After the Shot Drops

After the Shot Drops follows the story of a friendship between two high school sophomores, Bunny and Nasir. Although they have been best friends since childhood, their friendship begins to deteriorate after Bunny transfers from Whitman High to a private, affluent, less-diverse school. Bunny, a rising star in high school basketball, has a dream for making it to the NBA. He is noticed for his athletic prowess, but the path to making his basketball dream may lead him to losing Nasir as both a friend and confidante.

Besieged with problems of his own, Nasir must prevent his impoverished cousin, Wallace, from becoming homeless. Wallace is in debt and on the verge of homelessness. In order to make money quickly, Wallace bets against Bunny’s team in the upcoming basketball state championships. However, thanks to Bunny’s amazing basketball skills, this plan quickly falls apart with terrible consequences for Wallace, Nasir, and ultimately Bunny.

After the Shot Drops is told in an alternating pattern of first-person accounts, thus weaving together a narrative about the lives of both main characters, Bunny and Nasir. Each chapter shifts between both characters, which allows the audience to create a sympathetic connection to each of them. Each character must find themselves amidst their drama making their struggles highly relatable. Although Bunny and Nasir become increasingly distant, the audience is treated to both the joys and sorrows from each of their perspectives.

Through the lens of basketball, Ribay demonstrates the awesome, yet sometimes divisive power of competitive ambition. In this touching story of friendship, readers will learn about the difficulties facing people of color in America. While the book does not directly address racism, certain instances and scenes poke holes in prevailing stereotypes in order to defy them. While there are a few violent scenes and swear words, Ribay strategically uses these devices to intensify the story’s drama.

After the Shot Drops is a face-paced, intense, and often empathetic story that highlights the difficulties of balancing friendships. Ribay’s exciting descriptions of basketball games and character building lead the audience towards forging a real and very moving connection with each character.

Sexual Content

  • Bunny and his girlfriend, Keyona, exchange intimate kisses while standing next to traffic. “Some passing car beeps its horn, and then another car honks at us, and then another like it’s become a thing everyone’s doing. We start laughing even as we’re still kissing”
  • While at the victory party, Bunny fantasizes in a direct, suggestive manner about his new friend Brooke. “To be honest, I try to not look at her butt, but it’s right there and it’s looking real nice in those jeans”

Violence

  • In an act of revenge against Bunny’s betrayal, Wallace convinces a hesitant Nasir to paint the front of Bunny’s house with a smattering of eggs. Wallace “cocks his arm back and chucks the egg. It hits the brick of the Thompsons’ row house with a small but oddly satisfying ”
  • After making a few bad bets on local sports, Wallace is punched in the face at a party by one of the gamblers as a warning. “[The stranger’s] fist cracks into the side of Wallace’s jaw, and Wallace drops to the ground like a sack of bricks”
  • To sublimate his guilt, Nasir plays a shooting video game in which he kills Nazi zombies. “I pull the trigger the moment the Nazi zombie shambles out of the darkness and into my crosshairs. Head shot. Blood, brain matter, and skill fragments spray the wall.”
  • After falling further in debt with the gamblers, Wallace tells Nasir that he faces pretty fatal consequences unless he is able to pony up the money. Specifically, Wallace reflects on the story of a former late classmate as he says, “Word on the street is that the bullet he caught by accident was meant for someone who fucked with these guys.”
  • During the heat of the third quarter in the state championship game, Bunny takes an elbow directly to the face. The opponent “looks to the outside like he’s going to pass but then pivots, swinging his elbows—clocks me right in the nose.” He was knocked unconscious with a nearly broken, bleeding nose.
  • A heated shouting and punching match begins between Bunny and Wallace. Bunny sees “Wallace standing there, holding something and pointing it at me – he shifts, and it glints, catching the light from one of the faraway streetlamps. It’s a gun.” Wallace aims and shoots Bunny straight in the chest. Bunny is quickly rushed to the hospital after massive blood loss but eventually makes a full recovery.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While skipping out on class, Bunny’s peers at St. Sebastian’s attempt to get him to smoke weed for his first time.
  • After going to the movies with Nasir, Wallace lights up a joint. Wallace “fishes a blunt from his pocket and lights up right there in front of the theater.”
  • Nasir and Wallace attend a house party in which many guests are using drugs and alcohol. “Most [people here] look like they’re college age, and most have a drink in one hand and a cigarette or blunt in the other.”
  • After winning a game without Bunny playing, the St. Sebastian’s team celebrates by throwing a classic high school party laden with cheap alcohol and drugs. “There are red cups arranged in a triangle at either end. Two guys are trying to toss a Ping-Pong ball into the cups on the opposite end.”
  • After winning the state championship, Nasir and Bunny catch up in their neighborhood but are approached by a drunk Wallace, who is brandishing a gun. Nasir notices Wallace approaching “… as soon as I see his tall figure making its way toward us, kicking up the snow like a playground bully kicking over some kid’s block city, I know something’s not right. He’s swaying, clutching a bottle in a paper bag in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other.”

