A coming-of-age novel about race, privilege, and the struggle to rise in America, written by a former Obama campaign staffer and propelled by an exuberant, unforgettable narrator.
“A riot of language that’s part hip-hop, part nerd boy, and part pure imagination.”—The Boston Globe
Boston, 1992. David Greenfeld is one of the few white kids at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School. Everybody clowns him, girls ignore him, and his hippie parents won’t even buy him a pair of Nikes, let alone transfer him to a private school. Unless he tests into the city’s best public high school—which, if practice tests are any indication, isn’t likely—he’ll be friendless for the foreseeable future.
Nobody’s more surprised than Dave when Marlon Wellings sticks up for him in the school cafeteria. Mar’s a loner from the public housing project on the corner of Dave’s own gentrifying block, and he confounds Dave’s assumptions about black culture: He’s nerdy and neurotic, a Celtics obsessive whose favorite player is the gawky, white Larry Bird. Before long, Mar’s coming over to Dave’s house every afternoon to watch vintage basketball tapes and plot their hustle to Harvard. But as Dave welcomes his new best friend into his world, he realizes how little he knows about Mar’s. Cracks gradually form in their relationship, and Dave starts to become aware of the breaks he’s been given—and that Mar has not.
Infectiously funny about the highs and lows of adolescence, and sharply honest in the face of injustice, Sam Graham-Felsen’s debut is a wildly original take on the American dream.
Praise for Green
“Prickly and compelling . . . Graham-Felsen lets boys be boys: messy-brained, impulsive, goatish, self-centered, outwardly gutsy but often inwardly terrified.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
“A coming-of-age tale of uncommon sweetness and feeling.”—The New Yorker
“A fierce and brilliant book, comic, poignant, perfectly observed, and blazing with all the urgent fears and longings of adolescence.”—Helen Macdonald, author of H Is for Hawk
“A heartfelt and unassumingly ambitious book.”—Slate
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.13(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.67(d)|
About the Author
Sam Graham-Felsen was born and raised in Boston. He has worked as chief blogger for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, a journalist for The Nation, and a peanut vendor at Fenway Park. This is his first novel.
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Excerpted from "Green"
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
One reason this debut novel succeeds so very well are the layers. It can be enjoyed by teens but just as well by adults. Race, religion, ethnicity, family dynamics, growing up, sexual awakenings, being harassed, winning admiration, feeling out of place, making friends and losing them…all these things are eloquently addressed in the hip hop slang of a white boy trying to fit in a primarily minority school in Boston. He is twelve and on the cusp. Graham-Felsen gets the awkwardness and uncertainty of twelve just right. The time is 1990s Boston before the explosion of high-speed internet and we are treated to the excruciatingly slow process of downloading color jpegs, presumably from dial-up modems. The segregation in Boston schools does not feel so distant, however. The white-black friendship between David and Marlon, our narrator and a boy in his class, always feels a bit tentative and unsure, just like the boys themselves. On an ordinary day, most of us might not be rapt listening to the thoughts of a twelve-year-old for nearly three hundred pages, but David’s jive language adds a layer of complexity to the picture that completely works. We understand that he uses this language with his friends and peers and not with his parents, two Harvard-educated hippies now living with their two sons in Jamaica Plain. The Arnold Arboretum, one of the largest collection of plant species from around the world, is part of David’s walk to his ‘ghetto’ school so that he can avoid the housing projects where he has been harassed. Everything about the setting, the characters, the situations ring true. Dave’s parents believe in public schools so they won't consider a private school for David but instead encourage him to win a place at Boston Latin, the best public school in the city for grades 7-12. Dave and Marlon both have their sights set on Harvard because of the money they could make: just a look at the statistics for heads of corporations and heads of state tell them a Harvard degree is stone cold gold. But Graham-Felsen adds the spice—that layering again—by having a teacher looking to show the boys what’s possible bring them to meet a city councilor who graduated Harvard and who has some pretty harsh things to say about the experience. The city councilor is black and knows that Harvard’s aura of success mostly works for whites but less well for people of color. Another of Dave’s classmates, Jimmy, is Vietnamese and living in what Dave calls a real ghetto in Chinatown. One day Jimmy surreptitiously shows Dave a switchblade he’d brought to school; Dave considers getting a blade like it for his own protection, and so visits Jimmy’s ‘crib.’ This scene is painfully realistic and beautifully rendered. Jimmy knows there is practically no chance he will get into Boston Latin because of the quotas for Asian students. Reverse quotas. All of this rich material is artfully mined by Graham-Felsen. It never feels heavy handed; the absurdity of the blond white boy speaking inner-city lingo just lightens the whole experience, even when we have reason to feel sadness, for example when considering that members of both Dave and Marlon’s families struggle with a mental illness diagnosis. Dave’s younger brother refuses to speak for a reason never revealed, and Marlon’s mother may be bipolar or schizophrenic. The families deal the best they can, both very differently, naturally. The very best parts of the novel may be those sections that are not about being white
