We have the great honor of being a judge for the Nerds Heart YA tournament of books! Launched in 2009 by the very fabulous Renay, Nerds Heart YA's goal is to highlight underrepresented books by diverse writers. Our job is to choose between Pull, by B.A. Binns, and Efrain's Secret, by Sofia Quintero. We'll post reviews of both books this week, and we'll announce our decision on June 27th.
310pp. Westside Books 9781934813430
High school senior David Albacore is growing up way too fast. He's relocated with his sisters to a tough school in Chicago after his father murders his mom. The siblings are taken in by his father's sister, but David has to work a part-time construction job on top of going to school full-time. David's sister Barney has the hots for creepy and popular basketball-playing Malik--and David's falling for Malik's girlfriend, the foxy, troubled Yolanda Dare. When his school's basketball coach convinces David to join the basketball team, things only get more difficult. David's doing his best to stay out of trouble, but he can't hide his feelings for Yolanda, and Malik has it in for him--on and off the court. When Malik threatens David's sister, David has to decide how far he's willing to go to protect the people he loves.
Pull is a fast-paced first-person story that takes on difficult subjects without flinching, but still ends on a hopeful note. David is a complicated narrator, struggling with his guilt over his mother's death and his desire not to become a man like his father. B.A. Binns is a fantastic storyteller, and the strong characterizations and twists and turns of Pull 's plot transform what could have been a bleak Issues Book into a compelling story of one young man trying to do the right thing in a world full of crappy choices. The supporting characters round out a great story--Malik is a (sadly) believable villain, Barney is by turns exasperating and vulnerable, and Yolanda is as complex and surprising as David himself. (It is also, as our regular readers are well aware, a source of great delight to Rejectionists when YA authors create teenage girls that defy the kinds of "good girl=virgin, bad girl=whore" stereotypes that still bedevil a lot of young adult fiction).
B.A. Binns refuses to let her characters take the easy way out, and Pull 's ending is a welcome (and happy! swear!) surprise. David's struggle to come to terms with his own impulses toward violence, and his desire to make different choices and do right by Yolanda, are both genuinely moving. Pull is an impressive debut from a writer with a bright future.