Language

  • While Nasir and Wallace are at the cinema, they encounter Bunny and his girlfriend Keyona, whom Nasir had a crush on. Wallace finds Bunny, Nasir and Keyona and says “There you are, Nas. Shit, I thought you abandoned my ass.”
  • After coating Bunny’s house with eggs, Wallace tells Nasir to “[g]et this shit out of your system, or I’ll empty the rest of this carton on his house myself.”
  • Inside the Thompsons’ row house, Bunny and Keyona are studying while they hear the muted thumping of eggs against the side of the house. Keyona says, “I’m sorry that people can’t let it go. That you have to deal with this ignorant shit.”
  • Wallace rebukes Bunny in an attempt to further ingratiate himself with Nasir. “Wallace spits. ‘Man, fuck Bunny.’ And even though he’s expressed similar sentiments before, his words feel laced with a new level of malice.”
  • While driving Nasir to a party in their neighborhood, Wallace colorfully expresses his frustration with the lack of available parking. “Wallace slams his fists on the steering wheel. ‘Goddammit, motherfucking, bitch-ass, motherfucker,’ he mutters around the cigarette.”
  • Wallace tries to convince Nasir to befriend Bunny again in order to make him lose an upcoming game as he says “I know this isn’t easy for you, Nas, and I know I can be a dickhead some of the time – okay, a lot of the time – but I appreciate you trying to help out me and G[randma].”
  • With words flitting through his anxious mind, Nasir reflects on his plan to force Bunny to sit out for the rest of the season. “ Fearful. Friendless. Fucked.
  • After a string of seemingly unfair calls made by a basketball referee, one of Bunny’s teammates exclaims loudly, “Bullshit!”
  • In the state championship game, Bunny believes the referee is making unfair calls and cries, “Bullshit!”
  • At the park, an inebriated Wallace confronts Bunny saying, “Fuck you.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • To renew their friendship, Bunny takes Nasir to St. Sebastian’s and to the school’s library, which is large. Nasir says, “What’s up there. . . God?”

 by Daniel Klein

 

A Short History of the Girl Next Door

Matt and Tabby have been best friends almost since birth. When Matt and Tabby enter high school, Tabby starts dating a senior basketball player and makes other friends. Because of Tabby’s other friends, Matt struggles to understand his place in his best friend’s life. He also tries to make sense of his feelings for her, all while trying to be the best basketball player on the junior varsity team. Then tragedy strikes. Matt’s world is turned upside-down, and he has to piece himself back together.

A Short History of the Girl Next Door surrounds Matt and Tabby’s friendship, basketball, and the tragedy that strikes their community. Matt loves Tabby, and losing her to senior basketball star and school golden boy, Liam Branson, is unbearable. Much of Matt’s life and his memories include Tabby, so when she and her father suddenly died in a car accident, Matt has to figure out how to deal with all his feelings. Although Matt, who narrates the story, sometimes can come off as petulant, his personal growth at the end of the story is commendable.

With the help of his family and basketball, Matt makes peace with Tabby’s death and apologizes to the people he’s hurt. The book deals with themes of friendship, death, and forgiveness. The most bittersweet and touching moments come when Matt learns to cherish his memories and opens up to those who are also grief-stricken. Family and community rally around their collective sadness, and they help Matt through his personal grief. Matt is only able to get better by relating his experiences and his pain to others.

Although most of the book is about Matt and Tabby’s friendship, basketball is also important to Matt. Basketball is Matt’s outlet, and the only activity he has that is separate from Tabby. However, when Tabby is dating fellow basketball player Liam, Matt’s two worlds become intertwined. And when Tabby dies, Liam becomes a reminder of what Matt has lost. Basketball itself isn’t as important to the story as the relationships between Liam, Matt, and Tabby, and the sport serves as a vessel for their personal issues.

