Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Now and Later: Rebound by Kwame Alexander

Skinny picks
some other boy
to be on his team,

which is cool with me,
'cause I'd much rather be
at home lying across my bed
reading comics.

See you tomorrow, I yell
but he's already on the court

running a game
and his mouth.

Charlie Bell is taking the sudden death of his father hard. Even basketball is no fun. His dad loved the game and was good at it, but now it makes Charlie sad, and suddenly he's bad at it. His refuge is his superhero comics.

The Fantastic Four, the Black Panther,
to freeze EVERYTHING
and move them back
in time.

I wish I could do
the same thing.

Charlie can't get with the time or get himself together. He's running late for school and decides it's easier to skip school. He heads off for the Quik Mart with Skinny and his troublemaker older cousin Ivan, and they decide to fund the trip by swiping some empty soft drink bottles off Old Lady Wheeler's porch to fund some snacks--Funyons and a box of Now and Later candy. Only that night Charlie's mom finds the wrappers in the trash he forgot to take out. She wakes him up early to hear his story.

Tell me the truth, or else!

Or else what? I say, wondering how that slipped out.
And wishing it hadn't.

Or else turns out to be summer vacation spent with his grandparents. Grandma's fried chicken could put KFC out of business, but Grandpa means business. As soon as dinner is over, he puts Charlie behind the push mower, following him around the yard, teaching technique and pointing out every sprig Charlies misses. This is just the first quarter. We're just getting started, Chuck, he says.

The newly christened Chuck is in for a bit of shaping up. The only answer Grandpa will take is "Yessir" and to add to Charlie's penance, his girl cousin Roxie, plays basketball way better than he does and is as hard a taskmaster on court as Grandpa is at home. Charlie takes refuge in a stack of his dad's old comic books and in the fact that he's beginning to make his foul shots and snag some rebounds in his games with Roxie. By midsummer, Charlie has become Chuck. He's master of the push mower and is getting close to beating Roxie at H.O.R.S.E.

But then he sneaks off from the family Fourth of July barbecue to meet Skinny at the Roller Skating Rink in town, where again Ivan leaves the two younger boys holding the bag, this one filled with marijuana. Skinny and Charlie are arrested, and Charlie has plenty of time to think about how he got there while he waits at the jail.

If I ever get out of here, I'm gonna do better, I promise, Charlie tells himself as he waits at the police station.

Charlie imagines the Black Panther breaking through the door to rescue him.

But it's Grandpa and his lawyer friend Smitty who come through the door tobail him out and take him home.

"I'll tell you again, Chuck." says Grandpa. "This is a team sport. You can surround yourself with people who don't play by the rules, or you can surround yourself with those who do. If you choose wrong, don't start complaining when the coach takes you out of the game.

We're all suffering, but we still here, Chuck."

Sometimes you win the game with a slam dunk, and sometimes what wins the game is a rebound, in Kwame Alexander's forthcoming Rebound (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018), the prequel to the author's 2015 Newbery Award-winning The Crossover. (see review here).  In the summer of 1988 Charlie becomes Chuck Bell, Da Man, college superstar, coach, and father to the rival brothers Josh and Jordan Bell, who in their time will also suffer the sudden loss of their father, Chuck.

Writing in a form of blank verse, the winner of multiple awards, Kwame Alexander, again gets inside his thirteen-year-old character's heart and mind at a crucial time in his life, a time when, as he says, he finds his way out of a black hole and into a life in which in twenty years his twin sons will want to honor his memory. As in his first book, Alexander makes use of basketball as a metaphor for life, with his thirteen-year-old protagonist on the cusp between childhood and maturity, now and later, like his favorite candy, in which Charlie learns that even when you shoot and miss, you always try to rebound your own shot.

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