Boy21: Important quotes with page numbers
1. “[I]t’s a long race and you can always outwork talent in the end” (Chapter 1, Page 8). Spoken by Finley’s dad, this quotation motivates Finley to constantly practice and train for basketball even though he knows he will never play at the collegiate level. This helps to explain Finley’s perseverant attitude; he is always willing to put in the effort, to go the extra mile that most other people are not willing to go. This also explains why he is so focused on getting out of Bellmont and making something of himself, instead of trying to make a quick buck.
Even though this quotation turns out not to be true for Finley in the short term—namely, Russ gets picked over him for the basketball position—this is Finley’s father’s way of suggesting that basketball might fade out of importance in Finley’s life, even though Finley can’t see it at the time.
2. “I say I’m sorry with my eyes” (Chapter 3, Page 15). Finley has difficulty communicating with other people. Instead of verbal communication, he relies heavily upon nonverbal communication to understand other people.
This reliance on nonverbal communication makes it easier for him to pick up on small inconsistencies between the thoughts and actions of various individuals in ways that many other people cannot. In this way, it seems as though he is rarely surprised by anything that happens; there are always indications or inklings of people’s future actions lingering just below Finley’s conscious surface. This makes him very good at empathizing with other people, as he is often able to implicitly understand what they do not—or cannot—say.
3. “I put in good words for you and your family, but people don’t forget” (Chapter 4, Page 19). Tension looms, threatening, whenever Rod speaks. Here, readers see the power a few words can have: from the right mouth, words can save an entire family, as Rod suggests happened with the McManus family. The power of words makes Finley’s silence even more important, as it indicates the exertion of personal—and not communal—control. However, the communal power that arises from spoken words also exists as a drawback: once words have been spoken, “people don’t forget” them. In this way, power always comes with a cost; something must be given in exchange for its influence.
4. “The liquor on his breath was dank and smelled as sharp as a razor blade” (Chapter 4, Page 19). Throughout the novel, alcohol and violence are frequently tied to one another. Although Finley is rarely subjected to immediate violence, he lives in a community in which the threat of violence is always present. This violence is double-edged, much like the blade of a razor: Finley is at once always subjected to the threat of violence, but also relatively safe within the neighborhood as a result of Rod’s unpredictable violence. In this way, violence permeates every aspect of Finley’s life, as well as the community in which he lives.
5. “I am programmed to treat all Earthlings with kindness. Greetings. I am Boy21 from the cosmos. I am stranded here on Earth, but I will be leaving soon. Enter into my domestic living pod” (Chapter 9, Page 37). The first time that Finley meets Russ, who speaks here, he is taken aback by Russ’s seeming inability to interact within the confines of reality. However, Finley quickly realizes that Boy21’s polite yet impersonal greetings and interactions demonstrate the pain he is feeling. To distance himself from interpersonal interactions which might cause him emotional pain, Russ has created this alien alter ego as a coping mechanism.
However, there is also a darkness that lurks behind this alter ego, namely within Boy21’s reassurance that he will leave Earth soon. Finley implicitly understands the tenuous nature of Russ’s emotional stability and mediates his behavior as a result.
6. “There’s a part of me that wants to discuss my past, why I don’t talk much, outer space even, everything, but it’s like my mind is a fist and it’s always clenched tight, trying to keep the words in” (Chapter 9, Page 41). Finley’s silence is more than a conscious decision.
Rather, it appears as though he is having a physical reaction to the memories and to discussion of his traumatic past. In this way, silence both becomes something that he uses to control external situations—for example, when he does not want to speak—and also something that is entirely outside of his control—a reflex.
7. “I don’t mind him being Boy21, but I sort of like Russell too” (Chapter 17, Page 82). In many ways, Boy21 and Russell are two entirely different people, as though the trauma of losing his parents to violence has turned Russ into someone—or something—unrecognizable as human, an alien.
