There’s a really good scene in the middle of this novel where two friends (both 15 year old boys) are going into a Brooklyn yarn shop that’s populated by a 20 something white hipster behind the counter, several older women, and inexplicably placed huge guy. The boys are going ostensibly to buy black yarn to give to one of the boys’ brother, who is living with Tourette’s and has recently learned to use knitting as a coping strategy. The boys are buying black yarn because, in their minds, knitting is something for women and soft dudes; the huge guy in the corner of the store complicates this equation. This scene allows the narrator to cop feelings of various forms of insecurity about masculinity, as well does the rest of the novel. One of the boys ends up stealing the yarn, rather than get caught buying or having to pay for it.
This novel is about these Brooklyn boys trying to make sense of the world around them, dealing with the people in their neighborhood, and trying to figure out how to project they way you feel on the inside onto your outside self, as well as coping with what they see as a life that won’t allow them to be vulnerable.
These are black teenage boys in Bed-Stuy trying to make sense of the confusing and conflicting signals outside of them that don’t match up with the confusing signals inside of them.
I liked this novel for a lot of reasons. Despite having never been a black teenage boy, but having been a teenage once in my life, I do have some experience with conflicting signals about self-hood and masculinity, and how those interact with sexuality, your affection and loves for friends and family, and feeling the need to project strength while feeling weakness.
I also work in a city school district and know and have taught hundreds of teenage boys a lot like the ones in the novel. To say that they are often deeply confused about their own feelings, deeply concerned about who they project themselves to be, and conflicted about how to be and show vulnerability undersells what I see day in and day out. Yesterday, I dealt with some very confused teenage feelings and today we are dealing with how fragile and vulnerable we feel in tough times. This book was offered up as a book club book in our school media center and it’s really just kind of on the nose in a lot of ways.