Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Drive the Ball Home: Booked by Kwame Alexander

No one's blaming you. I'm just asking--

I'm tired of this. You're always fussing
at me for not reading your stupid dictionary.

You don't let me do ANYTHING.You take my phone,
you took my Mom,
and now you want to
take away
the last good thing
in my freakin' life--

Calm down, Nicholas.

NO. My life sucks.
I get bullied at school
I get bullied at home.

Nick's life had seemed like an open field and he was dribbling fast toward the goal. with the crowd chanting his name. Nick and his best bud Coby are headed for the Dr. Pepper Dallas Cup games, on opposite teams, but there together. He's in honors classes at Langston Hughes Magnet, and April has been smiling at him a lot lately.

But things begin to go wrong. His logomaniac dad hassles him daily to study his precious book, the dictionary of arcane words that nobody uses. Nick hits a dry spell in academic fervor at school. Ms. Hardwick calls him out in English for daydreaming, and the meanie twins, Don and Dean, are planning to pound him when they catch him alone.

Then Mom drops the bomb. She's going back to Louisville to take up her beloved horse training job, and it looks like she means to stay. Nick knows all that is because Dad dragged her off to a no-horse town because of his teaching job, and when he unloads on Dad, he is grounded and made miss a tournament to meet with a shrink to talk about his "problems." Nicky feels like he's gotten an unfair foul call from, like, everyone.

And then things gets worse.

Everything slo-mos...
Two crazed eyes glued to the ball.

You wind for the kick. WHACK!
POW!--Coby's kick, aiming for

the ball, finds your--THWACK!
ankle instead.

Nicky feels like he's drawn a double yellow card. He finds himself hospitalized with appendicitis and a broken ankle, while Coby heads off to Dallas. But at least Mom comes home. Maybe she'll stay, but then, maybe not.

Kwame Alexander's companion book to his slam-dunk 2015 Newbery Award-winning The Crossover, chooses another sports as metaphor in his latest, Booked (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016). Alexander makes good use of the usual stuff of the middle-school novel--bullies, hard-nosed and quirky teachers, a special girl, trash talk with his sports buddy--all in unique free verse form, Nick's stream-of-consciousness thoughts--a jumble of the emotions of twelve-year-old kid as he runs up against a new game whose rules he has to learn as he goes along. Growing up is hard to do, and sometimes you get a bad call along the way, but Alexander's young heroes have got game, and in this new one, if Nick doesn't kick the winning goal, he at least learns to make that good pass that moves the ball down the field. Another winning season for Kwame Alexander.

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