In this way, however, his aberrant behavior is understandable, as is Finley’s acceptance of it. At first, Finley finds Boy21’s behavior engrossing; however, he soon realizes that he prefers actual empathetic connection from Russ, as opposed to bizarre conversations with Boy21. Instead of using Boy21 as an escape from his rather depressing life, Finley looks forward to human interactions with Russ that force him to live in reality, not in fantasy.
8. “Secrets keep people stuck in Bellmont forever” (Chapter 20, Page 99). Here, Erin cautions against the double-edged sword of secrecy and silence.
On one hand, Finley uses his silence to control situations and conversations that he does not like. However, Erin aptly points out that secrecy forces people into ruts from which they cannot emerge. Finley’s father and grandfather refuse to talk about the pain and trauma of Finley’s mother’s death. As a result, they become stuck in the mire of the past, unable to extricate themselves from the place of pain: Bellmont.
9. “Silence has always been my default mode—my best defense against the rest of the world” (Chapter 25, Page 132). In many ways, Finley does not have typical human interactions. The only way that he can relate to the world around him is through the use of video game (i. e. , default mode) or basketball (defense) terminology. This separation between the outside world and himself closely parallels the behavior exhibited by Boy21, cementing Russ as Finley’s literary foil. Finley uses silence as a defense mechanism in the same way that Russ uses Boy21to cope with past trauma.
10. “Maybe that’s why the bad stuff happens in neighborhoods like mine, because no one talks” (Chapter 38, Page 230). Finley realizes that silence, which he has used to exert control over his outside world, can also be recognized as tacit compliance: the idea that saying nothing is sometimes taken as an acceptance of the speech or actions of others. In this way, Finley recognizes that he has been complicit in the violence of his community; by saying or doing nothing, he—as well as other community members—allow violence to continue. This quotation marks Finley’s repudiation of his past code of silence, a point of intellectual and emotional character growth within the novel.
11. “I decide to ignore Boy21 and simply focus on my own goals. If I don’t even talk to Erin during basketball season, and Erin’s been my best friend since elementary school, then I shouldn’t feel bad about ignoring Boy21. Time to prioritize. Time to play basketball. My teammates need me” (Chapter 21, Page 107). Here, the reader witnesses Finley’s internal struggle. Even within the context of a self-centered decision—that is, to focus on his “own goals”—Finley frames it in the context of the community: his teammates.
Although this framing could be seen as justification for his perhaps immoral decision, it also indicates Finley’s desire to be a part of something larger than himself, to no longer feel so alone. To take his mind off his personal troubles, Finley needs the distraction provided by the company of other people, even though he may not consciously know it.
12. “Boy21’s parents were murdered and I know that I should be helping him, because he’s suffering” (Chapter 21, Page 108). Finley displays a disconnect between knowledge and action, between the internal and the external.
Finley “knows” that Boy21 is suffering, and so he “knows” he should help him, and yet he cannot seem to connect this knowledge to the action that it dictates. Finley’s lack of action in the face of knowledge is representative of his entire community: Bellmont knows the individuals responsible for violence within the community, and yet no one prevents these individuals from perpetuating violence.
13. “I never really minded having a shadow, but Boy21’s presence feels heavy now, like it could slow me down. It’s almost like having a girlfriend during the season—an extra worry” (Chapter 21, Page 108).
Throughout the novel, the author constructs bodies as psychological baggage: the “presence” of other people weighs Finley down and becomes “an extra worry. ” This anxiety produced by the presence of other people could be seen as indicative of Finley’s past trauma as well as of the violence inherent in his town. In Bellmont, it is difficult enough for Finley to make sure that he remains safe. When he plays basketball, he forgets about the bodies of others, using the physicality of the sport itselfas an escape from the constant threat of physical violence.
However, with the presence of Boy21, basketball no longer represents an escape, as Finley must now worry about Boy21’s body not working properly—that is, about when Boy21might throw the game.
