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Ball Don't Lie    by Matt de la Peņa order for
Ball Don't Lie
by Matt de la Peņa
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Matt de la Peņa's debut novel, Ball Don't Lie, is a feel-good read, told in the third-person. Though Travis Reichard is the protagonist's given name, his moniker is Sticky. He's 6' 3" tall, with a handsome 'chiseled and tan face' and a few zig zag scars, and his home is the street. Sticky has perfected a tough skill. He has a passion for basketball, and he is so gooood!

Until he was six years old, Sticky lived with a drug-addicted, prostitute mother and her abusive boyfriend. When his mother had no money for food, she would dress Sticky in dirty clothes, place a sign around his neck, and sit him on the street to beg. She told him a variety of dad stories, leaving Sticky's imagination to work it out. He struggled with repressed memories of his mother's suicide, and for survival. Sticky developed a fixation on stealing, talked very little nor did he cry, surrounding himself with a hard shell. Sticky was placed in his first foster home at age nine with Francine. She was a widow, with three grown-up college grads, alone in a big house. It was a perfect match for both of them, until the day Francine was diagnosed with cancer.

Three foster home followed. Sticky was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), that causes ritualistic, repeated movements including: tying and untying his shoelaces, zipping and unzipping a gym bag, and washing/rewashing his hands, over and over until it 'felt right'. In a positive turnabout, the OCD is a behavior blessing that keeps him focused on constantly perfecting his basketball skills. Sticky aspires to be the 'Eminem of hoops', and to be awarded an athletic scholarship to the University of California at Los Angeles, climbing the ladder to the NBA - specifically the LA Lakers team. In high school, Sticky is pulled by basketball Coach Reynolds from the Junior Varsity team to Varsity playoffs, bringing them a winning year. Sticky has a theory: 'about hoops. About what makes one dude smooth under pressure and another fold ... the smartest dude ... is the most weak-minded baller ... There's no time for reflection when you need reaction to a situation.'

Besides ball courts on the street, Sticky plays with the black guys on the court of the Lincoln Rec center. Sticky has really made it at the Rec center when another player, Dallas, says, 'Yo, I don't know about y'all, but when I look at Stick now, I don't even see white. I see family.' The Lincoln Rec has a personality all its own, with theft, jumpers, rats and roaches, ceiling leaks, and 'dust on the slick floor that sometimes guys will go to stop and slide right out of the gym'. During inclement weather, so many homeless bodies are spread out on the court, you can barely see the floor. 'Sticky decides only a few things really matter to him right now: his rhythm on the court, his performance at the basketball camp, the college coaches who will be watching ... and girlfriend Ahn-thu's sixteenth birthday celebration.' He reveals to his lady, 'I think if I couldn't make it I wouldn't wanna be around no more. Cause it's all I got in my life, you know? Playin ball'.

Matt de la Peņa makes his mark with high scores for his eloquently-written story. He won a basketball scholarship to attend the University of the Pacific, and earned his Masters in creative writing at San Diego State University. The author captures the essence of every character, and presents a world in rhythm with the beat of playing basketball. The story's hero will capture the hearts of teens and adults alike, and basketball fans will love the sports-commentary, along with basketball moves and terms, and colorful jazzy exchanges of lingo. Ball Don't Lie is an outstanding read by a gifted young author, a book you will hold close in heart and mind.

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