Seventeen-year-old Malik Kaplan is the bully of Chicago’s Farrington High School. Malik has a cross to bear, or maybe it’s a Star of David; being the black teenaged son of a Catholic mother and Jewish father frequently makes life confusing. His grandfather, uncle, and older brother all ruled as the BAMFs at Farrington. Only his father is a “forgotten Kaplan,” and seems disinterested in his only surviving son.
Malik is determined to be the worst of the worst and not repeat his father’s mistakes; even if that costs him the people he cares about. At least he can drink. Alcohol keeps him going; alcohol is destroying his life. But he doesn’t see any problem, not even after he finds himself in court, shouldering the blame for someone else’s crime. Suddenly he’s faced with court-ordered community service shepherding an angry ten-year-old who hates the world, an “offer he can’t refuse” from the boy’s gang leader brother, and an opponent he can’t crush: Barney, a fourteen-year-old girl who watched her alcoholic father abuse and murder her mother. She wants nothing to do with any bad boy, especially not one who thinks drinking is the way to forget his sins.
Malik and Barney are forced to work together to help the kid and themselves escape the pull of the gang, and to rediscover the real meaning of family and friendship.
We begin with a run around the block to warm up her muscles. I jog with her, keeping the pace slow when I see her favoring one leg. Her shoulder looks iffy, too. But she has endurance and doesn’t complain.
“Not bad,” I say as we complete the first circuit and start around the block a second time.
“Maybe I can’t press, whatever that is, but I’m not a complete fat-ass.” Anger spills from her voice.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Most people do.” She shrugs and looks down at the ground. She acts the way Mom did after the fire convinced her she was ugly.
“Head up when you run. And look at a guy when you talk to him.”
She lets out a noisy breath, but lifts her head. “I’m still trying to work on that. Comes with feeling out of place. Life is easier if you’re slim, beautiful, and short.”
“I’m taller than you.”
“And you’re a guy, so it’s all good. I’m the biggest girl in school, except for some members of the girls’ basketball team.”
“Why don’t you join?”
“The coach actually stalks me, but I’m an awful player. My brother tried teaching me, but even he had to give up.” She lifts her hands. “See, both lefties. I never really wanted to play. I just went to games because I liked watching my brother.”
“And Julian.” I’m careful to keep my face blank and my voice smooth. I see the two of them together all the time. Barney and Julian are in the same English class, and they eat lunch together. They walk together in the halls, and her dimples show when she smiles at him.
“Julian, too. He’s my friend.”
I close my mouth to keep from asking what she considers me.
We finish our second circuit. When we reach the entrance again, I take her back inside to the door of the Outlet.
“Are you sure you’re serious enough to keep with this for the long haul?” I ask before I open the door.
“Don’t answer so fast. You have to keep running like this to train your heart. You’ll need weight training, and not just once in a while, or only when you feel like it. You’ll pump iron, run a thousand laps, do pushups, sit-ups, crunches. You’ll punch a bag that feels like a brick wall until your knuckles bleed or your shoulders give out, or both. You’ll take hits and be knocked down and end up hurting worse than you do now. And when you’ve done all that, you still won’t be able to take that guy down, or anyone like him.”
“Why not? When I get training—”
“You’ll know enough to get him mad enough to really kick your ass.”
“Are you such a rotten teacher?”
“Any of the guys in there will tell you the same thing. Why do you think so few girls ever step inside that door?”
“Because of the smell?”
I don’t do the near-naked chest look Ed loves, but I flex my arms to give Barney a good view of my muscles. “Testosterone. We guys get the muscles you never will.” I grab her wrists again. She tries to pull away from me and fails, again. I have to make her understand that she needs to keep clear of the Enforcers. “In the end, a big guy will destroy you, because we’re stronger and we like to win. Boxing lessons won’t change that.”
Her breathing grows faster. Her chest pumps in a way that makes me remember girls do have a secret weapon of their own. A kiss, a touch, hell, even a smile, and estrogen wins.
“Barney…” I release her and step back.
“I have to do something.” Her face is all grim determination. “I don’t intend on being manhandled again. I’m tired of being pushed around by guys. You, my brother—”
“Saint David bosses you around?”
“Everyone bosses me, but I’m going to do this.” She tosses her head and marches inside the Outlet. I surrender and follow her.
B. A. Binns writes to attract and inspire young male readers with stories of “real boys growing into real men…and the people who love them.” This Chicago native graduated from Hyde Park High School and went on to receive advanced degrees from both Roosevelt and DePaul Universities, and then honed her writing skills at Chicago State University and Harper College. Ms. Binns finds writing a major exercise in self-discipline, and the perfect follow-up to her life as an adoptive parent and cancer survivor. She is a member of RWA (Romance Writers of America), the Chicago Writers Association, SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE) and YALSA (Young Adult Library Association). Being God is her second novel, the first, Pull, won a National Readers Choice Award, and was named to the YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers and the ALA Best Books for Youth In Detention lists. Pull was also nominated for the 2012-2013 Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award.
Being God is available at Amazon in paperback http://www.amazon.com/Being-God-B-A-Binns/dp/0988182114 and Kindle http://www.amazon.com/Being-God-ebook/dp/B00B9EWAEK formats