Review: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, Guest Post by Allie of In Bed with Books
Kwame Alexander's newest novel, THE CROSSOVER, is a verse tour de force. It's told through poems by the main character, Josh Bell a.k.a. Filthy McNasty. He and his twin brother Jordan (JB) are talented basketball players, but jealousy threatens to split them apart when JB gets a girlfriend.
I love how many levels of story are woven into this novel.
THE CROSSOVER is the kind of book I never would've picked up when I was younger because I didn't like sports. There is the sports story promised by the cover, all leading up to a big championship game, but it is far from the only plotline. Nor is it the most important plotline. That's reserved for all the family stuff.
There's the relationship between the brothers, at times super close and at other times strained. In fact, the first real schism in the story is when JB accidentally forces Josh to get his head shaved. Before, Josh's locks were his pride and separated him from his bald brother. Then, there is the relationship with the boys' parents, especially their father, a former basketball player and the man who taught them the game. Their parents' worries are on the fringe of Josh's awareness, but most readers will be able to put the pieces together. And, although she is a small part, the girl "Sweet Tea" is still shown to be a person, a talented basketball player in her own right and pissed off by the physical signs of Josh's jealousy, frustration, and confusion.
All of this is conveyed so elegantly by the language.
Alexander's poetry flows easily and tells the story in short pieces, making THE CROSSOVER inviting to reluctant and casual readers. At the same time, it's a sophisticated and rewarding form. For instance, the poems recounting games use lots of clever formatting, including different font sizes and diagonal lines to convey the intensity and movement of the action. They also use more rhymes than the other poems, like the rhythm of a bouncing ball. Unfortunately, I did think the poem describing the championship game was out of place. It was an abrupt switch in tone from the poems before and after it, even if it did match the other basketball poems. There might've been stylistic switches between other poems, but rarely a tone switch. It was jarring, and right at the height of THE CROSSOVER's effectiveness.
Going back to appealing to multiple types of readers, THE CROSSOVER is set in middle school and aimed at younger readers. I felt that there wasn't much that separated it from a young adult novel, except periodic references to the grade level or school assignments like THE GIVER. It particularly felt more young adult to me when Jordan contemplated which college he wanted to go to to play ball. I'm sure middle school kids daydream about a future in the NCAA, but this felt more immediate and serious. I gave some leeway since Jordan was the son of a successful player and has a better chance of making it, but it still felt off to me. What I'm getting at is I think high school students would really enjoy THE CROSSOVER too, but I can't see many high school students picking up a book about a thirteen year old.
THE CROSSOVER thrilled me, and I can't wait to read it again and pick more closely through the details.
I rarely have time to do that with all the review books on my shelves, but hey, I can take it one poem at a time. (Advantage of the form!) I also think I'll return to it because it is such a great family story. Oftentimes, children's books dispatch with the parents in order to focus on the kids doing things they probably wouldn't get away with if there were two loving, attentive parents in the picture. Josh's parents teach him, guide him, and discipline him like real parents.
Look, no one has to convert me to novels in verse. I've thought that they're the bees' knees since I first read Sonya Sones. I think THE CROSSOVER has the power to convert new readers to the awesomeness that is novels in verse. It certainly convinced me of its own awesomeness.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher.