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Show Them You're Good: A Portrait of Boys in the City of Angels the Year Before College

Review

Show Them You're Good: A Portrait of Boys in the City of Angels the Year Before College

Four young men struggle with personal and public dreams and deficits as they move from their last year of high school into an uncertain future, in this thoughtful portrayal by the award-winning author of THE SHORT AND TRAGIC LIFE OF ROBERT PEACE.

Jeff Hobbs began his composition after speaking engagements at two Los Angeles high schools: Ánimo Pat Brown Charter and Beverly Hills. School administrators gave him access to the students during the 2016-17 academic year. He sat with these young men and invited them to share their hopes and concerns. SHOW THEM YOU’RE GOOD arose from hours spent in conversation and observation.

"Hobbs wisely does not draw conclusions, since life is for living and there is much on the horizon for his young protagonists. But readers inevitably will wonder if a sequel is envisioned."

The focus of the book is on four teenage boys. Tio, who is popular and is always striving to be cool, navigating a skateboard along the sidewalks, was secretly dogged by a sense of insecurity: Would he be able to get into the University of California? Carlos, the child of hard-working but undocumented migrants, has an older brother studying at Yale. Can he follow in those footsteps? Owen is a child of privilege whose chronically ill mother is one pervasive worry, and a sense of general ennui is the other. Jon’s situation is complicated by a Chinese mother who sees his worth only in continual academic achievements and the highest test scores. 

Hobbs follows these teens and their companions through their senior year, studying for college prep exams, dating, competing in athletics and dealing with events in the world outside, including the critical lead-up to and results of the 2016 presidential election. It is apparent that in their meetings with the boys, Hobbs gained their trust, so he was able to examine their motivations and private fears in a manner that reveals them as both unique and, in many ways, typical of their age, culture and place.

Even those from the most comfortable backgrounds worried about money for college, and though fortified with high grades and high hopes, those from immigrant families needed not only financial but also governmental support. Events like spring break and senior prom loomed large, each one like a hurdle to be leapt over in the race toward an acceptance letter, a scholarship and the possibility of even greater conquests. 

In a satisfying tie-up, Hobbs gives glimpses of the young men’s eventual successes and first months in their new academic environments. Especially gratifying is Carlos’ discovery that he has hitherto untapped journalistic skills and is able to write sensitively about his experiences as the son of migrant workers. Hobbs wisely does not draw conclusions, since life is for living and there is much on the horizon for his young protagonists. But readers inevitably will wonder if a sequel is envisioned.

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on August 21, 2020

Show Them You're Good: A Portrait of Boys in the City of Angels the Year Before College
by Jeff Hobbs