This coming of age story is set in the 1990s and centers around the friendship of David and Marlon, two very different kids who find they have a lot in common. David is one of the only white kids at Martin Luther King Middle School in Boston. He's a target for bullies and hates that his parents won't send him to a private school like his little brother Benno. Marlon is being raised by his grandmother because of his mother's instability. When Marlon sticks up for David one day when he's getting bullied the 2 strike up a friendship. They find they are both basketball fans and both hoping to attend Harvard someday. Marlon is embarrassed by his mother, while David is embarrassed by his Grandfather. Although they share much in common their friendship is repeatedly tested. While I enjoyed the story I felt there were quite a few aspects of Marlon's character that could have been better developed and that were deserving of a more in depth exploration other than just being the black kid with big dreams and an unstable mother. I received an advance copy for review
One of the best things about reading is the opportunity books provide you to expand your horizons and learn about new cultures, different experiences, and what it is like for others outside your sociological/economic/gender/race sphere of influence. Sometimes, this is a side benefit of reading a certain novel. At other times, it appears to be the purpose of the book. Sam Graham-Felsen's Green, is more of the latter than the former as it explores growing up as a minority white teenager in a predominantly black neighborhood in 1992 Boston. When reflecting on Green, I cannot overcome the feeling of discomfort I have after reading it. Some of my discomfort is due to Dave. His adoption of teenage black culture is understandable given how much he does not want to stand out at his new middle school, and yet it makes for some truly uncomfortable scenes. Everything about Dave screams poseur. His choice of vernacular, his choice of dress, and his "preference" for girls of color may help him avoid notice but they do nothing to help make him fit into the school and surrounding neighborhood. In fact, his choices only prove how different he is and make for some truly cringe-worthy scenes. Dave's character made me think a lot about cultural appropriation. In theory, since Dave is a minority student at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School as one of two white students, his use of the black vernacular and style of dress should not be cultural appropriation. He is not a member of the dominant culture adopting elements of the minority culture. At least on the surface he is not. Yet, I cannot help but think that is exactly what Mr. Graham-Felsen is having Dave do. After all, the story is about the difference in opportunities and justice that race brings. Dave may be a minority student at King, but as a white male in a very white male world he has more opportunities for advancement than anyone else he knows. His adoption of the black culture as a method of survival strikes me as crass because it only seems to highlight the differences and therefore the difference in opportunities between him and everyone else. Thankfully, the addition of Marlon to Dave's life provides some of the desperately-needed sanity the reader craves. It is Marlon who tries to make Dave embrace his identity through their shared love of the Celtics. Similarly, it is Marlon who drives Dave to success in school. The tragedy of the situation is the fact that every push Marlon gives Dave towards the path to Harvard, his own path grows murkier and steeper - a fact of which everyone but Dave is aware. Even though Dave might attend a black school and live in a black neighborhood, he has no idea what life is like for his fellow students and Marlon most of all. The growing awareness he has that Marlon and he are being forced onto separate paths is painful and awkward and unfortunately all too true. If Dave got me thinking about cultural appropriation, Marlon's story had me thinking about the appropriateness of a highly educated white man writing a story about a poverty-stricken black teenager living in the Boston projects. Mr. Graham-Felsen is everything Marlon is not in terms of color of skin, opportunities afforded him, and success. His very life ensures he cannot accurately portray Marlon because there is no real way for him to truly understand what it means to not be able to afford private school or summer theater classes and what that might mean for any child's future. This again leads
This is a story of a young Caucasian boy , David Greenfield, who is in the throes of puberty. He attends a mostly black population school where he is bullied.,and it appears to be reverse discrimination. He anxiously awaits the day he can leave and get into "a good" high school. The language in this book is hard to understand as well as offensive at times.,though I understand the author's need to describe the school, student's and living areas to create the complete scenes for the reader to understand. I liked the concept of the book, but it was difficult to follow at times.
The teenage years are an emotional minefield in the best of circumstances. Imagine living in a newly gentrified neighborhood, with hippie parents start a community garden, who make you wear only hand-me-down clothes, refuse to spring for a new pair of "kicks", then send you, a nerdy white kid, to an inner city, predominantly black school. You are one of only two white kids in your class, along with an Asian, and a couple of Latinos. Green, by Sam Graham-Felsen, is a hilarious, yet heartbreaking coming of age story set in Boston, Massachusetts. David Alexander Greenfeld (Dave) is this kid. Everyone makes fun of him, picks on him, or ignores him. Everyone except Marlon Wellings (Mar) who lives in the high-rise public housing project that borders Dave's neighborhood. Mar is also a nerdy kid who blows away Dave's assumptions about black culture. Together, Dave and Mar plot their method to be accepted to Harvard. The boys become fast friends, but as fractures begin to appear in their friendship, Dave realizes all the freedoms and privileges he has that Mar doesn't have. Told by Dave, and chock full of teenage jargon, this sweet, funny story will challenge your assumptions about race and justice; and will raise important questions about race relations. Green should be required reading. It will be available January 2, 2018.