Green (Sam Graham-Felson)

Green:  A Novel
Sam Graham-Felson, 2018
Random House
320 pp.

A coming-of-age novel about race, privilege, and the struggle to rise in America, written by a former Obama campaign staffer and propelled by an exuberant, unforgettable narrator.
Boston, 1992.
David Greenfeld is one of the few white kids at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School. Everybody clowns him, girls ignore him, and his hippie parents won’t even buy him a pair of Nikes, let alone transfer him to a private school.

Unless he tests into the city’s best public high school—which, if practice tests are any indication, isn’t likely—he’ll be friendless for the foreseeable future.

Nobody’s more surprised than Dave when Marlon Wellings sticks up for him in the school cafeteria. Mar’s a loner from the public housing project on the corner of Dave’s own gentrifying block, and he confounds Dave’s assumptions about black culture: He’s nerdy and neurotic, a Celtics obsessive whose favorite player is the gawky, white Larry Bird.

Before long, Mar’s coming over to Dave’s house every afternoon to watch vintage basketball tapes and plot their hustle to Harvard. But as Dave welcomes his new best friend into his world, he realizes how little he knows about Mar’s. Cracks gradually form in their relationship, and Dave starts to become aware of the breaks he’s been given—and that Mar has not.

Infectiously funny about the highs and lows of adolescence, and sharply honest in the face of injustice, Sam Graham-Felsen’s debut is a wildly original take on the American dream. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—May 18, 1981
Where—Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Education—B.A. Harvard University
Currently—lives in Brooklyn, New York City

Samuel Graham-Felsen is an American author, blogger, and journalist who was the blog director of the presidential campaign of Barack Obama in 2008. His debut coming-of-age novel, Green, was published in 2018.

Early life
Graham-Felsen grew up in Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts. He attended Boston public schools, including the William Monroe Trotter school and Boston Latin School. He graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 2004 with a degree in social studies. He was a writer and columnist for The Harvard Crimson, the daily student newspaper of the university.

From 2004 to 2007, he worked for The Nation magazine, covering youth politics. He also produced videos for Current TV, filing reports from France, Cambodia, and Pakistan.

From 2008 to 2009 he was content director at Blue State Digital, a Washington, D.C.-based Internet strategy and technology firm. He is currently a featured speaker for the American Program Bureau and travels worldwide covering his experience with the Obama campaign and other new media campaigns.

Obama campaign
Graham-Felsen was a member of the presidential campaign staff of Barack Obama in 2008. As the blog director of the New Media committee, he wrote for and oversaw, worked with key national and state bloggers to promote the campaign's message, helped direct the campaign's online rapid response operation, and produced and collaborated on dozens of online videos for the campaign. (From Wikipedia, Retrieved 1/30/2018.)

Book Reviews
[P]rickly and compelling…Graham-Felsen lets boys be boys: messy-brained, impulsive, goatish, self-centered, outwardly gutsy but often inwardly terrified. The voice with which Graham-Felsen equips Green, overseasoned with hip-hop slang, is the epitome of this. At first blush it suggests Holden Caulfield as translated by Vanilla Ice.… Yet as the novel advances, and this street stud pose starts splintering, the voice itself gathers a kind of dorky poignancy, the reader sensing an unseen wobble upon Green's stiff, pale lip. Is it linguistic blackface, with all that implies, or a 12-year-old's guileless attempt to cobble together a voice of his own from what's nearest at hand?
Jonathan Miles - New York Times Book Review

One of the most original voices you’ll read this year.
Southern Living

(Starred review.) [S]ubtly humorous, surprisingly touching…. Where Graham-Felsen shines is in his depiction of the pressures put on Marlon to rise above his circumstances and to cope with his mother’s mental illness.… [M]emorable and moving.
Publishers Weekly

[Green] poignantly captures the tumultuous feelings of adolescence against the historical backdrop of a racially segregated city and country (Fall Pick).
Library Journal

(Starred review.) [S]uperb … a memorable first novel.… [Green is replete with] wonderful characters, fully realized and multidimensional.

A white boy in a majority-black Boston middle school gets an education on race and friendship..… A well-turned if familiar race-themed bildungsroman.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for Green … then take off on your own:

1. Talk about the role that both class and race play in Graham-Felson's novel. Is one more significant than the other in determining friendships and in shaping young peoples' paths in life? Consider, for instance, the boys' snow shoveling business. Or when Dave is caught cheating from Marlon during an exam. Does Dave get a pass because he's white?

2. Talk about Lou and Liz Greenfield, Dave's parents. What is their reason for sending Dave to Martin Lutheran King Middle School? Is their idealism heartfelt or a pretense? Why do they refuse to move Dave to Latin? Would you have moved him or kept him in King?
3. What's "mad ghetto"?

4. What are the things that matter to Dave? Is he typical of most middle-schoolers? Despite all of his privilege, why does Dave feel sorry for himself? Do you like Dave?

4. What are the small events that make Dave begin to understand just how privileged he is and to grasp the reality of racial inequality? In your own life, what prompted your awareness of the diffferences between black and white and between privilege and poverty.

5. What draws Dave and Marlon together as friends—what connects them? On more than one occasion, Marlon "ices" Dave, turning away from their friendship. Does he have cause to do so?

6. What pressures does Marlon have to face that make it difficult to rise above his circumstances?

7. Dave insists that the force "isn’t some Jedi bullshit; the force I’m talking about is real, and its energies are everywhere, working on everyone." What is the "force" — is it racism, or race consciousness, or society's idea of racial difference?

8. "I wish I had what he has," Dave says of Marlon at one point. "All I came up with was confusion." What does Dave mean?

9. The author says much of his inspiration for Green came from the TV sit-com, Freaks and Geeks. If you're familiar with the series, what similarities do you see between the show and the novel?

10. At the end, Dave says of his and Marlon's friendship, "But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if we were meant to be shards from the start. Not just me and Mar—everyone. Look around.… The force is everywhere, prying us apart." Was their friendship doomed from the beginning to fall apart; was it's failure inevitable?

11. What's the significance of the cover art (hardcover edition)?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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