14. “I’m thinking too much. It’s better when athletes don’t think” (Chapter 21, Page110). The reader begins to understand here why Finley feels drawn to the sport of basketball in the first place: he doesn’t have to think. He can escape his troubled past and not have to worry about the potential for trouble—or at the very least, uncertainty—in his future.
Without thought, Finley becomes solidified in the present moment as a mere body moving unimpeded through space. However, thought interrupts this movement; it inhibits Finley’s ability to be in the moment, it makes him remember and worry. In this way, memory and anxiety are inextricably linked in Finley’s life, as though his past does not exist outside of his anxiety.
15. “He wasn’t going to play basketball this year just so I could start…. I’m not sure anyone had ever offered to make such a sacrifice for me” (Chapter 21, Page 113). Finley finally understands the mutual willingness for self-sacrifice that is an integral part of friendship.
Throughout his life, Finley has been required to sacrifice aspects of himself for other people without asking for anything in return. In fact, Finley refuses to accept help from other people in order to maintain interpersonal distance. However, Finley is unable to do this with Russ, who willingly gives up his talent to make Finley happy. In this way, Finley learns the true meaning of friendship: putting other people before yourself.
16. “Matter cannot be destroyed nor created…. But then there is your life force, which is contained and trapped here on Earth by your body—your flesh—which is like a prison.
When you Earthlings die, your life force is released and then you’re free to travel through the galaxies again” (Chapter 22, Page 122). Boy21 uses science to rationalize his refusal to accept the deaths of his parents. However, the language he uses represents a reversal of Finley’s original escapism. Instead of viewing the physical as a means to escape the pressures of life, Boy21 views the body as itself a kind of confinement—a “prison” that traps “life force. ” This belief that the body is a prison parallels Finley’s realization about the psychological baggage associated with the bodies of others (see quotation 13).
17. “A sweaty Erin is next to Dad even though she should be sitting with her teammates. I know that this is her way of being my girlfriend when I don’t allow her to be my girlfriend, which makes me feel good, but I remind myself not to think about Erin tonight…. Basketball is your girlfriend now” (Chapter 26, Page 136). Erin’s emotional support of Finley extends beyond the rules upon which they have agreed; however, Erin’s refusal to accept these rules makes Finley “feel good,” indicating that perhaps these rules—and the importance they place on basketball—do not represent healthy choices for Finley and Erin.
Erin’s choice to disregard these rules foreshadows Finley’s future decision to throw away his senior year of basketball to support Erin after her accident. Even as Finley thinks of basketball as his current girlfriend, the author suggests that in the near future, interpersonal relationships will usurp basketball as thething of primary importance in Finley’s life.
18. “I also know that things with Boy21 and me are going to change as well. No more being left alone, and how can I be his friend when all’s I want to do is beat him out for the point-guard position? It’s not fair. And so I run harder, trying to stop thinking” (Chapter 26, Page 146).
Again, the reader witnesses the dichotomy between action and thought, as if Finley refuses to allow the two to occupy the same psychological space within his consciousness. Finley unsuccessfully attempts to use his body and physical motion to prevent thought, to ward against his anxiety concerning the future. However, the reader begins to see this escapism as futile: Finley can no more outrun his past than he can prevent his future.
19. “You don’t always get to pick the role you’re going to play in life, but it’s good to play whatever role you got the best way you can”‘ (Chapter 27, Pages 153–54).
Finley’s grandfather uses basketball as a metaphor for life, advising Finleythat life will not always work out the way that he has planned and that the future is never certain. However, Pop maintains that this unavoidable uncertainty does not mean that Finley should simply give up. Rather, he must adapt to whatever challenges life throws his way. This advice also foreshadows Erin’s impending accident, which throws Finley’s plans for his senior year and his and Erin’s future out the window.
