The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

CrossoverCindy: Those of you who have been following Bookends for a few years know that Big Ten basketball season brings a review or two for basketball books from Lynn (Boilermaker) Rutan and Cindy (Hoosier) Dobrez and this year is no different. Yesterday our two teams played their way out of the Big 10 tournament and the only March Madness we’ll have is pulling our hair out waiting for next year. Fortunately we can still read about basketball. The Crossover (Houghton Mifflin March 2014) is our latest read and this sports novel has game!

Written in verse, I was afraid that it couldn’t possibly live up to the blurbs on the cover from some of my favorite poets: Nikki Giovanni, Joyce Sidman, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Ashley Bryan. I needn’t have worried. The poetry is very good and swings from in-your-face, bouncy, taunt-filled fun between brothers and father and teammates with a hip hop flavor, to gentle and emotional verse when the story requires.   Josh and Jordan Bell are twins, sons of a former pro-ball player father and a school principal mother. Education is just as important as sports in this family…as is discipline. Except in the case of the father, who is not disciplined about his eating and attending to his health problems.

Throughout the book there are poems that relate basketball rules. The rules are analogies for life, not just basketball. For example:

Basketball Rule #7

is the art
of anticipating,
of always being prepared
to grab it.
But you can’t
drop the ball.

Josh and Jordan have a tight relationship…it’s always the girl’s fault, right? There’s lots of action and heart in this quick read. I popped into a reading class last week and told them that I couldn’t wait to tell them about this book. I read aloud the first poem, with energy and attitude and it was a slam dunk. I left the book with a student and returned to the library empty handed. That’s the way I like to roll.

Lynn:  Oh there is good basketball here!  I loved the swagger and the heart-felt love of the game that comes through as easily as a sweet 3-pointer.  It has helped me in what is really tough season with my Boilermakers – sigh.  But what I loved most in this book are the relationships.  Alexander explores that special relationship between twins and how difficult it can be as twins begin to go in different ways.  Young readers may not have a twin but they will recognize the experience of changing relationships that often happens in early adolescence.

I think teens will love the rhythm of the poetry and the authentic feel to the dialog.  Just be aware that there is an emotional hammer waiting toward the end of the book.  I never expected the twist this would take and it made this book into something quite different than I expected.  Accessible and engaging, this will make a great book for classroom discussion or a book club.

About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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