Drilling down into the second-largest school district in the country to shine an intimate light on a few senior boys in two very different high schools would have been a daunting task in less capable hands. In Show Them You’re Good: A Portrait of Boys in the City of Angels the Year Before College, Jeff Hobbs does it so well that these soon-to-be men may be forever cast in the amber of their adolescence: slightly familiar from the start and, finally, utterly unforgettable.
Ánimo Pat Brown (APB), one of six Green Dot charter schools created to remedy “poor and falling graduation statistics” in the Los Angeles Unified School District, is known for its high graduation and college matriculation rates. For its students, many from immigrant families struggling to gain footholds in this country, APB is the rare path to opportunity.
Beverly Hills High School (BHHS) is rated in the top 10% of California schools, holding forth in a city that was founded as a whites-only covenant. Famous alumni include Betty White and Guns N’ Roses’ Slash. Its swim gym, where the floor opens to reveal a swimming pool, made a memorable appearance in the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life.
From these two schools, “separated by much more than the twenty-two miles of city pavement between them,” come the stories of Carlos, Tio, Luis and Byron at APB, and Owen, Sam, Harrison, Bennett and Jonah at BHHS. These young men have different backgrounds and aspirations, but they’re all enveloped in the fog of the American higher education application process.
Following them through their senior year, Hobbs is allowed an unflinching look at the supporting players in their lives, from Sam’s strict mom and Tio’s troubled father to Carlos’ brother at Yale and Owen’s bedridden mother. Harrison is obsessed with finding a Division I school where he can play football, despite the BHHS team’s perennial losing streak. Byron tells his Cornell interviewer that his goal is to be Iron Man.
How they each arrived at this pivotal point in their lives may not predict what happens next, but it is our privilege, thanks to Hobbs, to follow them. Readers will come to care deeply about these students’ journeys.