The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, was unexpectedly marvelous. I loved so many aspects of the book. The story centers on the Bell family that consists of twins Josh, who goes by the name Filthy McNasty, and Jordan. The twins are basketball players at their junior high school, and the backbone of their team. The story is told through the eyes of Josh, who is going through the regular growing pains of entering puberty. He must deal with his brother getting his first girlfriend, Miss Sweat Tea, and his father’s health issues, that remain a puzzle to him for a large part of the story. He lives and breathes basketball, and has acquired his nickname from his basketball skills. The boys’ father, a former professional player, now is a stay at home dad, that also is their role model and, especially Josh, aspires to be like him. Their mother, the assistant principal, tries to keep the boys focused on their education, and constantly worries about her husband. Josh feels his hair, he has long dreads, are a source of good luck for his game, and when his brother cuts off his hair, the conflict that develops between the siblings becomes magnified. Josh becomes jealous of his brother’s girlfriend, and his jealousy leads him to make questionable decisions, one of which gets Jordan injured during a game. He is jealous of Jordan’s newfound relationship because he finds himself having lost his other half, and is no longer a part of the dynamic duo he is used to. He cannot understand why Jordan wants to spend all of his time talking or with this girl.

The most shocking part of the novel, though, is Josh’s secretly ailing father, who has been keeping his condition a secret from everyone, ends up in the hospital, and ultimately passes away. Alexander does an excellent job showing this loss through Josh’s eyes. As the reader, you are truly pained by this reality, and fell for this boy who has just had his life turned upside down.

What was truly amazing about this novel, apart from the beautiful language and great plot, is the poetic form the author uses. It gives the words movement on the page. The rhythm of the words mirrors the rhythm of the ball bouncing on the court. Also, the use of vocabulary words is great. In terms of using this book in the classroom, I can definitely see how the vocabulary can be an essential part of the Unit. I will definitely be adding it to my class library but will also request to have the books ordered for use as a class novel. I can incorporate it in a poetry Unit. As I read I was thinking of activities that I would develop for a culminating activity, and I think that a creative writing assignment would be perfect. I would have the students to write an autobiographical narrative, using the poetic form. The finished works can then be read in class to music perhaps, or shared in a larger grade level assembly. I see a lot of possibilities for this book, and am so excited to have discovered it. I have also recently found out that the novel has won the Newberry Award for 2015. It truly is a winner.


One thought on “The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

  1. I too enjoyed Kwame Alexander’s “Crossover.” I don’t need to go too deeply into the plot, which was ably illustrated by AH. There are a few things though. The father’s demise is somewhat telegraphed mid-way through the novel, or as they say, foreshadowed. Each time something physical goes wrong he jests with his wife about not having to go to the doctor, and turns it into a sexual conquest. Though you can see it coming, I still thought it a frank depiction of human frailty. We avoid our illness and even convince ourselves we are better than ever. The father’s end creeps up slowly but assuredly.
    Another slow unfolding is the reconciliation of the Bell brothers. Throughout much of the novel, Josh and Jordan are estranged because Josh injures Jordan passing the ball too hard during a game. But their father’s death brings them back together.
    What I want to write a little more about, though, is the how the book crosses over so many genres. The book is essentially a novel told in poetic line, though it reads quite often like prose. Then there are other times when the chapters read like rap. There are also vocabulary chapters where a word is explicated in various ways, often with examples from Josh’s life.
    In that refrain, are the Basketball Rules chapters, which explicitly deal with not so much the rules of game but the strategy or philosophy of it: Rule #5, When you stop playing your game you’ve already lost,” rules that resonate beyond the court, of course.
    I think there are a lot of ways to teach a book like this. As far as content is concerned, the book has a compelling plot with the game of basketball a major backdrop for the dramas; the two boys angry at each other; two views of relationships, Jordan and Miss Sweet Tea, and the parents’; and of course death. There is plenty going on. But the genre bending quality of the book also gives it the type of variety that a learning unit needs. Students could easily write Rules for different aspects of their lives. Not actual rules but strategies, philosophies. The vocabulary chapters could also be a template for a writing exercise. The book lends itself in multiple ways.

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