Rebound

by Kwame Alexander
First sentence: “It was the summer when Now and Laters cost a nickel and The Fantastic Four, a buck.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!”
Others in the series: Crossover
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some drug dealing and stealing, but it’s all incidental to the plot. There’s a wee bit of romance. Crossover is in the Newbery section, and so I might put this one next to Booked in the Middle grade (grades 3-5 section) or I might move it to the YA section (grades 6-8) where it feels like it should go.

Even though this one is a pre-quel to Crossover, you really should read that one first.

It’s 1988 and Charlie Bell, the father of the characters in the Crossover, has just lost his father to a major heart attack. It’s the end of his 7th grade year and the loss — and the subsequent grief of both him and his mother — has put Charlie at odds with the world. He doesn’t want to deal with school or friends or his mother, even though he tries to put his father’s death out of his head; all he wants to do is sit and read his comic books. But then, he gets mixed up a bit with his friends older brother, and gets caught stealing (nothing major though), so his mom ships him off to DC to his grandparents (his father’s parents) for the summer.

It’s there that he learns how to deal with his dad’s death, and finds a passion for basketball that stays with him the rest of his life.

I’ve become a fan of Alexander’s in the years since his Newbery win, and this is no exception. It’s a lot geekier than his other books — there are comic poems, to reflect Charlie’s love of the comic book, and he’s not a suave as his kids turn out to be. But, it still has Alexander’s signature poetic style, and it tells the story of a kid coming to terms with his grief extremely well. I loved the 1980s references (throwback to high school!) and I thought Alexander handled the girl characters much better in this one (in fact, Charlie’s cousin, Roxie, is pretty amazing!).

An excellent read.

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Crossover

by Kwame Alexander
First sentence: “At the top of the key, I’m MOOVING & GROOVING, POPping and ROCKING — “
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s poetry, which is a plus and a minus: plus, because it means it’s a quick read. Minus, because you have to convince kids that it’s okay to read poetry. There’s some kissing, but I’d give this to kids ages 10+. It’ll be in the Newbery section of the bookstore (yes, we do have one!).

I really didn’t know what to expect going into this. I’m sure it would be good — it won the Newbery, after all — but is it one of those good books that are just all style and no substance?

Because this book does have style. You can tell that right from the first page. Alexander’s not only writing a novel in verse, he’s playing with form. There’s style to these poems, it’s not just words on a page; they sometimes (like in the opening poem) leap right off the page. (There’s one poem, about 2/3 of the way though, that can be read in two different directions. I love that!) But, there’s also substance as well.

Twins Josh and Jordan Bell are inseparable, both in life and on the basketball court. Sons of a retired (due to injury) Euroleague player, basketball is their Sport. Their Religion. Their Life. But, during their 8th-grade year, things change. They drift apart, mostly because Jordan — JB as he wants to be known — starts going out with a girl. And their dad has serious heart problems. All of this weighs on Josh, and he lets it interrupt his game.

It’s a simple story, but one with tremendous amounts of heart. Josh is a complex character, who worries about his parents, misses the connection with his brother, and wants to be the top of his game. And yet, he has a temper, one that gets in the way of his wants and desires sometimes. There’s a depth to him that makes him real, which I appreciated it.

I did have a couple of complaints… I didn’t like the portrayal of the girlfriend, but I do understand it’s from Josh’s point of view, and he didn’t really like her intrusion into the relationship with his brother. So, I can understand why she was a bit of a caricature.) The other thing I didn’t really care for — and this is a spoiler — was the dad dying in the end. I did like that there wasn’t a “neat and tidy” ending, but it was a bit, well, Dramatic.

But aside from those two little complaints, I loved this one. I loved the style and the characters and just immersing myself in this world. For the Bells, the highest compliment is that they are Da Man. And this book is definitely that.