Much as I hate the term "reluctant reader", there's no denying that it does refer to a certain category of kids, for whom books are generally more chore than charm. In some circles "reluctant reader" is automatically equated with boys, which I feel is a shame because there are lots of boys who devour books every bit as avidly as their female counterparts. But tonight's pick is one that will appeal to both boys who love to read and those who don't, and to pretty much anyone who enjoys a well-told, fast-paced story.
The book in question is the winner of the Newbery medal this year, Kwame Alexander's The Crossover. This book was kind of revolutionary as a win for lots of reasons - sports! boys! African Americans! novel in verse! Take any one of those items on its own, no biggie. But put all of that together in one book and you have a dark horse that still swept the big prize, and very deservedly so.
The Crossover tells the story of Josh Bell, who with his twin brother Jordan forms the heart and soul of their school's basketball team. The boys are tough and they've got basketball in their blood, as their dad is a former bball star. And at the start of the story, things are going pretty great for the pair. But then little things start to come between them, and aggressions flare up on the court and off. Pretty soon the two are adrift, apart, and not even Dad's famous basketball rules provide the guidance they need to keep on playing.
I won't say more because the impact of this story really needs to come firsthand. Suffice to say that the ending was a surprise, and yet totally authentic with the way Alexander set up the story. I struggled a bit at first with the sports terms but that's not something that's likely to bug the target audience (let's face it, I'm a middle-aged white librarian with nary a basketball reference to fall back on). And yet, even though this isn't the sort of thing I myself would be drawn to, I was absolutely bowled over by the voice here. It's incredible, as are the characters - realistic, conflicted, flawed and so human you can't believe it.
The Crossover is a quick read that will keep even those -- yes, I'll say it -- reluctant readers turning pages. But don't think that just because the book moves quickly that it's a throw-away. Far from it - in fact, Alexander's created a set of characters that will remain with the reader even once the last page has been turned.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt