Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Prince of Orange County by Kareem Tayyar a YA for basketball lovers of any age

There are books that confound their genre and The Prince of Orange County (Pelekinesis) is not a formulaic  "coming of age" story but one that redefines the idea of what that means. From "Catcher in the Rye" you get  the bittersweet end of childhood fantasy lost in the torturous crucible of adolescence, with "Huck Finn" you do have a similar awakening to adventure and life, and you hope the hero will come to terms with the adult world. In The Prince of Orange County, the hero, at age thirteen, is already living a dream that just may happen.

Thomas Kabiri's "got game," meaning BASKETBALL, and is already playing with the big boys at his local playground court in southern California in 1986.  He can steal that ball and shoot and sling the "BS" with the other mavens in the local park. But it's not idle talk that his precocious skills might land him in the big-time--if he plays his cards right and grows to be more than 5'2". His moves have won games and earned the respect of his elder court buddies.

They are an odd assortment, from Bianchi, a guy never at a loss for words and girls, to Mississippi Rod with his natural glide and secret history of misfortune. Bianchi protects Thomas when he's dealing with players twice his size but no one censors talk about sex and drugs and, most of all, rock'n'roll. Thomas has come alive to music, whether it's his mom's Joni Mitchell or his own beloved Prince. He wants to hear more, and now he's got a whole summer!

Thomas the part-time player is about to go full-time. He's got his early morning paper route and has to be home at 6 for dinner with his eagle-eyed mother, otherwise hoops and adventure can fill his days. He tries not to think about his dad, who had to leave for Iran. Thomas' world also contains Mr. Roth, a legendary coach who gives tips with special sandwiches at his deli and Earl, a former star player from the East he meets on his paper route. Earl's from the big world of major teams. The fact he sees potential in Thomas as a player and a person is transformative.  When Earl takes him  to Tower Records, Thomas is bowled over by the history of all music, there for his selection.

Earl's reason for being there becomes a secret mission for Thomas, which takes him on a forbidden trip to Los Angeles, where he experiences the viccitudes of first love with a runaway (unlike himself) on her own quest. As Thomas tracks down a missing link from Earl's past, his world broadens to the basketball courts of L.A. and then beyond basketball. He learns about adult relationships, the emotional work and basic kindness crucial in friendships and romantce. He also experiences a sense of mortality. A complex world that awaits him--if only he were sixteen!

As Thomas' summer of adventures draws to a close, he's now thinking of basketball as an entry, a portal, to all the complexity that makes a life--flow on and off the courts.  Though this book is set in the 1980s, it's timeless funny and true. I completely enjoyed Kareem's journey in Orange County. Recommended for YA and adults, who can remember a certain summer when the world of adventure spread out before them.

Author Kareem Tayyar is a poet and novelist, as well as a Professor of English in Huntington Beach, California. He is a recipient of a 2019 Wurlitzer Fellowship for Poetry. This book is distributed by SPD (Small Press Distributors)


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