A Short History of the Girl Next Door will appeal to those who enjoy slower-paced, slice-of-life stories. Those looking for a basketball-heavy book won’t find it here, as basketball is not the primary focus. The sexual content and language are geared towards an older audience and may not be appropriate for middle schoolers. Nevertheless, Matt’s growth throughout the novel is commendable, and Matt’s reaction to Tabby’s death will no doubt resonate with readers. A Short History of the Girl Next Door is a quiet book that looks closely at the ending of a friendship, and how someone learns to pick themselves back up.

Sexual Content

  • Matt admits that he started making “a mental list of the top-five hottest girls by grade level. Lily Branson landed the #1 ranking on [his] list.”
  • Tabby says about Lily, “People say she’s all stuck-up, but she’s actually really nice. I think people just say stuff because she’s pretty, you know?” To this comment, Matt says that he feels “like a complete ass. [He’d] made that comment—and worse—more than once, about Lily Branson, and any number of other attractive girls. Probably every girl on [his] top-five list. Because, you know, if a hot girl doesn’t want to mate with you, she’s obviously stuck-up.”
  • Matt is attracted to Tabby, his longtime best friend. He thinks, “Seriously, how can you see a person nearly every day of your life and never think a thing of it, then all of a sudden, one day, it’s different? You see that goofy grin a thousand times and just laugh, but goofy grin number 1,001 nearly stops your heart?”
  • Matt says upon describing the height difference between his grandparents, “The Wainwright men’s infatuation with pocket-size women is apparently genetic,” a nod towards Tabby’s small stature.
  • Matt describes the book An Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie as “an amazing book about basketball, and masturbation, and feeling shitty and alone, and how Indians are perpetually screwed.”
  • One of Matt’s neighbors, Corey, is very straightforward with girls at school and “openly tries to get [girls who like Corey] to touch his dick at his locker.”
  • Tabby tells Corey to go away, and Corey responds with, “You know, if you grow some tits, I’ll let you suck my dick.” Matt tries standing up for Tabby by saying, “Hey, that’s what I said to your mom last night, bro.”
  • One of the basketball players says to Liam, “What’s the deal with the freshman, B? She sucking your dick yet?” It is clear that he is talking about Tabby. He then says, “She’s a cockmonster, isn’t she?”
  • Matt jokes that his mom’s Thanksgiving stuffing is so good that he and his dad get “stuffing boners.”
  • Matt has a physical copy of his “Do List: Girls [he] would do if there were no consequences—social, emotional, or physical: freshman class.” Tabby finds the list and is very upset. She tells him, “Let me know when you’ve done the first hundred on the list, Matt. So I can spread my legs and wait my turn.”
  • Matt and his friend Trip have to write gift poems for poetry class. Matt jokes that he’s writing his for Trip, and that Matt “couldn’t think of a word that rhymes with bulge.” Trip responds, “Indulge,” with a wink, messing with him.
  • Matt writes a persona poem for his poetry class from the point of view of Mr. Mint, who has “wildly inappropriate opinions on King Kandy, the princess, and most of all, Plumpy, whom Mr. Mint tells to choke on it.”
  • Matt’s mom wants him to wear a bald eagle costume for Halloween. He would have to wear skinny yellow pants with the costume, and he says, “Where am I supposed to keep my nuts in these things?”

