Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Double Foul: After the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay

"Bunny's got the world looking out for him. I'm the only one in Wallace’s corner.”

If a middle-class black kid can be called a "golden boy," Bunny Thompson is that.

When Whitman High School's star sophomore player takes a scholarship at the upscale private St. Sebastian High School, he does it for the right reasons. His father's bookstore is failing, and his mom's night-shift job at the hospital is barely supporting the family, and Bunny feels that family loyalty means he must take an offer which can guarantee his college education.

But Nasir, left behind at Whitman High downtown, feels his best friend has deserted him for a posh spot on a team with the sure shot at a state championship. And when Nasir finds out that his cousin Wallace has been trying to raise rent money for his grandmother and himself by betting against Bunny and St. Sebastian, Nas feels duty-bound to do something to help. But Bunny keeps playing well and St. Sebastian keeps winning, and Wallace comes under heavy pressure from the gang to pay back his losses. He's frightened and begins carrying a gun in his car. Desperate, Wallace comes to Nasir and begs for help.

"Help me win one of these bets."

"How am I supposed to do that?" I ask.

"Make it so Bunny's not a factor. I mean, I want you to catch him on some recruiting violations so he can't play anymore. Be my inside man. Find something I can leak," Wallace says.

Reluctantly, Nasir agrees to help his cousin. He manages to steal Bunny's phone, which Wallace uses to send an email purportedly from Bunny to the New Jersey Athletic Association admitting that St. Sebastian offered him money to transfer and play basketball for them. Called on the carpet, Bunny explains that his phone has been stolen, but his coach benches him before the last regular season game, which his team surprisingly rallies to win without him.

Nasir is caught in the pivot position. If he clears Bunny by confessing he took the phone for Wallace, he's in major legal trouble and Wallace is left to the dubious mercy of the gamblers. And even when the Athletic Association learns that the email's IP proves Bunny couldn't have sent it, Bunny feels he's being double-teamed. He's caught between his loyalty to his friend and possible responsibility for Wallace's death and trying to throw the game to make his school lose the state championship.

Randy Ribay's After the Shot Drops (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) deals with the complexity of choice, showing once again that intricate conflicts of maturation can be mirrored in sports. Ribay avoids making race the center of the story, putting issues of family loyalty, class, school and team, friendship, and doing the right thing in play in this masterfully-paced young adult novel in which the three boys provide their own first-person narrative in succeeding chapters.

There are no slam-dunk answers for either Nasir or Bunny--or for Wallace, for that matter--in this taut narrative of moral equivalences. Although the focus is on the interplay of personalities and loyalties in the character-driven story, Ribay also deliver some taut game-play championship action in what is the climax--but not the denouement--of this novel. A variety of viewpoints, from Bunny's girlfriend Keyona to his father, sad at the loss of the bookstore than he loves, offers appeal to a wide range of young adult readers who will find some guidance in threading their way through those inevitable conflicts of conscience that growing up brings.

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