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Sold on The Crossover

I am not one to necessarily swoon over a book. I tend to admire or appreciate, but not easily fall head over heels. One book I truly loved was Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation. I loved the inventive, episodic format, the astute observations, the humour, the bald honesty about motherhood–all of it. I bought into it fully with my own “crooked heart.” A more recent book that has knocked me off my feet–or maybe to my feet, cheering–is Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover. I’ve been thinking a lot about sports lately, for a few reasons. One, I have two children who are into baseball and softball and we’ve been hustling from one game to the next. Two, I’m working on first draft of a YA novel about a track team. I ran track, but I have always liked basketball. Both my parents played and deeply loved the game. I’m sure that had something to do with how hard I fell for The Crossover, a slim novel told in verse and winner of the Newbery medal.

The Crossover tells the story of the Bell brothers, 12-year-old twins, who are the stars of their basketball team. The Bells, Josh (nicknamed Filthy McNasty) and Jordan, are part of a tight-knit family where Dad was a star player known as “Da Man” and mom is a caring, cautious school administrator. The story, narrated by Josh, follows the twins through their championships, first love, jealousy, family health problems, and a lot of free throws. It is a portrait of love of sport, of language, of family. The wit and wisdom in it was as pleasing as witnessing a three-pointer on the buzzer. The character of the father, a former legend who ended up playing in the European leagues, was completely engaging with his lines like: “Filthy, if some girl done locked up JB, he’s going to jail. Now let’s go get some doughnuts,” which is his bemused comment on Jordan acquiring his first girlfriend.

The language is explosive, inventive, economical. You will root for the Bell boys and their whole family, and this book may break your heart. I found myself in tears on the bus and at the gym, and then I found myself wanting to read it again. The title is appropriate in many ways (as the ending reveals.) As well, the book seems a crossover between poetry and the novel, and a story that crosses over ages–I could recommend it to my 7-year-old daughter, or my 77-year-old father. Don’t miss it.

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