Monday, June 27, 2016

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The Crossover (2014) by Kwame Alexander is a Newbery-Award winning novel told in verse that experiments with typography and visual poetry. 12-year-old Josh Bell is a junior high basketball superstar, and he plays alongside his twin brother Jordan on the school team. Like Sharon Creech's Love that Dog, Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust, or Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming, the novel is communicated in short, poetic sections, some of which rely on internal rhymes and other times on end rhyme. 

When Josh plays basketball, the pages of the novel come to life and animate, immersing readers in the movements of basketball. Rhymes are emphasized by changes in typography: words are capitalized, indented, falling diagonally across the page. The rhythm and motion of the game is physically explored on the page. This animation occurs only when Josh plays basketball, when the language really comes alive: "He dribbles / fakes / then takes / the ROCK to the / glass, fast, and on BLAST" (10). 

The novel focuses on Josh and his twin brother Jordan - JB - as they have to navigate their changing relationship in junior high. The dynamics largely shift when JB starts dating Alexis, who Josh nicknames "Miss Sweet Tea." Josh finds himself alone, and after a moment of frustration on the court, suspended from the basketball team. Complicating this already difficult year of school is the emerging health condition their father is now exhibiting signs of. He's a former basketball superstar who has nurtured his sons' talents. These tensions thread through the novel, the poetic language moving them from background to forefront as it progresses. 

I've had a copy of The Crossover for a few years, and read in advance of picking up Alexander's latest novel Booked. The language practically vibrates off the page, and I intend to pick up the audiobook version of The Crossover next. 

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