David Albacore has moved from his small-town California home to Chicago. He had to move once his father murdered his mother and went to jail, forcing David and his two younger sisters to move in with their unwilling Aunt Edie. Aunt Edie lives in a tiny apartment and is barely making ends meet on her own, David works every day after school to make sure his family is provided for. He's an extremely talented basketball player and so David has to make a decision. Go for a basketball scholarship or quit school and work in construction full time. It was his mother's dream for him to go to college, but he's sure that she wouldn't want the family to be split up either (which would happen once David moved away for college since he would no longer be able to take care of them). In addition to juggling work and family, David has a growing attraction to Yolanda Dare, the girlfriend of the school's "king" and major player. David doesn't believe he can have it all, so he's going to need to pick and choose.
In all honesty, I was skeptical about this book, based on the cover alone. Yet another book you can't judge based on its cover. I really really liked it. It was beyond refreshing to have a guy male character who is not a "lovable nerd" or a "playa with a soft interior". David seems to fit in the middle of these two extremes. He's not a playa, nor is he particularly good at school and he's surprisingly not hopeless when it comes to girls (it most likely helps that his mother was a good example and that he has two sisters). I was afraid that David would try and play the "noble hero" throughout the novel. He does try it, but he soon realizes that he does resent his sisters. Because of his sisters he can't keep his paycheck for himself or take The Dare (as Yolanda is known) out on fancy dates along with a host of other things. The noble thing about David is that he acknowledges his resentment, but fights to keep it under control. Much like David, Pull is a frank story that does not hesitate to talk about sex, swear or even gay relationships (I was grinning from ear to ear when I read a certain scene between Carl and Neill. They were underdeveloped minor characters sure, but they were gay and it was NO BIG DEAL. Yes!).
Not gonna lie, at first it was a bit jarring at how much David thought about sex. But eventually I shrugged it off because I have no doubt that it's realistic and it's really not that important. And in the story it's not discussed graphically anyway. You know how they say that a guy is worth keeping around based on how he treats his mother and sisters? David is awesome in that respect. Not perfect, but the way he treats his sisters (especially his freshman sister Barney) is so tender. I shared his pain at not being able to reach his youngest sister, Linda and at his frustration over Barney's obliviousness towards a certain character. As you can tell, I have a bit of a crush on David ;) Asides from David's personality, I was impressed at how each of David's siblings portrayed a different style of grieving. David does not know how to help his sisters and they don't know how to help him. It's a long and painful process, filled with denial, anger and immense sadness. It's also about guilt and debt, how much do we owe our loved ones, living and deceased? There's no easy answer.
Pull is a straightforward read that places a refreshing emphasis on sibling/family relationships over romantic ones. I did have a really hard time understanding Aunt Edie, the explanation for her actions seemed to convenient and implausible, there was not enough evidence to back up her actions. I wanted more character development of David's acquaintances (he doesn't allow them to get close enough to be friends) and his youngest sister Linda (how did she handle school??). It covers a lot, but none of the issues drown the book. From domestic violence to bullying to the ultimate decision about college, no issue is rushed, it flows naturally in the story. The marriage class was incredibly transparent (do those classes exist in high school?) but it was cool to see issues of family and marriage discussed in a high school setting. There is no moralizing in this narrative. David makes a hard decision and it's not one that everyone will make, but I completely understood why he made it. That's what makes this story so notable. I'm sure writing this story was no cakewalk (oh look a reference to an awesome quote, see below) but the whole novel reads like a testimony to one. Excellent.
Disclosure: Received for review from publisher. Thank you WestSide!Fav quote: "People think cakewalk means easy. But real cakewalks were difficult as hell according to my grandmother. They required endurance, balance and training, and only the best lasted until the end." David pg. 30-31