Hardcover, 237 pages
Published March 18th 2014 by HMH Books for Young Readers
A simple basketball move
in which the player dribbles
the ball quickly
from one hand
to the other.
Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover won the Newbery Award in June and for good reason as Yash and I will attempt to illustrate in our reviews. First I will talk about the awesomeness that is the novel and then Yash will do the same and we may repeat ourselves but other than going up on rooftops to shout out the awesomesauciness of this novel, (alas we do not have rooftops, at least I don’t), there is little else we can do with as much effectiveness.
First, a synopsis. Crossover focalizes (mostly) on Josh Bell, one half of a pair of twins. Josh and his brother Jordan are very close, to each other as well as to their parents. They are aces on the basketball court; skills they inherited from their dad who was a professional basketball player when he was younger. When Jordan, Josh’s twin brother, meets a girl and suddenly starts spending more time with her than Josh and their dad, Josh gets upset. His dad, too, refuses to go to a doctor even though he may be suffering from a potentially serious disease. Josh’s mom asks him to keep an eye on their dad for her. So Josh’s feelings of abandonment by his brother and worries about his dad continue increasing until they reach boiling point and he lashes out.
The Crossover comes to life long before the words are even read. The words bounce around the page like it is their very own basketball court, their rhythm irrepressible and their boldness knowing no bounds.
The energy of the poems perfectly captures the young age and identity of the narrator. This identity is further established and Josh’s connection to his heritage made evident by his love for and attachment to his dreads. Josh losing his dreads due to a bet he loses foreshadows the dramatic changes that are in store for him.
The novel is studded with gems like:
Basketball Rule #4
If you miss
enough of life’s
you will pay
in the end.
Josh’s internal conflicts are relatable; though he is not struggling to save the world from an evil overlord, his world is still very much threatened by the sudden changes in his brother and his father’s bullheadedness. The language used is such a treat to read; Josh engages in the language he uses to tell his story with the glee of the very young. He is the more studious of the two; education is enforced by their mother who has a PhD and is the principal of the school the two boys go to. I love the little subtle ways Alexander finds to subvert stereotypes about Black Americans. I could say a lot more about this novel but I reckon I should hand the spotlight to Yash who also has a lot to say.
The podium is all yours, Yash!
Nafiza has pretty much covered it all. And she is totally right*! The Crossover won the Newbery medal for good reason: it is absolutely exceptional! The writing, the story, the pacing, the characters– all so exceptional!
What Alexander has created within the span of a mere 200 or so pages is the unforgettable experience of how poetry can be shaped by people to reflect themselves, all of themselves. For Josh, there is a form of poetry to reflect every part of him: the part of him that is completely immersed in the game (the image above), the part of him that observes quietly (“Basketball Rule #”), the part of him that tries to understand (definitions turned poems) …
Having a curious or humorous
unexpected sequence of events
marked by coincidence.
As in: The fact that Vonie
and his mom works for NASA
As in: It’s not ironic
that Grandpop died
in a hospital
and Dad doesn’t like
… and the part of him that yearns to be better in all aspects of his life, often told in free verse:
After practice, you walk home alone.
This feels strange to you, because
as long as you can remember
there has always been a second person …
By the way, that poem above? One of my favourite poems in the book. It is, as the title may indicate, the first poem written in second-person and it is the aftermath of an angry Josh hurting Jordan on the court, altering their relationship in a massive way.
And honestly, it’s the reason I enjoyed the book as much as I did. Wait! Not the nose-punching! No! I just love how Josh is trying desperately to cling on to the way things are, so every time something changes (whether it’s his hair, as Nafiza mentioned, or his father’s health) his recourse is either fuming silently (poetry) or fuming out loud. You really get that sense of someone growing up, even wanting sometimes to be grown-up, but also resenting the need for change. Of course, his brother getting a girlfriend and his mother altering everyone’s diets at home are mild changes compared to the consequences of his father avoiding hospitals. I can’t say much more but the poem “Questions” had me sneakily wiping off tears.
This book has pretty much everything you could ask for: lovely poetry that will make you read aloud without even realizing it, moments of pure hilarity that warms your heart, drama that punches you in the gut with feels, action that will make you wonder why you never cared for basketball, and the teeniest pinch of romance.
It’s not often that Book Warriors agree so thoroughly on a book, so you know we’re not kidding around: this book deserves all the love.
*Words I’m sure she wishes I said more often! ^_^