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Wildly popular films from the crime dramas Menace II Society and New Jack City to the comedies Friday and Barbershop have portrayed the realities of black inner-city life with honesty, empathy, and strong plotting. So why are there so few parallel examples to be found in contemporary American fiction? Into that embarrassing vacuum steps Marcus Burke with this literarily accomplished, autobiographically tinged coming-of-age/family drama with an undeniably authentic feel for place and language, and character.
Set in the town of Milton south of Boston, Team Seven follows young Andre Battel from age eight through his teenage years as he grows away from his Jamaican family, discovers genuine prowess on the basketball court, and eventually falls into a routine of dealing drugs for the local street gang, Team Seven. This drug connection will have potentially dire and violent consequences for Andre and his crew when he falls behind on his payments, leading to an action-packed climax. The story is told primarily through Andre's voice, but we also see things through the voices and points of view of his mother Ruby, a hard-working medical secretary, his older sister Nina, his mostly not-there-/usually-drunk-and-high father Eddie, a halfhearted reggae musician, and Reggie and Smoke, the kingpins of competing drug crews. What emerges is a rich portrait of a black family, a black community, and one young boy/man poised between youthful innocence and ambiguous experience.
"A wonderful debut novel that moves with the rhythm of the streets. . . . Burke crafts a street-smart tale of the possibilities and temptations of growing up. There is power in his words, and the tale moves like a locomotive right to the end." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“This is a book about people engulfed from childhood in complexities that would baffle any wisdom. But their hopes, though they are felt so often in the absence or failure or corruption of friendship, marriage and family, remain with them and sustain them. Team Seven achieves a rare degree of mature and compassionate insight. It is a remarkable first novel.” —Marilynne Robinson, author of Housekeeping and Gilead
"Team Seven is hard and clear-eyed and beautiful. It conforms to no vision other than its own, stands its own ground, and refuses to drift for even a sentence into any of the prefabricated narratives to which, in less artful hands, its characters’ lives might be vulnerable. Filled all at once and irreducibly with violence and grace, despair and hope, and that most precious element, love, Team Seven will lay claim to the hearts and implicate the souls of everyone who reads it." —Paul Harding, author of Tinkers and Enon
“This is one of those rare first books you'll read again and again. The prose surges forward: relentless, plainspoken and artful, the people it describes laid bare, the tender heart at the center pulsing through each chapter. Unforgettable.” —Ayana Mathis, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
“Team Seven speaks directly to you from its opening burst of beautiful lines: 'Pop and Uncle Elroy smoke the strangest cigarettes I've ever smelled. They smell sort of like skunk juice and gasoline.' You are in the best of hands with Marcus Burke and his clear-eyed prose. Down-to-earth, comic, deadly and ultimately incredibly moving, this is a book that will last.” —Peter Orner, author of Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge