Common Sense Media says

Gripping, heartfelt coming-of-age tale sure to hook teens.





What parents need to know

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 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

In Boy21, Finley doesn't talk much, but he works hard to care for those he loves: his widowed father, his crippled 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.

Not applicable
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.

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.

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What's the story?

Having grown up with an absent mother, an embittered father, and a crippled 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 Finlay'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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Matthew Quick
Genre:Coming of Age
Topics:Sports and martial arts, Friendship, Great boy role models, High school, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:March 5, 2012
Number of pages:256
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17
Available on:Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook, Paperback

This review of Boy21 was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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