the final quarter of the book with a lump in my throat, falling in and out of tears, until I reached the end and wept.
Quick shows a lot of compassion for his characters, who are almost always people either living on the edge of society, nearly outcast but not done yet. Same here with Finley and his family, which includes his father, his legless grandfather, and his his beloved girlfriend, Erin. Add to this family a newcomer, Russ aka Boy21.
Russ has experienced a traumatic loss in the death of his parents and has wrapped himself in a fantasy world to escape his pain, much in the same way that Finley becomes selectively mute to repress his own past traumas. The two of them are at first forced together by their basketball couch but soon learn to form a friendship which becomes something like a brotherhood. What is interesting is that they do not bond over a love of basketball or over the fact that they both experienced devastating traumas, instead they bond over their ability to survive and see beauty and hope in the world despite the ugliness all around them.
It is a beautiful, triumphant book that examines the sensitive inner-lives of boys and shows how they might become the men they are meant to be. I am going to keep this book close to my heart and when my own son faces his manhood, I will share it with him so that he might see how Finley and Russ went from being scared boys into brave young men, by facing their biggest fears and sharing their emotions.