Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Crossover, Kwame Alexander

Title: The Crossover
Author: Kwame Alexander
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Year: 2014
Pages: 237
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Novel in Verse
Themes: Sports, Family, Growing Up, First Love, Dealing with Loss
Age Range: 3rd-8th Grade

Summary: from Booklist (mostly)
The Bell twins are stars on the basketball court and comrades in life. While there are some differences—Josh shaves his head and Jordan loves his locks—both twins adhere to the Bell basketball rules: In this game of life, your family is the court, and the ball is your heart. With a former professional basketball player dad and an assistant principal mom, there is an intensely strong home front supporting sports and education in equal measures. When life intervenes in the form of a hot new girl, the balance shifts and growing apart proves painful.

When their father dies unexpectedly towards the end of the book, Jordan and Josh are forced to examine their relationship, and realize that while they may have their differences, nothing more important than family.

Novels written in verse are big right now. I have a good friend who thinks that they are the kind of books that teachers like but don't really appeal to students. I suppose, depending on the book, that may be true. Books like Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson and Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes may appeal to a more mature reader, and may not have the widespread appeal of a graphic novel like Raina Telgemeier's Smile or genre mash-ups like Big Nate or Captain Underpants. But I think that any reader will enjoy The Crossover. Mature readers will find the format appealing, less able readers will be sucked in by the subject matter, and reluctant readers won't be scared away by the amount of print on a page. Just an importantly, the style and subject matter should appeal to Africa American students, who don't often find their lives and culture represented in children's literature.

The style is not a gimmick. The book reads like a rap song, which in less deft hands could distract from the emotional impact of the story. But this book is full of heart, and it gave me one of my biggest cries of the reading year. Josh and Jordan as character ring entirely true-I have nephews that are just like them in many ways. Their relationship with their father, and ultimately with each other, reveal deeper truths about love and family, and the tumultuous time in life when children start to separate their identity from that of their parents. The books reads very much like a traditional coming of age story, focusing in social relationships and first romances, until tragedy strikes Jordan and Josh's family. Sparking conversation about the themes and structures of this books should be easy, making it perfect for use in guided reading, book clubs, or literature circles. The Crossover definitely deserves the the medals it received as the Newbery and Coretta Scott King Award winner for 2015.

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