Violence

  • Tabby playfully “punches [Matt] in the shoulder, hard” when Matt asks if she likes Liam Branson.
  • Corey grabs the front of Matt’s shirt, looking to start a fight. Tabby, holding a corked baseball bat, “swung. Hard. The bat slammed into Corey’s right arm, the dented plastic barrel and duct-taped head finally giving way.”
  • After Tabby hits Corey with the bat, “he shoved Tabby to the ground. Tabby flew backward, landing hard on her elbows to keep her head from smacking the pavement.”
  • After hearing other basketball players make sexual comments about Tabby, Matt envisions different scenarios in his head, usually violent. He imagines “Branson going stone-faced in the locker room, grabbing Lighty by the neck and slamming him back into a locker . . . Or me, walking up behind Lighty as he’s singing his song, palming the back of his stubby, lumpy head and slamming his face into his locker, smashing his nose and knocking him unconscious.”
  • Matt tells Trip that he looks like a “squirrely-ass twelve-year-old.” Trip responds by picking up “a spent pizza crust from the box and backhands [him] with it on [his] arm.”
  • Trip and Matt play a video game where their characters spar against each other. Trip beats him one round, saying “I just made you my bitch.” Matt describes, “On the screen, his demon-girl flips into the air over another empty swing from my dude’s battle-ax and lands on his shoulders. In one quick motion, she scissor-cuts my poor bastard’s head off, reaches down into his gaping neck-stump, pulls out his still-beating heart, and eats it.”
  • Tabby “passed away in an automobile accident” while visiting her grandparents. Matt and the other students hear about it at school. It is later stated that, “an SUV lost control on a patch of ice coming off a turn, hit Tabby’s dad’s pickup head-on. Died instantly. Felt no pain. Probably never saw it coming.”
  • The team rallies around Liam because he dated Tabby and took her death hard. Matt is frustrated that no one has acknowledged that Tabby was Matt’s best friend, so when another player brings out armbands for the team to wear in solidarity with Liam, “a laugh escapes [Matt’s] mouth before [he] can stop it.” Liam “stands and drills [Matt] in the face.”
  • Grampa talks about when they used to paddle kids in school, as a teacher. After his first wife and daughter died in an accident, “by Christmas, a kid was getting it about every day. Usually the same ones.” On one kid who was being particularly nasty, he “broke the paddle.” Grampa never hit a kid after that.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Of Liam Branson, Matt thinks, “This time next year, Branson will be gone—hopefully putting on forty pounds of beer fat in a dorm at some state college.”
  • Trip’s dad explained how to cork a bat to Trip while “a beer [rested] on [Trip’s dad’s] stomach.”
  • One of Matt and Tabby’s neighbors, Corey, takes “weed from his parents’ stash.”
  • Tabby’s mom was a “drug-addict” who left when Tabby was a few months old.

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: ass, bullshit, fuck, douche, badass, damn, shit, bastard, dick, slut, and cock.
  • Tabby calls her friend’s boyfriend a “complete perv-ball.”
  • Matt sketches a carny ride operator that wears a “a trucker hat that reads ‘I <3 Little Boys.’”
  • Matt writes a poem that’s an “ode to Internet pornography.” The reader never sees the poem.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Matt’s grandpa takes one look at Matt in the bald eagle costume and says, “Sweet Jesus.”
  • At Tabby and her father’s funeral, Matt listens to “a few more numbing hymns” and the priest “speaks in infuriatingly generic terms about ‘the mystery of God’s love’ and [Matt] thinks, Yeah, this is a pretty big fucking mystery.”
  • Grampa has a heart-to-heart with Matt after Tabby’s death. Matt’s struggling to reason out what happened to Tabby and if life has meaning. Grampa says, “If there’s a God—and I’m pretty skeptical, myself—I figure he can fill me in when my time comes.”

by Alli Kestler

 

Here to Stay

Bijan Majidi loves basketball, comic books, and his mom. When he makes it on the varsity basketball squad, he’s over the moon. Now he’s getting noticed and being invited to parties with the cool kids. But when someone sends the whole school a photoshopped picture that makes Bijan look like a terrorist, he has to deal with the fallout. Here to Stay examines the prejudices and identities that envelop the lives of Bijan and his classmates.

Here to Stay tackles discussions about race and prejudice against the backdrop of a wealthy, white, New England neighborhood. Sara Farizan’s commentary creates a rich dialogue that acutely questions a status quo that harms students who aren’t white. Bijan, who is half Persian and half Jordanian, experiences microaggressions and a hate crime. Bijan is also put under emotional and social strain. Despite this, Bijan is resilient and handles the situations thrown at him through his wit and the strength of his heart.

Along with the discussion of race, Farizan includes two LGBTQ+ characters who initially hide their relationship because they fear their community’s backlash. In both overarching plot points, acceptance and sticking up for oneself are recurrent themes. Although not everyone in the novel is kind to these characters or to Bijan, the supporting cast of friends are loyal and kind people.

Bijan is undeniably a good main character. He’s friendly, funny, and sticks up for himself and his friends. Occasionally, some characters’ dialogue comes across as strange or too young for teenagers. However, it doesn’t make the characters any less likable. Considering all the dark topics that Here to Stay covers, Bijan’s inner monologue is really funny and brings some much-needed lightness to an otherwise depressing situation.

