As a Children’s Librarian, one of the tasks that I have to do every year is host Battle of the Books for 5th graders. For 2022, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander was one of the titles that we picked for a multitude of reasons. It won the Newbery Medal in 2015, and it’s the only one of the batch that’s written in verse. Additionally, Disney+ will produce a series based on the novel. I can easily see why; it’s fun, honest, and heartbreaking.
The Crossover tells the story of Josh and Jordan (aka JD) Bell – twin 13-year-olds who love playing basketball and excel at it too. But once JD falls in love with the new girl at school, Josh can’t help but feel left out, and their bond starts to unravel. The twins must come to terms with growing up on and off the court. This is especially true when they realize that breaking the rules comes at a price.
I was hooked on the first page. Josh and JD act like real brothers. They play basketball, but they have their differences. Josh, who goes by the nickname Filthy McNasty on the court, loves his dreads, English, and language. He is a good dunker too, but he sometimes thinks that the world revolves around him. JD has a bald head, and he loves to place bets. He’s also good at free throws. In addition, how they interact once their bond starts unraveling feels real. Josh tries to tell JD that he’s sorry only to be given the cold shoulder many times. How they make up feels natural without being overly sentimental. I also love the supporting characters like Chuck – their dad. He’s a former basketball player who loves jazz, especially Horace Silver, but he has some health issues that the brothers have different reactions to when things take a turn for the worse.
As I mentioned before, the book is told in verse. Not all of it is in rhyme, which may appeal to those might not like poetry for that reason. Additionally, the poems themselves have a wonderful flow to them. The ways that they are written, especially when Josh tells readers his play-by-plays on the court, are how they should be spoken, and they are a blast to read out loud! I would love to see how those sections are translated in the show.
Other aspects that makes the book unique is the way that it includes basketball lessons and definitions of various words (I assume these words are part of the vocabulary test that Josh and JD have to take). Every now and then, a lesson will show up in the book, but it’s not slapdash. They’re strategically placed at certain moments to reflect the plot at that time. For instance, when Josh is feeling down about all that’s going on around him, including JD not speaking to him, he relays this basketball lesson: “Rebounding/is the art/of anticipating,/of always being prepared/to grab it./But you can’t/drop the ball.”
As for the definitions, Josh would define a word, and then put it into various sentences, including one that ties into the story at that particular moment. For example, Josh describes hypertension – the illness the dad has – including how to pronounce it. He then puts it into a variety of examples, including “As in: I think/my grandfather/died of hypertension?”
It can be sugar coated in some places; that’s only because the mom doesn’t want the twins to worry too much about their dad. What is revealed about their dad’s failing health is handled in genuine ways. When the dad goes into a coma after playing some one-on-one with Josh, Josh goes into the “what if this happened instead” mode as he blames himself for stressing his father out too much.
All in all, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander is an excellent book that anybody from a tween to an adult can enjoy. Its characters and their relationships are highly believable, and despite their flaws, readers can still root for them. Also, did I mention this is in non-rhyming verse? I would recommend this title to those who love sports, especially the obvious; coming of age stories; and reading about siblings. I can’t wait to see how it does as a series on Disney+.
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