From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Using both harsh realism and a dose of the fantastic, Myers (Game
) introduces an inner-city teen in the jaws of a crisis: 17-year-old Lil J is holed up in an abandoned building, believed to have shot an undercover cop in a drug bust, while police officers assemble in the street below. As he searches for a way out, Lil J is stopped by Kelly, an eerily calm vagrant who invites him to cop a squat and check yourself out on the tube. Kelly's TV not only plays scenes from Lil J's life but projects what will happen if he sticks with his current plan: suicide. Shocked, Lil J considers Kelly's question, If you could take back one thing you did... what would it be? Aided by Kelly's TV, Lil J revisits pivotal moments and wrestles with his fate. As expected, Myers uses street-style lingo to cover Lil J's sorry history of drug use, jail time, irresponsible fatherhood and his own childhood grief. A didn't-see-that-coming ending wraps up the story on a note of well-earned hope and will leave readers with plenty to think about. Ages 14–up. (Feb.)
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Pursued by police after a drug deal goes disastrously wrong, 17-year-old Lil J hides out in an abandoned building where he encounters a strange, solitary man named Kelly, who is watching television. Stranger still is what Kelly is watching: scenes from Lil J’s past and his prospective future! How can this be? And how to answer the question that Kelly then asks: “If you could do it all over again and change something, what would it be?” As Lil J ponders his answer, Kelly screens more scenes from the teen’s unfortunate life, including his growing heroin habit. Is this a drug-induced hallucination? A ghostly visitation à la Dickens’ Scrooge? A metaphysical fantasy? A cautionary tale? All of the above? Wisely, Myers provides no easy answers to these difficult questions, trusting his readers to find their own truths and lessons in Lil J’s life. Yes, “lessons,” for there is definitely a didactic element here. But, happily, Myers’ narrative strategy is so inherently dramatic that it captures his readers’ attentions and imaginations, inviting not only empathy but also thoughtful discussion. Grades 9-12. --Michael Cart