He Played the Victim. It Earned Him Attention, Success and a Lot of Trouble.

VICTIM, by Andrew Boryga

There’s real value in being a victim. Serious profit in pity, but only so long as you don’t become too ambitious, too greedy or too arrogant. Veer too far, and you run the risk of becoming dependent on disaster. That’s when real trouble ensues.

And that’s exactly what happens to Javier “Javi” Perez, the hustling Icarus at the center of Andrew Boryga’s energetic and deeply satisfying debut novel, “Victim.”

The story, which is presented as a memoir written by Javi himself, is at once an act of redemption and condemnation. As Javi explains in the first sentence, “I wasn’t trying to play the victim until the world taught me what a powerful grift it is.”

Boyrga’s novel opens with Javi’s youth. He was born in the Bronx to working-class, Puerto Rican immigrants. To outside eyes, his background is rough, but, from his own perspective, it’s not hell. Misfortune does eventually manifest for Javi when, at 12, he witnesses his father’s fatal shooting. Surprisingly, he’s only shaken, because, as Javi explains, he was “losing a person who was only kind of there.” However, Javi soon learns that within tragedy lies opportunity. Assuming he’s traumatized, his teachers give him a free pass to go to the nurse whenever he wants, which he frequently uses to cut class. It’s his “first taste of the high that comes from being a victim.”

Javi’s main goal in life is to “become a famous writer who makes bank,” but before that: college. He assumes he’ll just go somewhere local, but his guidance counselor, Mr. Martin, urges him to consider “more prestigious” institutions, like Donlon University, which offers full-ride scholarships for “poor, underserved minority students.” The key to these scholarships is to write an essay stuffed with tragedy and trauma — basically catnip for the admissions committee.

“I had never thought about my life in that way,” Javi muses. In his eyes, he’s not a victim; he’s not “poor. But poorish.” Still, Javi writes the essay and it works: He gains entrance to Donlon. It’s a critical lesson that teaches our inner-city Icarus how to fly — Javi realizes that his personal history and his skin color can be a gold mine and that, “with people like Mr. Martin, I was rich.”

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