De la Pena recounts one eventful day in the life of basketball phenom Sticky Reichard, 17, with flashbacks that fill in his horrific childhood. Since age seven, Sticky's ricocheted between group and foster homes before settling in Venice Beach, Calif. Along the way, he picked up a passion for basketball, and his obsessive-compulsive habits enhance his game-he practices constantly. Despite a demonstrated lack of interest in school (a freshman-year report card contains "five Fs and a C in PE"), a college scholarship is on the horizon, and so is a healthy relationship with "super-pretty Vietnamese girl," Anh-thu. But can Sticky overcome his past-the cigarette-burn scars from his mother's pimp, his mother's violent death, the succession of indifferent caretakers? The group home director tells him he's "a good person," but Sticky's morals allow for compulsive shoplifting, and he celebrates a big win with mindless vandalism that lands him in jail. It's easy to feel sorry for him but he's tough to like. The author's depiction of the foster care system seems over-the-top (the first would-be parent dies of cancer, the next doesn't even provide a bed, a third catches his daughter with Sticky unclothed). Still, readers will find the portrait of this obsessive-compulsive's rituals both on and off the court fascinating. The prose moves with the rhythm of a bouncing basketball and those who don't mind mixing their sports stories with some true grit may find themselves hypnotized by Sticky's grim saga. Ages 14-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
This is a work of art by a newcomer to the field. It's a dark tale about a basketball player, related in the third person about a teenager whose personal history couldn't be much worse. Sticky is white; his mother was a prostitute whose pimp hurt her little boy. After her suicide Sticky was sent to a series of foster homes. This back-story is revealed in short segments intersecting the events in the present, when Sticky is turning 17. Much of Sticky's current life is about being on a basketball court, shooting hoops. "But this game is Sticky's drug. It's his stage. This court is Sticky's home. It's his hiding place. It's his church. And he's the one who gets to talk to God." He is highly talented, almost sure to get a college scholarship; for him, the NBA dream is truly all he has. He rarely talks and is practically incapable of relating to others except through basketball. A group of black guys who play ball and hang out at the community rec center slowly become his family: "Yo, I don't know about y'all, but when I look at Stick now, I don't even see white. I see family." There is a lovely girlfriend who is just turning 15 and worried that she is pregnant with Sticky's baby; there are thefts, there is a shooting, there are frequent swearwords. All those familiar with the rhythms of basketball will feel the same rhythms in de la Pena's prose. Oddly, even Sticky's sometimes-recurring obsessive repetitions (a bit of OCD) can seem like the dribbling of a basketball on the court. The author played college ball and this book has a recommendation by Rick Fox, from the LA Lakers, who says it is "truly authentic in its examination of both the game I love and the invariable missteps towardmanhood." KLIATT Codes: S*Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students. 2005, Random House, Delacorte, 279p., Ages 15 to 18.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-"That white boy can ball-.He don't play like no regular white boy." Sticky, 17, has spent his life being abused by pimps living with his prostitute mother, bouncing from one foster home to another, and living on the street between failed placements. But he's developed incredible hoop skills that have given him considerable social standing among his mostly black peers. And he gets a girlfriend named Anh-thu, who loves him and wants to help him reach his dreams. Sticky sees basketball as his way out of his dead-end life and is determined to make the right moves in the game to attain his goal. But he doesn't quite know how to make the right moves in his life, until a bad decision leads him to confront dark secrets. Jumping back and forth in time, this first novel has a unique narrative voice that mixes street lingo, basketball jargon, and trash talk to tell Sticky's sorry saga from a variety of viewpoints. Although readers who are not familiar with basketball may have trouble following some of the detailed game action, even they will be involved in the teen's at once depressing and inspiring story. Sticky is a true original, and de la Pe-a has skillfully brought him to life.-Jack Forman, Mesa College Library, San Diego Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Travis Reichard only answers to the name Stick. He hangs out at Lincoln Park basketball court in Los Angeles, which is practically a character in itself. It's the only place that feels like home and where his skills give him some street cred. Shuffled from one foster home to another after his mother's suicide, Stick fits with the rough camaraderie of the other hoopsters, even if some are homeless. Stick's history gradually emerges as his reflections and memories surface. The rhythm of dribble, jump shot and dunk punctuates the narrative, resulting in a staccato effect that mimics a fast-paced hoops game. Suspense builds as Stick's life unfolds with its possibilities of mayhem and disaster. Will the advice of old hoops players, homeless friends and the beautiful Anh-thu, a girlfriend both loyal and ignorant about his life, be powerful enough to overcome the horrors from the past and the complete lack of support or guidance up until now? Basketball has an urban fan base, and de la Pe-a does an excellent job of combining the streets with the sport. Gritty and mesmerizing. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
[STAR] "[An] inspiring story. Sticky is a true original, and de la Peña has skillfully brought him to life."-School Library Journal, Starred
"Riveting...Teens will be strongly affected by the unforgettable, distinctly male voice; the thrilling, unusually detailed basketball action; and the questions about race, love, self-worth, and what it means to build a life without advantages."-Booklist
"Stunningly realistic, this book will hook older readers, especially urban teen males."-VOYA
"The characters live and breath...This is a must-read."-The Bulletin
"De la Peña does an excellent job of combining the streets with the sport. Gritty and mesmerizing."-Kirkus Reviews
"I have never before seen blacktop ball depicted so well. In this novel, you will find its flash, its power, and its elegance without chains. This is powerful stuff."-Antawn Jamison, forward for the Los Angeles Clippers
"From the very first sentence, this book grabbed me and didn't let go. The deeper I got into it, the more I felt like Sticky's story was my story. His heart, his handle, the guys in the gym, his potential pitfalls, his dreams. All of it. In a weird sense, this is my life."-Grayson Boucher ("The Professor") of tha AND 1 Mix Tape Tour
"Truly authentic in its examination of both the game I love and the invariable missteps toward manhood. You cannot fail to be moved by the eloquence and truth of this story."-Rick Fox, former forward for the Los Angeles Lakers
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers
Read an Excerpt
with his fierce fists and suspect jump shot, sets his stuff ($1.45 sandals, key to bike lock, extra T-shirt) on the bleachers and holds his hands out for the ball. It's ten in the morning and Lincoln Rec has just opened. Sticky's at the free-throw line working out his routine, while all the regulars come swaggering in. Come on, little man, Dreadlock Man says. Give up the rock.
