Graham-Felsen isn’t reaching for the same lofty heights as Lethem did (few novelists dare to), but he is reaching in the same general direction: toward the terribly thorny beauty at the heart of cross-racial friendships, which constitutes, per Leslie Fiedler and others, one of our essential American stories ... Yet this reader found himself wishing for something of Marlon’s, too: his awakenings, his perspective, his inner voice, his fullness on the page. As Lethem wrote in The Fortress of Solitude: 'The white kid has one set of feelings, the black kid another.' That we aren’t privy to those feelings owes less to malpractice than to the inherent limitations of Graham-Felsen telling this story through Green’s blue eyes ... He and Marlon match up in a million ways save one, but that one, in America then as now, seems cursed to outweigh all the others.
Sam Graham-Felsen’s debut novel Green is one of the more charming recent additions to this pile, a heartfelt and unassumingly ambitious book that blends fiction, memoir, and social analysis to lovingly recreate the Hub of Graham-Felsen’s youth, while also directing a well-intentioned if somewhat shaky microscope onto the city’s notoriously shameful racial landscape ...By the book’s end I couldn’t shake the sense that Green is a novel about whiteness written for white people, which isn’t the worst thing in the world—after all, many novels by and for white people never interrogate that whiteness at all. But at a certain point, guiltily obsessing over one’s bystander complicity in the structures of white supremacy becomes just another way of thinking about yourself, and each time the novel seemed to approach a moment of real reckoning, it appeared to lose its nerve. Like a free throw shooter with the yips, the book aims its shots rather than simply taking them. Green is never able to disentangle its critique of the world it inhabits from its nostalgia for it; as such it both illuminates a particular brand of whiteness while also, less fortunately, exemplifying it.
Green excels at capturing the insidious ways prejudice works through people—in a store owner’s guarded interactions with Mar, in thoughts David doesn’t want to think. But the book sometimes seems to lose sight of the fact that racism is about more than feelings ... In this sense, the empathy and sensitivity that is so clearly a strength of Graham-Felsen’s is also a weakness, inclining him to exhaust most of his considerable descriptive powers on the pain of ostracization, of lost connection The authorial sin here is not malice or even incomprehension—more like a kind of distraction, a straying of focus. And the consequence is a coming-of-age tale of uncommon sweetness and feeling that does not always seem in total command of the difficult ideas it grapples with.
In its own way, the language of Green earns it a spot on the continuum of vernacular in the American literary tradition, from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to The Catcher in the Rye and Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao ... ‘With the best writing, you risk offending someone. . . . Instead of writing one big thing about race, I wanted to write 100 things about race.’
It is one thing to "believe" in an egalitarian society, but quite another to achieve it when the obstacles appear at an early age. In the microcosm of that world that is King Middle School, the options for white "hood" wannabe Green are much better than those for black Marlon ('Latin, upstate, or underground'). Funny and on the money, Green is a perceptive reflection of how far we still have to go.
For better or worse, the narrative at times ventures into YA turf, yet Green’s examination of race, class, education and (most interesting of all) religion is weighty and substantial without being stuffy. 'I’m just sick of being nothing,' David says at one point. Yet as poor, befuddled David goes on (and on and on) trying to put together an identity for himself, he—like the reader—is inevitably floored when he takes the time to so much as glance at the adversity people like Marlon must endure every day.
...Graham-Felsen, writing as adolescent Dave, fills his book with heartbreaking insights, difficult questions, and the faint but palpable hope of building bridges. Green bravely tackles the most intractable questions of race and identity from an unusual vantage point, elegantly revealing surprising complexities.
Green was an entertaining read and one that provoked thought. There were moments when I laughed out loud and, yes, even a moment when I cried. There’s something for everyone within these pages, because we all know at least one of these characters, from the granola do-gooders to that kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Here’s your chance now to get glimpse into their world. I wouldn’t be saying enough to say that I highly recommend this book for readers of all sizes, colors and creeds who are ready to open their minds and their outlooks. I even recommend it for all ages, because the cultural boundaries explored within Green are real and not to be ignored. The tragedies of everyday life surrounding us are real and not to be downplayed. And the line between the haves and the have nots, the clueless and the culturally aware, the predators and the prey is real and should never, ever be doubted.
Graham-Felsen, who has a similar background to Green’s, writes sensitively about the multiple ways racism manifests in this milieu ... Throughout, Celtics star Larry Bird serves as Green’s spirit animal and symbol for the narrative where whiteness represents difference, and Graham-Felsen avoids the biggest danger by making sure Green’s language never feels forced.