Ball Don’t Lie
Matt de la Pena
ISBN 0-385-73232-5
Delacorte, 2005
Grade 9 and u
Urban Fiction/Sports

Sticky is at his best on the basketball court. There, it isn’t about his dead mother, his shoplifting habit, or even his girlfriend.


Sticky has been bouncing from foster home to group home and back again for the past ten years, ever since his drug addicted mother committed suicide. As an aspiring basketball player in a poor neighborhood, Sticky is a white boy living in a world of black men. At 6′ 3″ with an OCD diagnosis, he has a tendency to stick out. Sticky plays for his high school team and spends a lot of time playing ball at a local rec center. This is where Sticky thrives. Over time Sticky has become one of the guys in this diverse group. Sticky’s greatest wish is to play basketball professionally.

Sticky is also a shoplifter, but after a lifetime of poverty who can blame him when he just wants a new pair of khakis? He meets his girlfriend An-thu while trying to lift some pants from the store she works at. Sticky struggles to be a good boyfriend to An-thu, navigate socially, and do his best at basketball. Being broke doesn’t help and an attempted molestation by one of the guys he plays ball with is majorly disruptive. Sticky almost loses it all when he robs the wrong guy at an ATM, trying to get the money to buy An-thu a present. Although Sticky ends up in the hospital, he doesn’t get arrested and the wound in his hand heals. At the novel’s end, Sticky is being recruited by college basketball teams.


Boys and girls alike with find something to love about Sticky and Ball Don’t Lie. With romance, basketball, violence, drama, and humor, this book should find universal appeal.  I found the dialogue and language authentic and adored the characters. This book felt real.

Curriculum Ties:

Use Ball Don’t Lie to examine develop different voices in a writing unit.


Teen sex, language, shoplifting, violence, child neglect, suicide.

Refer challengers to the strong reviews of this book.

Selection Rationale:

This is such an honest and heartfelt book it deserves inclusion on any YA list; it is also a unique addition to the urban fiction genre and is sure to appeal to boys.

“Pena’s debut tells a riveting story about Sticky’s struggle to secure a college basketball scholarship and deepen his relationship with his girlfriend… Teens will be strongly affected by the unforgettable, distinctly male voice; the thrilling, unusually detailed basketball action; and the questions about race, love, self-worth, and what it means to build a life without advantages.” – Booklist

“Basketball has an urban fan base, and de la Pena does an excellent job of combining the streets with the sport. Gritty and mesmerizing.” – Kirkus
“Realistic dialogue, interesting characters, and a unique voice keep this novel from being just another story about inner-city life, lifting it into the realm of good literature.” – Library Media Connection


Read aloud one of the many basketball scenes.

Read aloud the section where Mico burns Sticky with a cigarette, pages 64-65.

Read a scene from Sticky’s hospitalization and his observations of Anh-thu, pages 264-274.
About the Author:

Matt de la Pena is also the author of Mexican Whiteboy (2008) and We Were Here (2009). He has an MFA in Creative Writing from San Diego State University. He loves basketball and attended college on an athletic scholarship.

Additional Information:

Ball Don’t Lie was adapted into a movie .


Forged by Fire
Sharon Draper
ISBN 0-689-81851-3
Simon Pulse, 1998
Grade  7 and up
Urban Fiction

Gerald knows fire. A fire saved him from a terrible life once, how will he free himself and his sister this time?


Gerald accidentally sets a fire when left home alone as a young child. He is taken away from his drug addict mother, finally finding safety and stability in his aunt’s home. Gerald’s aunt dies suddenly and his mother, half-sister, and her father re-enter his life. Jordan is dangerous and abusive; he beats up Gerald and molests Angel, (Gerald’s half-sister and Jordan’s daughter).

Gerald tries endlessly to protect Angel, even getting Jordan sent to jail. After he’s released, Jordan’s ire is even worse. Gerald and Angel’s parents tumble deeper into drug and alcohol addiction. A car hits Monique, the kids’ mother, and life takes a turn for the worse. Monique is a shell of her former self – she forms an addiction to painkillers. Then Gerald’s best friend dies in a car crash. Angel is nearly raped by Jordan. Luckily, a fire starts in the apartment. Gerald gets home just in time to rescue Angel, but Jordan meets his end. The two feel a glimmer of hope as they ride away from the flames in an ambulance.


This short, quick read is accessible in language but deals with many harsh realities. Draper is direct and unflinching in her dealings with abuse, addiction, co-dependency, death, friendship, and family. Gerald’s mother and step father are not the most complex characters, but the issues they face are real and many readers will be able to identify with Gerald and Angel’s experiences.

Curriculum Ties:

Examine the first chapter of Forged by Fire (initially submitted as a short story) when studying short stories in an English class.

Selection Rationale:

This is a moving account of a young teen’s experience of abuse and his attempts to salvage his family. Young adults will find many issues to identify with in Forged by Fire.

ALA Popular Paper Backs for Young Adults, 2002
“…Forged by Fire is a grim look at an inner-city home where abuse and addiction are a way of life and the children are the victims. There’s no all’s-well ending, but readers will have hope for Gerald and Angel, who have survived a number of gut-wrenching ordeals by relying on their constant love and caring for one another.” – School Library Journal
“…Draper faces some big issues (abuse, death, drugs) and provides concrete options and a positive African American role model in Gerald.” – Booklist


Contrast life with Aunt Queen and life with Mom and Jordan.

About the Author:

Sharon Draper, and educator as well as author, has been honored as the National Teacher of the Year and is the recipient of five Coretta Scott King Awards.

Additional Information:

Forged by Fire is the sequel to Tears of a Tiger.