Sticky throws an around-the-back, no-look dime. Watches Dreadlock Man rise into the air with his awful form--calves tightening, dreads scattering, eyes poised on the goal--and let go of a sorry-looking line drive. Before he comes back down to the dusty old hardwood, he yells out: Peanut Butter! Says it every time he takes a jumper. Peanut Butter! That's what he wants everyone to call him, but nobody does.
When the ball ricochets off the side of the backboard, entirely missing the rim, he says what any man would say: Hey, yo, Stick, let me get one more.
Hawk passes through the door, from sunny day into old dark gym. A big black man. Wears bright wraparound shades and baggy shorts, the new Jordans on his size-sixteen feet. Hawk has a little money to his name. He's one of the few Lincoln Rec ballers who does. Some of the regulars say he made a few movies a couple years back. A stunt double maybe or security on the set. If you look quickly, get a fast profile shot, you might think he looks like someone.
Hey, yo, Dreadlock Man, he says, megaphoning a hand around his mouth. I got five says you brick that shot. The whole side of his shaved head flexes as he chews hard at his gum.
Dreadlock Man takes a couple awkward dribbles and rises again. Peanut Butter! This time his ball arcs through the air without backspin. A Phil Niekro knuckleball that thuds off the back of the rim and drops into Sticky's waiting hands.
Damn, Dreadlock Man, your shot's straight broke. Hawk falls into the bleachers laughing, goes to lace up his new sneaks.
Other dudes come strutting into the gym. Slapping hands. Slinging their bags onto the bleachers and talking trash.
Sticky high-dribbles to the other end of the court, spins in an acrobatic reverse. He points up at an invisible crowd.
Dreadlock Man watches, hands on hips. Yells out: Come on, Stick, we tryin to shoot down here.
A couple other balls get tossed into the rotation. Everybody shooting short set-shots to get warm, stretching out stiff shoulders and legs. Most of these cats are just out of bed. A couple have pulled themselves off a piece of cardboard on court two, having spent the night where all the homeless stay.
Lincoln Rec functions both as a great place to hoop and a small-time homeless shelter.
Sometimes things overlap.
Sticky comes dribbling down from the other side of the court with his left hand. He goes right up to Dante, who's just walked in carrying a duffel bag, the best player in the gym, and shoots a soft twenty-footer over his outstretched hand. Dante and Sticky watch the ball smack both sides of the rim and bounce off toward the east sideline.
Go get that brick, Stick, Dante says. Bring it back my way so you could watch a real shooter.
Dante played ball overseas for six or seven seasons; he's slick with both the rock and his mouth. Some cats say, Watch it, man, to newcomers, dude will beat you two times. Then they sit back and clown those who brush off their warning:
Told ya, dawg. Didn't I tell him, Big J, when he walked his sorry ass in here?
Yeah, I heard it, OP. I was sitting right there when you said it.
Dante's skin shines black as night, and his hair is scarecrow wild. The devil's growth fingers out from his chin.
Sticky skips a bounce pass to Dante, who pats it around his back a little, through his legs some, close to the ground with his tips like a magician, and then fires up a twenty-five-footer that nestles in the gut of the net. You see how I play the strings, young Stick? He laughs a little and nods his head: Just like that, baby boy. That's string music.
Dante struts off the court with hip-hop rhythm, brushes past a businessman (who's stopped in to watch these black guys play: arms folded, subtle smile) and lies down near the bleachers to stretch his thirty-seven-year-old back.
This is Lincoln Rec on a Thursday, midsummer.
It's the best place in L.A. to ball. Some sports mag even did a cover story about it a few years back. Gym manager Jimmy's gold-tooth smile spread right across pages seventy-two and seventy-three. The article talked about how one court houses the homeless and the other accommodates the fearless. How Michael Cage sometimes shows up. Cliff Levingston. Eddie Johnson. Bill Walton was quoted saying: "It's the sweetest run in all of Southern California." The gym is in the middle of a pretty good-sized park, adjacent to some museums and business offices. The place gets so dark that when you've been in there a while and you go to peek your head outside to check your car, your eyes freeze up and hide like you've just stared in the sun.
Games go to eleven straight up. No win by two here. Fouls are called by the offense. The ball they use is dead weight. The leather has soaked up so much sweat from so many different dudes over the years, it takes a lot of legs just to get it up to the rim.
Other than that, there's a constant sour smell in the air, a no dunking sign that nobody pays attention to, and an unwritten rule that all who step foot through the gym doors with the intention of getting on the court better come with their A-game.
From the Hardcover edition.