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Green by Sam Graham-Felsen

Published by Random House on January 2, 2018

David Greenfeld, blond and blue-eyed, is starting middle school in Boston, one of only two white kids in his class. His teacher wants her advanced class to move on to Boston Latin for seventh grade, but David sucks at standardized testing and isn’t holding out hope of escaping MLK. To their credit, David’s hippy parents believe in public schools and refuse to send him to a private school. As a consequence, David needs to find a way to deal with his lack of acceptance.

David tries to be cool, in the way that white kids emulate black kids because black kids have style and white kids are nerdish. He speaks the vernacular (you feel me?), but he doesn’t have the right gear (his sneakers are old because his parents won’t buy shoes that are made in sweatshops), he isn’t athletic, and he doesn’t rock the kind of attitude that earns the respect of his peers. His white friend Kev is a baller and fits in easily, but Kev isn’t much of a friend. Eventually David is befriended by a nerdish black kid named Mar, nerdish in ways that are similar to David’s, although their different religious backgrounds are another reason for David to feel that he doesn’t fit in.

One of the novel’s themes involves the various aspects of racism. David and Kev and Mar are all studying to take a test that might get them admitted to Latin School, which might get them admitted to Harvard. But a city council member clues them into the reality that most of them won’t get into Harvard, and even if they do, society’s white power structure will impose obstacles to advancement that white students won’t need to overcome. Mar and David are both subjected to neighborhood bullying and both are subjected to racial slurs. This is a fair and nuanced view of society in which racism goes both ways, and race is often secondary to common interests, like a fan’s love of a particular team. And while the themes of race and class are serious, the broader theme is that kids are kids. Their confusion and anxiety as they try to get a handle on life transcends race and lends itself to easy laughter.

Green would be a coming-of-age novel except that David is too young to come of age. Still, he endures the pain of growing up and earns the kind of wisdom and maturity that characterize coming-of-age novels. The plot isn’t particularly eventful but the story has an authentic feel and it’s easy to relate to David’s unrelenting angst.


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