Farizan does an excellent job presenting a discussion around prejudices and integrating it with a fun high school basketball story. Ultimately, life is made up of great, game-winning moments as well as terrible moments. Bijan’s story is about dealing with other people’s prejudices, but he’s also a teenager who has crushes and who likes basketball. These things are not separate from each other, and Farizan presents Bijan as a whole person who deals with a full range of human experiences. Here to Stay is powerful, not necessarily because Bijan is extraordinary, but because his story is a reality for many people. Readers certainly won’t have a difficult time finding something to like about Bijan and his story.

Sexual Content

  • Bijan has “an imaginary future ex-girlfriend, Elle.” He has a crush on Elle, and the topic of his love comes up often.
  • When Bijan is getting ready to go to a party, his mom tells Bijan that he can’t “get ‘fresh’ with any young ladies.”
  • According to Bijan, his best friend Sean “has had sex.” No other details are given.
  • At the start of practice, a basketball player throws his shirt to the side. “Some girls from the varsity squash team catcalled as they ran on the track above.”
  • Someone makes a comment about Bijan going back to “whatever country or Cave of Wonders” he came from. Bijan responds with, “I’ll go back to where I came from. Back to your mom’s house. She made me the best breakfast this morning after the time we had together last night. Her maple syrup tasted just as good as she did.”
  • Bijan’s best friend Sean makes a suggestive comment about another classmate. He says, “I wouldn’t mind tutoring Erin Wheeler . . . I’d answer any anatomy and physiology questions she may have.”
  • Another basketball player, Will, mentions his girlfriend to a teammate. Will says, “Once I get what I need from [my girlfriend], I’m calling it off. Then it’s college honeys for days, you know what I’m saying?” This statement is not explained further.
  • Will harasses Bijan about a girl in their grade. Will says, “ ‘It’s really nice of you to keep defending [Stephanie]. You giving it to her, man?’ Will dry-humped the air. ‘I mean, I guess she’d be a good lay. She’s got a nice physique for a munchkin . . . You put a gag over her head when you do her? So you can shut her up and not have to look at her? I know you people like your girls covered.’ ”
  • Stephanie and Erin have been secretly dating.  At a party, Bijan accidentally overhears them.  Stephanie says, “ ‘While we haven’t done anything, I like you. I like you very much’ Then [Bijan] heard it. Lips smacking. Stephanie was kissing someone!” Erin is worried about being found out because “My friends and that school are going to tear [Stephanie] apart.”
  • Will makes yet another comment to Bijan, this time about Bijan and Sean. “I thought you two were joined at the hip. How will you be able to take a piss without him holding your dick?” Bijan responds, “He’s his own man . . . But it’s true, my dick is far too big to hold. Your mom said so last night.” Will then responds with, “By the way…which of his moms did it with a turkey baster?”
  • Bijan and Elle kiss. “[Bijan] cupped her face in [his] hand. She was so warm. Kissing her was a million times better than scoring the winning basket for Granger.”
  • Erin and Stephanie start officially dating. Erin introduces herself as “[Stephanie’s] girlfriend, with all the confidence of her years in the New Crew.”
  • While in the locker room, Will makes a series of sexual comments about Bijan and Drew’s love lives. In response, Bijan says, “Why don’t you find a Jacuzzi jet to stick your dick into and call it a day, Will.”

Violence

  • Bijan talks about movies. He says that “Daniel LaRusso gets to crane-kick the crap out of Johnny.”
  • Occasionally, fouls occur in the basketball games and players are knocked down, pushed, or shoved.
  • After Bijan makes a comment about a player’s mom, the player “rushed [Bijan], knocking [him] to the sidewalk.”
  • Someone photoshopped Bijan’s face onto a racist version of the school mascot and sent it to the school. Bijan’s face was “photoshopped onto the head of a man with a long beard wearing a pakol hat and holding a gun.”
  • An email is sent to the Granger student body, but this time it outs Stephanie and Erin’s relationship and sexual orientations. It’s a picture of their photoshopped faces, and they’re “vomiting rainbows.” It is later revealed that Stephanie’s friend, Noah, is the one who made it out of jealousy, as he felt entitled to Stephanie’s affection.
  • Will gets drunk the night before the first tournament game and brings his buddies to beat up Bijan. One of them, “grabbed hold of [Bijan’s] shoulder and pushed [him] backward with his forearm against [his] chest. [Bijan] tried to get away, and wanted to yell but the fear wouldn’t let [him].”
  • At the basketball game, a group of white people who “had wrapped athletic towels on their heads and wore fake beards . . . held up a poster-sized version of the terrorist photo of [Bijan]” sat behind the basket and chanted “USA! USA! USA!” at Bijan.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • At a party there is a “cooler full of beers.” Many of the underage students drink at the party.
  • Someone says to Bijan about the photoshopped picture, “Whoever did send it, I’d love to shake their hand and buy them a beer.” Bijan responds, “I’d love to buy a keg for whatever college will take you . . . How much does your grandpa pay to have you play for us?”
  • At another party the students drink again. Bijan drinks a beer and says it tastes “like wheat backwash.” Bijan also joins in on beer pong where he plays “with the guys for an hour.”
  • Drew talks about his dad. Drew says, “Mine’s a real piece of work. A guy named Tim who would rather play keno and drink than hang out with his kid.”

