cover image Green


Sam Graham-Felsen. Random House, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-399-59114-3

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. (Jan.)