fiction / review

Kings of B’More by R. Eric Thomas

I was excited about this one. I recommended it to both the Baltimore City and County libraries and was excited when it came in.

What a disappointment. A lot of it didn’t make a lot of sense and there was little plot or character development. The book seemed to switch perspectives but it was very hard to tell since their “voices” were identical. One’s only personality trait was that he thought about musicals nonstop. There are some scenes with Linus’ estranged mother that should be good but we have no feeling for his character so there is little pay off or investment. It seems like a throwaway for “depth”.

How did a child not know what playing hooky meant? He watches Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and decides it means something about a baseball game. Then he decided to have a Ferris Day for his best friend who had just suddenly announced that he was moving away and didn’t want any fuss.

I’m puzzled why it was set in Baltimore. So many details and terminology were wrong or confusing. We have dirt bikes, not “motorbikes” (there are literally documentaries about this). We also call our distinctive houses rowhouses. We don’t live in a “row home”; we live in a rowhouse. A odd number of references to “squat houses” (I guess smaller rowhouses?) and large apartment buildings which was weird because we famously have very few apartment buildings and the few we do have are small compared to what are in most cities. Most apartments are in carved up rowhouses.

No kid growing up here thinks you get “hired” or have to apply to be a a squeegee kid. No one would be surprised there were Black people at Pride. It’s Baltimore. Also a little weird to not have Greenmount be the cemetery they hang out in. The book ignores Baltimore geography and logistics so why not have them love the one with the cool gravestones and famous people? The one with better hours? Walking paths? I don’t even think they got a snowball on the way. What kind of Baltimore summer is that? I’m allowing that even though the Druid Hill Park pool has been closed since 2018, it did reopen six days ago. After the book came out but okay.

I don’t know how they had time to do half of what they did, taking a train to DC and getting over to the Mall is time consuming (I’d say 3 hrs absolute minimum round trip travel time?) but they did all that, got timed entry at the museum, wandered around and still had time to run all over Baltimore? Then he is back home in time for his parents to be making dinner? And he totally would get the reference on the mug. We know his parents show him old stuff.

Why all it called Kings of B’more? You can’t write about a specific place and not get the details correct or have it be believable. You have to assume some local is going to read it. Some much of this info could have been gleaned by talking to a native and current Baltimorean. At the very least run it past one before it goes to print?

It seems like he lived here as a child but didn’t seem to internalize any information about the city. I’d love to know more about that, but he should have talked to people or done any sort of research. The details in the book were bordering on nonsensical.

He did know that Baltimore City and County were two different things and how North Ave got it’s name but that’s a low bar. The fact that he had the two kids work for a Baltimore tour company yet didn’t seem to know much about the city was a choice.

Even with all the oddness about Baltimore it still would be a disappointment because no one felt like a real distinct character. The main characters were written in the same “voice” and the side characters really had no personality or purpose. The book was too long and wordy to use the fact that it took place over only a few days as an excuse for a lack of character development and meaningful plot. They kept repeating the same facts and details over and over again—we get it, the teacher liked Celine Dion and Titanic. Everyone saw Hamilton. The ending was so corny I had some second hand embarrassment. I love reading books about friendship and books about my city that don’t include guns and violence but come on.

I had such high hopes! I would have been happy with a book that just had some happy goofy kids having fun in my city if any of it felt real or had depth. I felt like the book tried but never pulled it off. I do like his tv work. Maybe YA is not his forte?

One thought on “Kings of B’More by R. Eric Thomas

  1. Pingback: What I Read in June | Rachel Reads Books

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