Josh and his twin brother Jordan are basketball fanatics. At twelve, they are already the star players of their school, with a bright future ahead of them. The game is in their blood, and their passion is fueled by their father, himself an ex-professional player known as “Da Man”.
But when Jordan meets a girl, the close bond between brothers is tested and has repercussions on the basketball floor. With that and their dad’s health deteriorating, Josh begins to feel left behind and lose control. Can things ever be the same again?
Kwame Alexander is a renown author and poet in the USA and has received the prestigious Newbery Medal for this book, and this is so easy to see why. There is something so utterly special and wonderful about The Crossover I am not sure I can even put it into words coherently.
We follow Josh in this coming of age story as he struggles with change and growing up, and it is such an honest account of how children on the edge of teenagehood struggle with change, growing up and how this can have wide repercussions in their lives. Seeing Josh losing control of his emotions is I think particularly effective and will bring comfort to many young readers in similar situations. Novels in verse are always particularly effective at conveying emotion in a way that only verse can, but what makes this novel truly spectacular is that the mix of poetry and hip hop slam not only conveys Josh’s struggles and confusion but also replicate the rhythm of the ball and the energy of a basketball match:
With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .
The court is SIZZLING.
My sweat is DRIZZLING.
Stop all that quivering.
Cuz tonight I’m delivering
This brings an energy to the text that makes The Crossover such an exciting read. Throughout the story, Josh weaves accounts of his basketball games with basketball rules, newspaper clippings as as well as poems based on his vocabulary homework, which I found particularly clever and witty. Josh is a sensitive and honest narrator; he stumbles and falls, makes mistakes, tries to make amends and what comes across in the is novel is love – love for the game, but also the profound love that brings a family together. There are some other themes underlying the novel of course: health, the fact that the mother is the main breadwinner, and the prejudices African Americans still face daily, but the poignancy of the novel really lies with Josh’s honest, open-hearted voice.
Alexander wanted to show younger readers that poetry could be fun and used basketball as a premise because it is so popular amongst American teenagers. It is not so much the case here of course but I am not sure this matters. And though I loathe to brand any book good “for reluctant boy readers”, there is definitely something to be said about putting this book in the hands of teenage boys who might struggle to find books that they enjoy, particularly if they like sports. The Crossover will undoubtedly speak to them emotionally, and the succinct and sharp chapters makes the book all the more accessible and the play on words all the more enjoyable:
See what I mean?
The Crossover left me breathless – the speed, the poignancy, the voice … Don’t let the sports theme put you off if it isn’t your thing; the writing is stupendous and you will just love it.
Source: review copy from publisher