Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Double-Teaming: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Houston, we have a problem!
I catch him
and slap
the ball on the glass.
Ever seen anything like that from a seventh-grader?
Didn't think so!
Me and JB are stars in the making.
The Rockets full-court-press me.
But I get it across the line just in time.
Ten seconds left.
I pass the ball to JB.
They double-team him in a hurry--don't want to give
him an easy three.
Five seconds left.
JB lobs the ball.
I rise like a Learjet--
seventh-graders aren't supposed to dunk.
But guess what?

Who's Da Man?

Josh and Jordan Bell are twins and the stars of their middle-school team and the pride of their dad, who played with Michael Jordan until an injury knocked him out of the NBA draft, Josh is an inch taller, can dunk when he's not doing his signature slashing crossover to set up his famous three-pointer, and sports long dreadlocks until Jordan wins a free-throw-shooting bet and the chance to whack them off.

On court Jordan shoots free throws at will, sports a shaved head, and specializes in trash-talking, but he switches to sweet-talking when a new girl in pink Converses shows up at the rec center to shoot with the others. Josh is drawn to her, too, but the easy-talking JB beats his time with Alexis, as Josh simmers on the sidelines.

But the two are almost unbeatable together on the floor as their team works their way toward the county finals. But underneath the teamwork, Josh still stews about the haircut and about his brother's fast moves with the new girl.  Now Jordan's got a girlfriend. Heck, even team goofball Vonnie's got a girlfriend.  Josh's anger finally flashes on court when he makes a pass to his brother that almost breaks JB's nose. Then JB passes a note to Josh to hand to Alexis during a math test, and when he's caught with it, Josh has to take the rap for his brother. The coach benches him, which is bad enough, but his mom, who is also the vice-principal, suspends him for the regular season from the team, and Josh has to do hard time from the stands as his brother become the superstar, taking the team to the finals, and with a swagger he leads Alexis to the team's table in the cafeteria every day while Josh eats alone.

without u

i am empty
the goal

with no net
i can no longer fit.

can you
slash with me

like we used to?
like two stars

stealing sun
like two brothers....

And then, as his mom has feared, something happens inside their dad.  He wouldn't go to the doctor, and then he's in the hospital.  Josh and Jordan  push through their rivalry, but still they show their love for their dad in different ways. Mom texts Josh as he decides to play in the final game:
Dad's having complications
But he's gonna be fine
and says
Good luck tonight.
Jordan says
he still doesn't feel like
playing, but I made him
go to the game to show
support. Look for him and
don't get lazy on your


The title of Kwame Alexander's forthcoming The Crossover (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) is triply apt, a metaphor for a basketball move, for the coming-of-age premise of the novel, and a description of the author's unique style, a hard-driving sports story told solely in poetic form.  Despite the novelty of the narrative, Alexander's blank verse is dramatic, sometimes lyrical, sometimes falling into the rhythm of speech which skillfully delineates all of the strong characters in this novel, giving all of them their own voices. This is a powerful story of two emerging young men and their parents at a crossover point in their lives, one that uses basketball brilliantly to tell their story, but one in which winning the big game is not the end of the story, an ending which will leave readers a bit shaken and yet satisfied.  Watch for this one to take some honors in the awards for books debuting this year, because it's definitely got game--on-court suspense, real-life characters, and a moving narrative that confronts life changes with all the right moves.  Slam-dunk!

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