Marcus Burke’s Team Seven is the striking story of a black family (and friends) facing the variety of social expectations of late 1990s Boston. Told mainly through the perspective of Andre Battel, Burke engages the audience with a mastery of time, place, dialect, culture, and climate to explore Andre’s development from a fatherless teen to a lost young man in search for a path in his life. Burke’s strong prose and literary development are striking in this book, however, as it is difficult to corner this book as even a contender in the urban fiction category – the true heart of this novel raises the bar much higher with character-driven and prose-driven narration that easily places it as literature that just happens to reside in the inner city that I remember from my youth.
While I don’t want to discount any of the truly remarkable moments in this book, I felt like the most amazing elements of the novel surround how well Burke captures a time and place that I am intimately familiar with. From watching every passing face trying to unmask David Allen Boucher, to paging friends messages using a numeric code on their pagers, to getting in trouble in school for absolutely nothing (or worse, defending oneself), to a street-by-street, store-by-store, face-by-face recognition of the city that Andre wanders and observes at an almost Joycean-level. This book is deeply rooted in my childhood, as are many of Battel’s experiences and all of its geography, so I found this book to be an extremely empathetic and engaging examination of the violent and volatile Boston of my youth. The best part, though, is that it raises itself to be a genre of itself in its portrayal of the urban experience that doesn’t cheapen his characters’ lives by making them caricatures of themselves through that “urban fiction” execution I am used to. Burke is a master of the written word, and the soul these characters breathe on the page is unparalleled in anything that I have read about the inner city I wandered like Andre at the same time of the book. And much like the Boston of the 1990s, the consequences that reach past every choice and relationship can echo into the future in an explosion of terrifying violence no one could have expected.
Burke’s voice and his ability to embody the lost youth of inner-city Boston in Team Seven makes this book a triumph of the urban survival spirit, and I look forward to everything he brings next.
(Dorchester Photo: Roman Eugeniusz)