by B.A. Binns
310 pages, WestSide Books
Review by Melissa Conway
(In the Booksquawk spirit of full disclosure, this novel was provided to me as a free uncorrected advance proof, however, other than belonging to the same chapter of Romance Writers of America with its author, I do not know B.A. Binns.)
On the face of it, the title of Binns’ debut young adult novel, ‘Pull,’ seems ambiguous. It wasn’t until I was immersed in the main character’s story that I decided the title refers to the multiple directions a person on the cusp of adulthood can be pulled in life.
Pull is told in first-person point of view by seventeen-year-old David Albacore…except that’s not his real name. David wants nothing to do with his real surname, because it links him to his father—the convicted murderer of his beloved mother. He and his sisters are in foster care, living in inner-city Chicago with his aunt, and he’s managed to register himself in school under an assumed name. New city, new school, new (understandably bad) attitude about life. David just wants to fly under the radar for the rest of the year—something kind of hard to do when you’re six-foot-seven inches tall and refusing to join the basketball team.
Right away David feels the irresistible pull of Yolanda Dare, a girl with “a double dose of that thing girls have that makes a guy’s legs shake and teeth clench until we’re praying for relief.” Too bad Yolanda belongs to Malik, the reigning self-inflated, bullying king of the school. David also feels the pull of protectiveness for his younger sisters. Barnetta, or Barney, is a freshman desperate to hang with the cool crowd. Since they have different last names, she convinces David to pretend to be her boyfriend, which gives her instant status and gives him peace of mind that she won’t be targeted by any of the boys in her orbit.
The characters meander down a familiar road of teenage indecision, fluctuating loyalty and confusion. David is caught up in his attraction to Yolanda, who is giving him mixed signals. Her motivation isn’t clear at the outset, but Binns slowly lets the line on her true personality reel out. Malik is vicious and malicious; in stark contrast to the selfless girl David is coming to know.
David’s motivation for not wanting to play basketball is tied to his guilt in the part he believes he played in his mother’s murder. The terrible circumstances leading to her loss colors every decision he makes. He’s pulled, too, by the hopes and dreams she expressed for his future, which involve a college degree he’s just not that into getting. David has a true talent for working with his hands and his mind in construction, but the culmination of all the external pressures on him means he can’t envision anything but a life of sacrifice to protect his sisters from the system.
On Binns’ website, the subtitle is: ‘Stories of real boys growing into real men.’ She accomplishes this through uncensored characterization; not glossing over the fact that teens are exposed to drugs, alcohol and sex, and they use strong, often offensive language to express themselves. In Pull, Binns depicts the struggles a teen goes through fighting peer pressure and hormonal urges—and building strength of character and moral courage—all without sounding like a preacher on a pulpit. I very much enjoyed this gritty, realistic coming-of-age tale.