title: Justine (BlackTop)
author: LJ Alonge
date: Grosset and Dunlap/Penguin; June 2106
main character: Justin Shaw
Justin is the first book in a trilogy written by newcomer L J Alonge. Justin is a tall, awkward 15 year-old who has more summer than money in his near future. He lives in a working class family in a beat down urban area. Justin wants to be somebody. He wants be make a name for himself and not just be seen as, well a nobody. His image is ruined because he cannot play basketball, because he does nothing spectacular and because his father is a homeless alcoholic who he happens to run into from time to time. Not good for the image, right? The story meanders through Justin’s summer giving us a character and events with which I believe many young people will relate.
The adult in me wants to figure out how Frank is Justin’s brother, wants to know why there are no consequences for the stupid stuff Justin does and particularly for the way he treats his father. I want to complain about yet another book with a black male who plays –or tries to play—basketball. Have we not had enough rough urban settings and derelict dads? I mean, there are black males who do like to read and who do read adventure, fantasy, science fiction and science and who don’t play basketball.
HOWEVER the fact that Justin is one more book about basketball, derelict dads and a run down urban community doesn’t mean that young readers will not engage with this character. That he reads like a real kid who just is not going to come of age in 144 pages will not deter young readers. They will hope that if nothing else, Justin figures out the game of basketball and gets a win.
Janae’s story is next. She’s already figured out the game. I wonder what her book will be about.