Hobbs traces the academic pursuits of four Los Angeles high school boys with different backgrounds and resources who navigate challenges in class, race, expectations, cultural divides, and luck to attend college.
Drilling down into the second-largest school district in the country to shine an intimate light on a few senior boys in two very different high schools would have been a daunting task in less capable hands...Hobbs does it so well that these soon-to-be men may be forever cast in the amber of their adolescence: slightly familiar from the start and, finally, utterly unforgettable ... How they each arrived at this pivotal point in their lives may not predict what happens next, but it is our privilege, thanks to Hobbs, to follow them. Readers will come to care deeply about these students’ journeys.
... intimate, empathetic ... Hobbs arranges dozens of vignettes of these boys and their friends, foregrounding their experiences and centering their voice in a beautifully rendered group portrait of adolescents and of adolescence itself.
Hobbs’s carefully observed journalistic account, written with the detached intimacy of ethnography and reported over a year and hundreds of hours spent watching and interviewing his subjects in class, at dances, sporting events, assemblies, homecomings, proms, graduations and in the students’ homes, helps flesh out this larger body of work with an empathetic but objective eye, and in so doing widens our view of the modern 'immigrant experience' to include that classic crucible: high school and college admissions, specifically, the experience of first-generation overachievers and the unique challenges they face in this regard ... Hobbs contrasts the experiences of the two groups of boys and is interested in how both groups struggle to carve out lives from the expectations prompted by their origins...But his attempt to link their senior-year struggles through the supposed 'stigma' that results from their origins feels facile, and ignores meatier discussions of race or class that would better illuminate the boys’ two worlds — and the gulfs between them. The inclusion of the Beverly Hills students makes the narrative feel unbalanced, especially given the wildly lower stakes of their challenges compared with those of their peers in Compton, and by the end of the book, one doesn’t have a much greater understanding of the factors that structure the lives of both groups of boys, nor, really, why some have succeeded while others failed ... Readers of Hobbs’s last book will know that the value of getting into an Ivy League school, absent relief from broader systemic racism and economic disadvantage, is often dubious. Oddly, Hobbs’s subjects seem to understand this better than Hobbs himself ... readers aren’t likely to be convinced by Hobbs’s broader suggestion that the American dream, that 'fantastical cycle,' has simply been picked up and revived by the newest generation of ambitious immigrant youth like Carlos, Tio, Luis and Byron. But despite the book’s perhaps unfounded optimism and baffling juxtaposition between Compton and Beverly Hills, Show Them You’re Good is an admirable addition to the growing body of literature that humanizes the struggles and expands the scope of our understanding of the lives of immigrant youth at a time when they’re under near-constant threat of dehumanization.