20. “Everyone wants to know his secret, and that’s his power—just having one” (Chapter 28, Page 158). Here, Finley begins to tie the idea of power to secrecy—that is, to knowledge other people do not have—instead of tying power to physicality or the body. This marriage of power and knowledge differentiates Finley’s thinking from that of many other people in his community, who see power as being linked to the body, often in terms of violence. Finley’s departure from the norms of his community represents his psychological maturity, despite still living in a community that relies upon violence to exert power.
21. “Erin looks ruined” (Chapter 29, Page 175). “Almost anything can be ruined. Everything is fragile. Temporary” (Chapter 32, Page 195). Throughout the novel, Erin exists as a symbol of Finley’s future. While she is not a fully fleshed-out character, she represents his way of escaping from a life he hates in a town riddled with violence. In this way, it is not merely Erin who is ruined after her accident; rather, Finley’s future is also ruined as a result of her incapacitation and subsequent inability to play college basketball. Finley begins to realize how tenuous his future is, while also understanding that he cannot rely upon other people to assure his escape from Bellmont.
22. “He didn’t answer my question directly, but I know he’s talking in code, the way people do around here” (Chapter 30, Page 185). Bellmont’s underlying threat of violence affects every aspect of the community, even the way in which a father interacts with and speaks to his son. Finley knows it is too dangerous to be blunt in Bellmont, and so he and his father must speak “in code” to remain safe.
It is not only Finley and his father who interact this way; the entire town seems to have accepted that coded language is necessary to survive, indicating the widespread nature of violence inBellmont.
23. “Terrell was just trying to be nice, and I feel a little guilty for yelling at him, but I’m also glad he called me Finley and not White Rabbit, which seems important. So I add, Don’t ever call Erin my lil baby again’” (Chapter 32, Page 191). Finley’s aggressive response towards implicit—and perhaps unintended—disrespect represents his growth as a character. Finley begins to acknowledge his agency within his interpersonal interactions; he no longer views silence as adequate.
Finley’s decision to stick up for Erin, which is more of a gut reaction than a decision per se, represents his resolution to take control of his own life. Finley appropriates the power in names to exert influence over the course of his life through the perceptions of other people.
24. “It’s a nice gesture and I appreciate it. He’s probably been holding on to those two bucks for years. My dad pays for everything around here, and Pop hasn’t worked a day since he lost his legs” (Chapter 33, Page 198). Finley’s appreciation for his grandfather’s “nice gesture”—a simple gift of two dollars—represents the dearth of resources in Finley’s community.
In Bellmont, there exists a distinct stratification between those who have, who have usually accrued relative wealth through illegal means, and those who have not, who have usually chosen to live within the confines of the law. Thislack of fiscal availability extends into a lack of opportunity as well.
25. “Go be with Erin. She’s a good woman who loves you—the key to your happiness” (Chapter 40, Page 245). This quotation indicates one of the problems inherent tothe novel: that is, a distinct lack of female characters. Bellmont, and by extension Finley’s life, appears as a male-dominated environment in which violence reigns supreme.
The only substantial female character within the novel, Erin, is relegated to a supporting role: she represents Finley’s future and holds “the key to [his] happiness. ” In this way, she is not really a character, but rather, more of an idea: the potential for [male] happiness.
26. “And then Erin and I are kissing on a new roof, under the same endless unknowable space above, and somehow we’re okay” (Chapter 40, Page 250). This quotation demonstrates Finley’s growth as a character. In the beginning of the novel, Finley did not want to think about the future, as its uncertainty represented a source of anxiety for him.
Finley’s relationship with Russ/Boy21 shows him how to find comfort in the idea of the unknown, seeing possibilities in place of pitfalls. By this point in the novel, Finley has changed his entire outlook on life, and appears much more positive about the future than he was in the beginning. It is also important that this optimism arises only once Finley has left the confines of Bellmont, in which he felt suffocated by his past. Now, rather than trying not to think about the trauma of his past, Finley feels as though he can begin anew with a future-oriented worldview.