Language

  • Profanity is used somewhat often. Profanity includes damn, crap, bitches, ass, and hell.
  • Bijan says his life turned into a “crap salad in a bucket.”
  • Students make many comments about Bijan’s race, and they also make insensitive comments about other races as well.
  • Bijan briefly mentions that the JV locker room talk included “theories about what would happen if you smeared Icy Hot all over your junk.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • During a speech at school, Bijan talks about his parents’ religions. “My mom is Muslim but doesn’t speak to God as much since my dad died. My father was Christian. My relationship with God is personal and has nothing to do with you.” Bijan thinks, “I didn’t explain to them that terrorists who commit heinous acts in the name of religion don’t understand their faith at all, including the white Christian terrorists within our own country. I didn’t read to them the section of the Qur’an that says, ‘Whoever kills a person unjustly. . . it is as though he has killed all mankind, and whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind.’”
  • Bijan doesn’t drink, and he turns down a beer from another student. That student then says, “Allah’s not gonna mind.”

by Alli Kestler

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Crossover

Twelve-year-old Josh and his twin JB Bell are the kings of the basketball court. Untouchable and unstoppable—the sons of former professional basketball player Chuck “Da Man” Bell couldn’t be anything less than excellent. But when Alexis walks right into the twins’ lives and steals JB’s heart, Josh is left without his best friend by his side. Meanwhile, the boys’ father’s health is on the decline, despite Chuck’s utter denial. Josh and JB must deal with the consequences of everyone’s actions—including their own.

Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover is told in free-verse poetry. As with the prequel novel Rebound, his free-verse poetry works really well with the beat of the basketball games and Josh’s narration. Oftentimes, the basketball lingo and Josh’s internal monologue intermix, and readers will find that the verses enhance the experience.

The Crossover does an excellent job of mixing different storylines. The tensions between the twins’ father’s health, the upcoming basketball championships, and the brothers all get a good amount of page time and work together to raise the stakes. Josh and JB have more arguments as the pressure increases in basketball, and their father has more and more complications with his health as the book continues. The climax of the book is foreshadowed well early on, and each plot point finds an end.

These plot threads help create the themes of family, atonement, and inheritance. The dynamic between the twins, their mother (Crystal), and their father (Chuck) is healthy, though they do occasionally argue. JB and Josh argue with each other often. But when JB refuses to speak to Josh after Josh nearly breaks JB’s nose with a basketball, Josh reveals just how much he loves his family. He also does everything in his power to atone for his actions, and he and JB soon forgive each other. The boys also deal with their father’s legacy and how the legacy impacts their futures. Chuck was a basketball star, and the boys have inherited his prowess on the court. However, high blood pressure and stubbornness also run in the family, and the boys struggle with the fact that they may also inherit these negative characteristics.

While this Newbery Medal Winner is short, Alexander handles all these topics well. Basketball fans will enjoy The Crossover for the sport aspects, but the appeal of the book reaches further than the court. Josh and his family are realistic characters who experience universal emotions like love, anger, and loss. The Crossover is an excellent story that even non-readers and non-sport fans will find enjoyable. The story shows that despite differences in time, space, and opinion, we carry our loved ones in our hearts, always.

