Team Seven: A Novel

Overview

In contemporary American fiction there are very few examples of novels that have portrayed the realities of black inner-city life with honesty, empathy, and storytelling skills. Into that near-vacuum steps Marcus Burke and his first novel, Team Seven—a literarily accomplished, autobiographically tinged coming-of-age family drama with an undeniably authentic feel for place, language, and character.

As Andre Battel, a native of Milton, a town ...
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Team Seven: A Novel

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Overview

In contemporary American fiction there are very few examples of novels that have portrayed the realities of black inner-city life with honesty, empathy, and storytelling skills. Into that near-vacuum steps Marcus Burke and his first novel, Team Seven—a literarily accomplished, autobiographically tinged coming-of-age family drama with an undeniably authentic feel for place, language, and character.

As Andre Battel, a native of Milton, a town south of Boston, ages from age eight through his teenage years, he grows away from his Jamaican family, discovers genuine prowess on the basketball court, and eventually falls into dealing drugs for the local street gang, Team Seven. But when Andre and his crew fall behind on payments, dire and violent consequences await. The story is told primarily through Andre's voice, but we also see the point of view of his mother, Ruby, a hardworking medical secretary; his older sister, Nina; his mostly-not-there and typically drunk-and-high father, Eddy, a halfhearted reggae musician; and Reggie and Smoke, the kingpin of competing drug crews.

What emerges is a rich portrait of a black family, a black community, and one young man poised between youthful innocence and ambiguous experience.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Team Seven

"... [L]ucid and affecting ... [A]n accomplishment, both for its ambition and its grounding, for what it tries to say and how it says it. Burke has an ear for the ridiculously rich and slyly intelligent language of urban black America. As the great James Baldwin asked, 'If black English isn’t a language, then tell me, what is?'"
The Washington Post

"A wonderful debut novel that moves with the rhythm of the streets... Burke crafts a street-smart tale of the possibilities and temptations of growing up. There is power in his words, and the tale moves like a locomotive right to the end."
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"The writing is rich with street vernacular, adding authenticity and depth to Andre's inner and outer worlds."
Publishers Weekly

"Burke draws on personal experience to illuminate inner-city African American realities."
Library Journal

"This coming-of-age novel marks the promising debut of African American author Burke, a product of the Boston suburb Milton, Susquehanna University, and the Iowa Writers Workshop."
Booklist

"A young black man growing up in a gritty area outside Boston sidesteps a promising basketball career to deal drugs and make war with rival gangs, in this penetrating debut novel of a family and a community on the brink."
O, The Oprah Magazine

“This is a book about people engulfed from childhood in complexities that would baffle any wisdom. But their hopes, though they are felt so often in the absence or failure or corruption of friendship, marriage and family, remain with them and sustain them. Team Seven achieves a rare degree of mature and compassionate insight. It is a remarkable first novel.”
—Marilynne Robinson, author of Housekeeping and Gilead

"Team
Seven is hard and clear-eyed and beautiful. It conforms to no vision other than its own, stands its own ground, and refuses to drift for even a sentence into any of the prefabricated narratives to which, in less artful hands, its characters’ lives might be vulnerable. Filled all at once and irreducibly with violence and grace, despair and hope, and that most precious element, love, Team Seven will lay claim to the hearts and implicate the souls of everyone who reads it."
—Paul Harding, author of Tinkers and Enon

“This is one of those rare first books you'll read again and again. The prose surges forward: relentless, plainspoken and artful, the people it describes laid bare, the tender heart at the center pulsing through each chapter. Unforgettable.”
—Ayana Mathis, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Team Seven speaks directly to you from its opening burst of beautiful lines: “Pop and Uncle Elroy smoke the strangest cigarettes I've ever smelled. They smell sort of like skunk juice and gasoline..”  You are in the best of hands with Marcus Burke and his clear-eyed prose. Down-to-earth, comic, deadly and ultimately incredibly moving, this is a book that will last.”
—Peter Orner, author of Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge
 

Library Journal
11/01/2013
Teenaged Andre Battel, from a Jamaican family that has settled in downbeat Milton, MA, finds himself by playing basketball but then loses himself by dealing drugs. Burke hails from Milton but was able to attend prep school and Susquehanna University as a star athlete, then wrecked his knee and turned to writing. The MacArthur Fellowship says it all.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-03-06
A wonderful debut novel that moves with the rhythm of the streets. Andre Battel's Jamaican grandfather calls him "champion," after the winner of a TV show they watch every morning over breakfast. Pa-Paw teaches him to cook eggs and tries to keep him on the level. That's a tough goal for a 10-year-old whose father smokes weed to fuel his fantasies of being a reggae drummer. The streets of Milton, Mass., come alive in these pages, thumping with music and the smell of burning blunts. Andre dribbles through the crowds on the corners and past the girls showing their stuff at school, on his way up the basketball ladder as a winner, a champion. But there's much that's beyond his control. His father disappears for months at a time. School becomes only a measure of his powerlessness as he questions authority and its consequences. He starts running errands for Team Seven, the local pot-selling gang he joins at age 11, making the "munchies run" for the older guys. He earns money for these errands and learns what is cool and what is not in a neighborhood where everyone knows everyone's business. Andre narrates most of the book in the first person, and as he ages, the rhythm of his speech gains steam and he speaks more and more the street code of Team Seven. He graduates to dealing drugs and smoking his product for a continuous buzz. Burke's words meld with Andre's progression into hell until "the dark cloud over my head exploded, it was like the perfect storm and felt like watching a nurse jab a needle into my arm." The deluge is a shooting that can make or break this young man's life. Burke crafts a street-smart tale of the possibilities and temptations of growing up. There is power in his words, and the tale moves like a locomotive right to the end.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385537797
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/8/2014
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 722,145
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Marcus Burke grew up in Milton, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. A standout athlete, he attended prep school at Brimmer and May and was recruited to play basketball at Susquehanna University, where he played varsity for all four years. But a knee injury limited his playing time, so he took up fiction writing instead and was accepted at the Iowa Writers Workshop, where he was awarded a grant in honor of James Alan McPherson from the University of Iowa MacArthur Foundation Fund. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa.
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