book review: The Crossover

title: The CrossoverFC9780544107717

author: Kwame Alexander

date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2014

Main Character: Josh “Filthy McNasty” Bell

reading level 4-3

Kwame Alexander tells the story of Josh Bell in verse. Josh is 13, has a twin brother Jordan, and by his own account is star of the school’s basketball team. His mom is his school’s assistant principal and his dad is not currently employed. Dad was once a basketball phenom himself and only through his sons’ snooping do we find out what happened to his career.

The short verses employed to tell the story make it appear to be a rather simple story, however Alexander weaves several layers of problems into what is a rather complex tale. There is the issue of the father’s health (he may have high blood pressure but won’t take care of himself), Jordan’s new girlfriend (Josh feels left out and perhaps even jealous) and the state basketball tournament (they’re contenders!). And of course school remains a concern as Josh worries about his academic success. He hopes to use his basketball skills to get into Duke. To illustrate Josh’s scholarly achievements, Alexander strategically plants vocabulary terms throughout the book. I’ve always found this off-putting and can’t say Alexander does better with this strategy than anyone else.

I’m not always a fan of tales told in verse. Too often those lines should be paragraphs and there’s a lack of anything poetic in the writing. However, I think Alexander gets it and flows quite well in this style of writing. While the sparseness of words may attract young readers, they will not get a simple story!

There were a few things I questioned in the story. Toward the end, I really didn’t understand why the boys were at the game rather than with their dad. I also thought Jordan and a teammate named Vondie could have been better developed, but I don’t know that this would matter to a middle schooler reading the book. I think they’d recognize the friction that develops between the boys when one of them gets a girlfriend as well as the love that exuded between the boys and their parents. Which is why I think the boys would have showed up for their dad.

All in all, an enjoyable read!