Crossover by Kwame Alexander
· Hardcover: 240 pages
· Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books
· 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY (March 18, 2014)
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0544107713
· ISBN-13: 978-0544107717
Twelve year old twin brothers Josh “Filthy McNasty” and Jordan “JB” Bell are sensations on the basketball court. It’s no wonder since they learned the game from their father; former professional basketball player Chuck “Da Man” Bell. Each boy has their individual talents on the court but the real strength lies in the intricate bond their family has. As the school basketball season unfolds, the connection between the family becomes strained. Josh and JB’s mother is concerned about the health issues their father is ignoring and Jordan’s focus shifts from his family towards the new girl in school. Josh is confused and jealous by JB’s attention to the girl he nicknames “Miss Sweet Tea”. He is also concerned about his father’s nose bleeds and fainting spells. This inner turmoil leads to Josh impulsively lashing out at JB on the court; a move that gets him benched, not by the coach but by his mother, the school’s assistant principal.
This story is about basketball. But more importantly this story is about family. The basketball term “crossover” refers to a basketball move where the player switches the basketball quickly from one hand to another. It also denotes the crossover occurring in Josh and Jordan’s life as they come to grip with growing up both on and off the court. This book wonderfully crafted novel is poetry in motion!!
I LOVED this book!! Kwame Alexander’s theme of “family” is masterfully woven throughout this novel. Each evolution in the story occurs on the page in verse form, sometimes as a rhythmic rap other times in short phrases; the various styles of verse echoing the action and energy felt at home and on the basketball court. Breaking the rules comes at a terrible price is another prevalent theme. For example, Josh’s jealousy causes him to lash out at his brother resulting in his parents kicking him off the basketball team during the championship. His father’s poor eating habits and refusal to see a doctor about his health issues results in his hospitalization.
I also loved how Mr. Alexander broke through so many cultural stereotypes without ignoring them. The boys are raised by both parents who care and nurture their talents but give them consequences when the boys make wrong decisions. Their mother, Dr. Bell, their school’s assistant principal is a loving mother. She understands that life is not always fair warning the boys what happens to young black men who let their tempers get the better of them. Their father, Chuck “Da Man” Bell is a former professional basketball player on a European championship team who now “coaches the house”. The family fights, but not about drugs or guns or cheating, they fight about finances and health issues and sibling rivalry. All the characters reflect a very real sense of family dynamic and offer the reader a set of positive role models. Through the book the narrative is broken up in basketball terms, by quarters, with Mr. Bell serving the Ten Rules of basketball that is as relatable to family relations as it is to the basketball court. For example, from page 20 entitled Basketball Rule # 1;
In this game of life
your family is the court
and the ball is your heart.
No matter how good you are,
no matter how down you get,
on the court.
The cover shows a silhouetted basketball player balancing a basketball on his finger against a simple white background; representative of the colors of a basketball. This will entice readers, especially who are interested in basketball to open the cover and read further. The story is told from Josh’s point of view. First page begins with his rap verse showing text in various sizes and fonts including words running laterally down his page. Additional pages are more subtle in their free verse design and even definitions of more difficult words explained by Josh in verse form. The book is rated for grades 4 to 7 however this amazing book is sure to attract kids up to high school level and beyond.