It’s 1992, and twelve-year-old Dave Greenfeld desperately wants to go to private school, but his progressive parents believe in public school so there he is, one of three white kids at his predominantly African American high school. His attempt to fit in through fashion fails miserably when his new clothes are stolen, leaving him to run home in his underwear.  He doesn’t even want to mention he is Jewish and adopts the nickname “Green” which gives us the title for Sam Graham-Felsen’s new book.

This is a coming-of-age story that tries to do more, to examine privilege and racism through the prism of Dave’s friendship with Marlon, through this important school year which focuses heavily on preparing students for the critical exam that determines whether they can attend Latin or not, the elite Boston school that feeds into Harvard and adult success. Both Dave and his friend Marlon are desperate to go to Latin, Dave mostly to get away from the bullies. Marlon is studious, Dave is anything but, far more interested in TV, games, and anything but reading.

Their friendship is quite wonderful, full of the fun and games and silliness that a childhood friendship should be. Through their friendship, Dave becomes aware of how racism works, how Marlon is suspect when he is not. The story is often humorous. Like many teenage boys, Dave is beset by inconvenient erections and figures out “tactics” for dealing with them. His use of that word throughout is hilarious.

Green is an enjoyable book. I liked Marlon and Dave and loved their friendship. However, it is burdened with additional storylines that weaken its main theme. If the goal is exploring privilege and systemic racism, or the force as Dave thinks of it, then adding Dave’s brother Benno is unnecessary. If it’s about coming-of-age, then the meeting with the councilman who explains systemic racism and the night in the Arboretum is unnecessary. Green is a fun story that is overloaded with multiple ideas that confound each other in terms of making a consistent argument. After all, in the end, it is not racism that is the greatest challenge and hurdle that Marlon faces. It is cowardice, not racism, that is Dave’s greatest failing.

I liked Green, but I think it does not meet its own obvious ambitions.

I received an e-galley of Green from the publisher through NetGalley.

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