Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Crossover by Kwame Alexander

This is a rattling, bouncing, rhyming, shouting flurry of a verse novel centring around basketball and family. Josh Bell (aka Filthy McNasty) and his identical twin brother Jordan (JB) have been playing basketball since they could walk, thanks to their father who was a star ball player until suffering an injury. They are all pretty much obsessed with the game and the boys are stars of their team, playing way better than their age (12) would suggest.

While their father urges them on to greater achievements in basketball, their mother is hot on discipline and the importance of their schoolwork. She's also assistant principal at their school so always knows when they're in trouble. She's also constantly nagging their father about his hypertension (which killed his father at a young age), and recruiting the boys to help ensure he doesn't eat the wrong things or get too wound up but their father is a powerful personality and hard to persuade.

Josh takes particular pleasure in words; his vocabulary featuring as title and subject for a dozen poems which serve to further explain his current state of mind. Also making regular appearances throughout are the ten rules of basketball, which somehow seem just as much rules for life as for the game. (Rule No. 1: “In this game of life / your family is the court / and the ball is your heart.” School is also where a girl - Alexis, upsets the solid bond between the twins when she and JB get together and Josh is left alone and angry.

The use of verse is perfect for this story - the rhythm of the words matching the pace of the action - sometimes a driving, urgent rap, sometimes a slow considered reflection, or a pacing out of misery when things go wrong, it both shares the action and conversations, and the thoughts shared with no-one but the reader.

I'm a very non-sporty person, I'm quite happy to know next to nothing about most sports, but basketball is the exception, thanks to my son taking it up when he was young, and a lack of coaches which meant either I became coach or he couldn't be in a team, so I did what I had to; I said yes and got books out of the library about how to play. So I willingly threw myself into reading Crossover and delighting in actually knowing some of what it was talking about on the court, the fast paced tumble of words and rhythm bringing the game to vivid life. Credit due for the graphic cover design which instantly identifies the basketball subject-matter with a clever text ball giving just a hint to the power of words within.

It was a pleasure to see the world and life through the eyes of these thoughtful, hardworking, impulsive young men, and heartbreaking to see the tragedy that unfolds, at the same time knowing that they will survive it because of their inner and family strength. I hope this book makes its way into the hands of many young teens who can see their own lives and experiences expressed in these pages, and pick up a few clues about how to express and conduct themselves through the ups and downs life brings.

The Crossover
By Kwame Alexander
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
ISBN 978-0-544-10771-7


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