Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Boy21 Book Poster Image
Gripping, heartfelt coming-of-age tale sure to hook teens.

Parents say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Kids say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Boy21 presents a realistic portrayal of life as a student at a rough-and-tumble, racially divided urban high school. It also features scenes on the basketball court that reveals the techniques and vocabulary of the game. One of the characters is very interested in astronomy, and he reveals various facts about that science.

Positive Messages

All the characters in Boy21 struggle with following their own dreams while remaining loyal to their families, teammates, and friends. The importance of family is emphasized, but with the acceptance that those closest to us are fallible and sometimes self-destructive.

Positive Role Models & Representations

In Boy21, Finley doesn't talk much, but he works hard to care for those he loves: his widowed father, his disabled grandfather, his devoted girlfriend, and his teammates on the basketball team, especially the mysterious newcomer who calls himself "Boy21." He is forced to evaluate how much he owes others and whether he should follow his own dreams. Throughout his struggle, he demonstrates bravery, loyalty, empathy, and courage.


There is some violence in Boy21, but most of it occurs off-scene. The circumstances of Finley's mother's death and the crippling of his grandfather are explained late in the book. One character is badly hurt in a hit-and-run car accident, and those injuries are recognized but not dwelled upon.


Finley and his long-time girlfriend Erin are devoted to each other. Theirs is a surprisingly mature and respectful relationship. They spend a lot of time kissing and making out on the roof of Finley's home. Finley mentions being "horny" a few times, but nothing is shown to indicate their physical relationship extends beyond making out.


In Boy21, Finley makes a special point of never using profanity, even when provoked. Others around him occasionally use a smattering of swears: "ass," "s--t," "bulls--t," "hell." A particularly Irish pronunciation of "f--k," spelled with an "e," is employed twice in one tense scene.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Finley and Erin do not drink, smoke or use drugs. One character's older brother is a drug dealer, and Finley is forced to ride in his car, which reeks of marijuana. Finley's father and grandfather both drink, and the older man frequently passes out with a bottle in his hand.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Boy21 in a gripping coming-of-age novel about love, friendship, madness, and basketball by Matthew Quirk, the author of Silver Linings Playbook, who adapts his interest in mental health issues for a YA audience. There's some violence, including a hit-and-run car accident, but it happens mostly off-scene. Finley makes a special point of never using profanity, even when provoked, but others around him occasionally use a smattering of swears, from "hell" to "f--king," pronounced with an "e," in the Irish manner. Some of the adult characters smoke, drink, and use drugs, but the teen characters do not.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

Having grown up with an absent mother, an embittered father, and a disabled grandfather, Finley has held on to basketball and his devoted girlfriend as his lifelines through high school. When his coach asks him for a special favor -- to look after and befriend a formidable young basketball player who seems to have suffered a mental breakdown -- Finley reluctantly agrees. The new student calls himself "Boy21" and claims to be from another planet, and Finley works hard to protect him at their tough, racially divided school. But what will happen to Finley's basketball dreams if Boy21 takes his place on the team?

Is it any good?

Written with insight, empathy, and humor, BOY21 is a heartfelt coming-of-age novel. Finley's distinctive voice grabs the reader from the very start, and his story is filled suspense, hardship, grace, and love. Matthew Quirk, the author of Silver Linings Playbook, adapts his interest in mental health issues for a YA audience, and delivers a book that will captivate teen readers, even those not particularly interested in basketball. Boy21 is truly something special.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Fanilies can talk about why excelling at sports is sometimes viewed as a ticket out of a difficult upbringing? What are the dangers of counting too heavily on athletics as a path toward success?

  • What other books have you read or movies have you seen that deal with serious issues in a sports setting? Why do you think authors, screenwriters, readers, and film audiences find that mix effective?

  • Do children sometimes bear the burden of their parents' offenses against a community? Is that fair?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate