The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll – Reviewed by Guy Portman
Author Jim Carroll recounts his New York youth in this classic piece of adolescent literature. The book, which takes the form of seasonal diary entries, covers the period of his life from the ages of twelve to sixteen. We follow the budding basketball star’s accomplishments on the court, and exploits off it, including his experiences roaming the city and numerous sexual encounters.
Innocence has long since departed this rebellious adolescent with a penchant for drugs. Initially the pre-teen gets drunk with friends, sniffs solvents, smokes marijuana and takes codeine, before progressing onto LSD and casual heroin use, as he inevitably sinks into the abyss of addiction. Opportunities provided by a sports scholarship to an expensive downtown private school go to waste, as the young Jim falls into a life of crime – robbing members of the public, prostituting himself to men in public toilets and dealing drugs, in an effort to feed his escalating habit.
Narrated in a candid, brutal and matter of fact manner, Jim is acutely aware where his lifestyle is leading him, but powerless to prevent it. Despite the graphic, tragic and bleak nature of the narrative, The Basketball Diaries is at times amusing and bizarre, one example being the numerous references to an on-going Cold War paranoia. The author’s emotions are conveyed through a simple and concise writing style that is scarce on adjectives and replete with swearing and slang. Although The Basketball Diaries is a realistic depiction of a youth drawn into the drug culture of the inner city, it is in this reader’s opinion a distinctly average book.