Hmmm. I’m torn about this one. It has some great things to say about race but I don’t think the target audience is going to sit still long enough to get the message.

One of my concerns since my son was born is that so many fantastic new books for young people have strong female characters and that the male characters are often not good role models. Now, I get it, I do. I was working for the Girl Scouts in the mid-90s when Reviving Ophelia was published, which really helped kick off that movement. But I also see my son struggling with self-esteem issues and I’m not seeing the boys in Captain Underpants as the best role models for him.

A few years ago, our local PBS station was running a PSA about staying in school, which aired during the afternoon kids’ shows that my son was watching. At one point, I asked him if he knew what the PSA was about, and he told me that, “Only boys drop out of school.” That is the message he picked up from the juxtaposition of the images with the voiceover! I hadn’t noticed until he said it, but as I watched it again, I saw he was right–they were showing images of boys when they talked about dropping out or the drop-out rate, but images of girls when they talked about staying in school. Subtle–and totally unintended, I’m sure; I’m certain that was not the message we were meant to take away.

My point is that, yes, girls need strong role-models… but SO DO BOYS! And don’t tell me about the thousands of books from the 1980s and 1970s and before that have male role models–those aren’t the books kids today want to read, especially kids like my son who struggle with school and reading.

*Stepping off my soapbox.* So. Green by Sam Graham-Felsen.

Green‘s hero, David Greenfeld, is very real–with all the insecurities and angst of a 12 year old boy, and I think he’s relatable for boys who struggle with how to respond to bullying and race. But I think many of those same boys would be mortified by the blunt descriptions of masturbation and wet dreams.

On the one hand, I loved Judy Blume’s Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, and Green reminds me of Margaret in many ways–the religious discussions in Green are very reminiscent. And Blume’s girl talk about boys and puberty were somewhat uncomfortable, secretly thrilling and mildly helpful… But Margaret didn’t discover her clitoris and give herself orgasms. I may very well be being prudish here, and maybe my son would have a similar experience with Green to mine with Margaret. (And maybe a Margaret written for 2019 would discover her clitoris–she certainly struggled with hormones and a budding sex drive.)

And the racial themes and discussions are also very real and a great introduction for young people–especially white young people; Graham-Felsen doesn’t presume to speak from a black perspective, but rather from that of a white boy who’s learning what it means to be “woke.”

Like Blume’s book, Green is not one for classroom discussion–there is way too much of an embarrassment factor in the sexual content. It’s one for boys to pass around among themselves in secret.

When it comes to my reading challenge, I’m sort of torn as well. Green definitely hits the mark with the Celtics info. The book is set at about the same time that I was living in the Boston area, and I was a bit of a Celtics fan, so many of the Celtics bits really resonated for me. And the setting, in the projects near the Arboretum, is pretty clearly written as well. However, the setting didn’t “sing” for me in this book. I felt like it could easily have been set in Milwaukee, for example, or Chicago–or any other highly segregated 1990s city with a strong home team alliance.

It’s something I’m having a little trouble defining with this challenge: in some books, the setting really “sings.” And in others, it doesn’t–even if the setting is well-written. If I had to pick a book to represent Boston, between this one and Run by Ann Patchett, I’d pick Run. But I’m also aware that I’m more comfortable in the world of Run than I would be in the world of Green, and that is most likely influencing my opinion.

Overall–Green is not always a comfortable read, but it has some very important messages and it’s very thought-provoking. I’m glad I read it.

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