Review: Team Seven

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Review for "Team Seven" by Marcus Burke (2014)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Oh, this book is just flat out wrong. Where do I begin?

First of all, this book had a lot of potential. It’s the story of Andre Battel, a Jamaican-American boy growing up in the urban center of Boston around the 80s and 90s. We follow him from around age 7 or so until his late teens, though the way the story is written, it’s hard to tell. We also follow his very dysfunctional family during the same period: Eddy, his unemployed, drug-addled, and absent father, Nina, his sister, and Ruby, his saintly, long-suffering mother. There is a host of extended family as well, an aunt and his grandparents, who live upstairs from the ongoing Battel family drama.

Around the age of 9 or 10 (I assume), Andre falls under the influence of a neighborhood drug crew of older boys, eventually becoming their seventh member (hence the title, “Team Seven”). He comes of age in a violent street culture–selling and smoking shitloads of marijuana, doing poorly in school, fighting, treating girls like garbage (along with a misogynistic attitude to boot), and beefs with his dad. The one thing Andre is good at his basketball, which he plays in city leagues with a reasonable amount of talent. He continues this sport until he is a teenager, looking for a way out of his twisted home life.

There are shifts in voice and time here, and that’s where the problems start. In the beginning there’s a young Andre, though as he grows there’s no kind of context of his age or any indication of how much time has passed. It’s just a kind of chapter to chapter ‘snapshot’ of Andre, with no backstory. He speaks and thinks in a heavy street dialect from the 90s and the 2000s, though other period indications in the book don’t seem to match. For example, there’s the mention of a lyric from Outkast’s “ATLiens” album (which came out in 1996), though several pages later there’s the appearance of a paragraph-length, perfectly grammatical cell phone text. Any genius will tell you that there were no such cell phones with such advanced texting capabilities during this period.

The novel also starts with multiple narrators: there’s Andre’s dad Eddy, mom Ruby, and one of the members of Team Seven. They each get a small sections in the beginning and, other than one other narration by Eddy later in the book, are never heard from again. Why have other characters narrate at all if it’s not continuous? Hmm.

And then there’s the members of Team Seven, who, other than two main characters of which are continuously mentioned, we don’t know much about. While we know they’re older that Andre, how old are they? As I said before, the lack of structured detail to the timeline here is terribly confusing.

The author also mixes up Andre’s narration in present and past tenses, depending on what chapter you’re reading. Is Andre currently in the action, or far beyond it, reflecting on the past? This is unclear and inconsistent.

This book had potential, but the rookie-ness of the mistakes here are glaring and detract from the overall cohesiveness of the story. I’d read, but only with caution.

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