Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Crossover

The Crossover
Kwame Alexander
Houghton Mifflin, 2014  237 pgs
Grades 6-9
Narrative Poetry/Sports

Written in narrative poetry, Josh Bell (aka Filthy McNasty) traces his seventh grade championship basketball season.  His father, a former pro-basketball player, has trained Josh and his twin brother Jordan (aka JB) to be star players since they were two years old.  Now the twins lead their team to victory game after game, communicating with "twin power" both on and off the court with Dad cheering from the sidelines.  The partnership is threatened by what else?  A lady.  Jordan gets a girl friend and Josh feels left out and jealous.  Further tension results from Josh loosing a bet to his brother and allowing him to cut off his beloved dreds.  After a particularly bad beginning to an important game Josh overreacts with "nasty" practically breaking his brother's nose in an ill-timed pass.  The brother's relationship further deteriorates and the whole family is strained.  After ignoring pleas from his wife (the boy's middle school vice principal) to go to a doctor (his father died prematurely from what he thinks is doctor's fault) Dad has several scary heart related scares, finally building to the climax of the story.  Dad and Josh are playing one-on-one and Dad has a heat attack.  Josh tried to save his life with CPR and for a while it looks like Dad is going to make it.  The night of the championship Mom gets a call from the hospital.  Complications have ensued.  Josh chooses to go to the game to finish the championship season for Dad, while Jordan chooses the hospital.  They win the big game, thanks to Josh getting in "the zone" but loose Dad.  The brothers must pick up the pieces of their life and their relationship and try to find healing, a path that they begin by book's end.

Sitting at home yesterday (my library closed for a snow day) cuddled on my couch under a blanket with a hot cup of coffee and the children snoozing away upstairs, I watched the announcement that Alexander won the 2015 Newbery Medal for best written work for young people.  I was completely caught off guard, having dismissed The Crossover as a "basketball book" and ignoring it sitting on the top of my pile of books collected at Book Expo last May.  I had every intention of reading this book, as I'm committed to finding great books for boys, who tend to be my toughest and most reluctant customers, but kept stalling.  After the award was announced I ran upstairs, pulled the book off the pile, and read it in one sitting.  Despite my trepidation, I loved it.  It is a basketball book, but so much more.  Written in poetry, once you get into the book you forget that you are reading poetry, although some poems were so cool I had to re-read them.  When Josh gets in the "the zone" with his game the poetry changes and we can feel what Josh feels.  Some of the poems feel like rap, some poems feel like jazz (Dad's preferred style of music), all the poems are tight. Alexander incorporates the rhythm of basketball, music, and adolescence in his poetry leaving the reader with a real slice of life. The tension of the story sneaks up on the reader and won't let you go.  I thought for sure that Alexander was going to save Dad and have him show up at the final game.  I was totally surprised that Alexander went with the realistic over the sentimental, mirroring life as his readers may be experiencing it.  The book ends with a message of hope and the readers knows that Josh and Jordan will be okay.I love that they have a strong, educated Mom and their parents have a loving and functional relationship.  The book reads very quickly (it took me a little over an hour) and is impossible to put down.  The obvious audience is boys, but (as II can attest to) girls will like it too; even those who don't care about basketball.  The Crossover is sure to be a classroom hit and used as a teaching device and seen on summer reading lists.  Give it boys who think they don't like to read and watch them eats this book up.  One thing you can say about Kwame Alexander: he certainly's got game!

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