Saturday, May 31, 2014

Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The typical young adult novel today has a tendency to begin with one or more parents being absent, or on drugs or dead. It is an understandable albeit annoying literary concept. The author wants to have the teen in the position of responsibility. Having a parent in the picture reverts the authority to the adult instead of the teen. Just like vampires and zombies books, the missing adult has become an overused concept. So when I read, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, I was pleasantly surprised to find a coming of age young adult novel that begins with both parents who are present, supportive and play a significant role in their children’s lives.

The story revolves around twelve year old twin basketball sensations, Josh and Jordan Bell. These boys learned the game from their father, former professional basketball player, Chuck “Da Man” Bell. Josh, the narrator, focuses squarely on the game of basketball. However his twin brother, Jordan aka “JB” Bell, has shifted his attention away from his brother, finding the new girl in school a lot more interesting. Thus the conflict begins. Josh is confused and jealous by JB’s attention to the girl he nicknames “Miss Sweet Tea”. These inner conflicts lead Josh to impulsively lash out at JB on the court; a move that gets him kicked off the team, not by the coach but by his mother, Dr. Bell, who also happens to be their school’s assistant principal. Add to that turmoil the underlying issue of their father’s health. The boys find out that their father left professional basketball because he refused to go the doctor to have an operation. Although Mr. Bell shows symptoms like fainting spells and nose bleeds throughout the story he refuses to take his health issues seriously. Could this be a precursor to a parental demise? Of course you are going to have to read the story to find out!

Teens and tweens are going to love The Crossover because it’s about teenage boys playing basketball, championship playoffs and girl drama. The cover, showing a silhouetted basketball player in black and orange balancing a basketball on his finger against a simple white background, will draw teenagers into opening the book. The first page begins with a rap verse showing text in various sizes and fonts including words running laterally down the page to mimic the boys’ action on the basketball court. Each development in the story occurs on the page in verse form, sometimes as a rhythmic rap, other times in short phrases; the various styles of verse echoing the action and energy of the story. Between the subject, the play-by-play action and in-verse format, kids are going to grab this one off the shelves!

For adults the draw is author, Kwame Alexander’s, theme of “family” masterfully woven throughout the novel. He focuses his entire story on only the four family members plus the increased presence of the girlfriend; illustrating the shift in the dynamics of the family. The parents provide support for the boys through insightful family “basketball rules; life lessons for the home as well as the basketball court. This novel also breaks through many cultural stereotypes. Their mother, Dr. Bell, is a working woman and a loving mother. Their father’s role is to “coach the house”; providing guidance and support for the family from home. When the boys make mistakes, the parents give them realistic consequences. The family fights, but not about drugs or guns or cheating. They fight about finances, health issues and sibling rivalry.

The publishing company chose to recommend “Crossover” to readers in grades 4 to 7. However, I feel this amazing book will also attract older teens as well as adults. So let’s buck the trend of the absent or dysfunctional parent!  The Crossover demonstrates how positive role models can be successfully added to a young adult novel to enhance, not hinder, a teen’s independent choices. It’s a trend that could ignite a positive movement in young adult literature.

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