The Jim Carroll Website Home > Research > Book Reviews > Review of The Basketball Diaries by Mary-Anne St-Onge

The Basketball Diaries

The Basketball Diaries is a true story about a young boy growing up on the streets of New York City. He's bright, he's hip, he's talented and he has a chance to become a basketball star. As the story unfolds we begin to realize that Jim is losing sight, losing control and losing focus on his goals in life. The drugs that he played and experimented with have begun to take control and lead him down a dark path of self destruction. Fortunately Jim has a second talent: the ability and desire to write. He holds on to that talent with a firm grip as he begins to drown in a swirling and unending nightmare.

But Jim is no angel; he never was, and he does not claim to be. He started this path with a curiosity and desire to be cool, to escape, to be accepted. He hangs out with the punks, makes friends with skid row bums and rebels against most of society. He begins to lie, steal, cheat and deal. So why does the reader care? Why does the reader relate so well to what Jim is doing and saying when he robs helpless old ladies, when he laughs at the danger of sniffing glue, shooting dope, and scoffs at anything that might be considered decent?

There's one good reason. Although the book is about his life it could just as well have been about anything and still been just as intriguing. Jim has the rare ability to take his readers by the hand and pull them in. From the very start you are not on the outside looking in. You are there, walking down the streets of New York, smelling the stench, tasting the garbage and feeling the pain. He invites us in, as a friend, and talks to us as though we already understand. He does not use words like, "I did this and then I did that." Instead he chooses a closer relationship with his audience; "have I ever told you about the first time I did heroin?" Jim asks. And we want to know, we need to know. We feel for him. We cry when he cries, we hurt when he is hurting and when he gains some hope, we hope for him. He knows he is more than this hell he has put himself in, and we are more than this hell we have made. He is drowning in a cespool and yet, he still sees past the filth, he still has a shred of decency that tells him that he is beyond this. He is more, he wants more, he is searching for more; "I just want to be pure." By the end we too are getting exhausted, we too want to give up, we too begin to wonder where he is heading, and we also want him to escape.

This book is an amazingly well written story of one person's life and struggle. Carroll reveals so much of himself and life itself that it is no wonder that his fans want to hold his hand and comfort him. The book has so many levels to research and study, yet as a fan I feel that I am doing him wrong by analyzing every chapter. I feel as though I have betrayed a friend. I believe that Jim took a chance on publishing something so real and revealing about himself and I believe he took a chance on me as a reader--the chance that I would learn and relate in some way to what he is saying. And I do. Because he took me gently by the hand and said, "come, my friend, and I will show you what happened and how it felt to be there, how it feels to be human." He does not preach and he does not blame his many downfalls for his pain. He just tells it like it is. Because of this book I became a fan, because of this book I know this man, because of this book . . . I understand.


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