Sexual Content

  • Josh and JB’s dad, Chuck “Da Man” Bell tells his sons about how back in the day, he “kissed/ so many pretty ladies.”
  • Josh says that the only reason why JB has been “acting all religious” is because his classmate “Kim Bazemore kissed him in Sunday/ school.”
  • Josh does his homework while his teammate “Vondie and JB/ debate whether the new girl/ is a knockout or just beautiful,/ a hottie or a cutie,/ a lay-up or a dunk.”
  • Josh teases JB and asks if “Miss Sweet Tea” (Alexis) is his girlfriend. JB dodges the question. However, it is clear that he likes her a lot because “his eyes get all spacey/ whenever she’s around,/ and sometimes when she’s not.”
  • Chuck faints, and his wife Crystal demands that he see a doctor. Chuck refuses, and they argue. In an attempt to diffuse the tension between them, he says, “Come kiss me.”
  • After Crystal and Chuck stop arguing about Chuck’s health, Josh narrates, “And then there is silence, so I put the/ pillow over my head/ because when they stop talking,/ I know what that means./ Uggghh!” This happens a couple of times throughout the book.
  • JB and Alexis walk into the cafeteria, and she’s “holding his/ precious hand.”
  • JB and Alexis kiss in the library, and Josh sees them.
  • JB tells Alexis “how much she’s/ the apple of/ his eye/ and that he wants/ to peel her/ and get under her skin.”
  • Josh says, “Even Vondie/ has a girlfriend now…She’s a candy striper/ and a cheerleader/ and a talker/ with skinny legs/ and a big butt/ as big/ as Vermont.”

Violence

  • Josh has long dreadlocks while JB has a shaved head, so JB plays with Josh’s locks. Josh “slap[s] him/ across his bald head/ with [Josh’s] jockstrap.”
  • JB accidentally cuts off five of Josh’s locks of hair. Josh gives JB several noogies over the course of a few interactions.
  • Josh nearly breaks JB’s nose with a hard pass during a basketball game. He does it on purpose because he’s upset with JB, and Josh is suspended from the team. The description is only a couple of words.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Crystal’s younger brother “smokes cigars.”

Language

  • The younger characters occasionally use rude terms such as crunking, stupid, and jerk.
  • When Josh narrates his plays, he talks big about his game. This leads to him occasionally threatening physical contact during the game. For instance, Josh says, “Man, take this THUMPING.”
  • Josh’s nickname is “Filthy McNasty.”
  • JB suggests a bet against Josh. Josh responds with, “You can cut my locks off,/ but if I win the bet,/ you have to walk around/ with no pants on/ and no underwear/ at school tomorrow.”
  • JB responds with, “if you win,/ I will moon/ that nerdy group/ of sixth-graders/ that sit/ near our table/ at lunch?”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • JB only went to one basketball summer camp because “he didn’t want to miss Bible/ school.”
  • The Bells go to church on Sundays before basketball. Josh says, “When the prayers end/ and the doors open/ the Bells hit center stage,” meaning the basketball court.

by Alli Kestler

The Crossover (Graphic Novel)

Twelve-year-old Josh and his twin JB Bell are the kings of the basketball court. Untouchable and unstoppable—the sons of former professional basketball player Chuck “Da Man” Bell couldn’t be anything less than excellent. But when Alexis walks into the twins’ lives and steals JB’s heart, Josh is left without his best friend by his side. Meanwhile, the boys’ father’s health is on the decline, despite Chuck’s utter denial. Josh and JB must deal with the consequences of everyone’s actions—including their own.

The illustrations in the graphic novel, The Crossover, bring the story to life. Illustrator Dawud Anyabwile’s comic book style illustrations match the high-pace action of the novel, especially during the basketball scenes. Most of the illustrations are in black and white with detailed shading, but Anyabwile frequently utilizes orange to help features pop off the page. The text changes in size and shape which helps to capture the rhythm of the poem. Even though this is a graphic novel, the poetic language makes The Crossover a good choice to read aloud.

The pages vary in the amount of text and pictures. Some pages have full-bodied scenes with a few sentences, while others have smaller pictures with mostly narration or dialogue. Alexander’s free-verse poetry moves very well and, thus, lends itself to these variations in page styles. The text placement only serves to emphasize parts of the story. Even though the graphic novel has some difficult vocabulary, the words are often defined and the repetition of the words allows the reader to understand the term. Readers will learn new vocabulary, but the more advanced vocabulary is balanced with realistic dialogue and trash talk during the basketball scenes.

The words themselves rarely vary from the original book, though the verse orientation on the page serves to emphasize different phrases. Those who have read the original text will still find that the graphic novel conveys characters’ moods and personalities in different ways due to the addition of illustrations. Josh, JB, and their friends and family are all vibrant characters and the pictures give them new life and add to the reading experience.

The Crossover was already a moving story, but the story benefits greatly from the addition of illustrations. The illustrations enhance the characters’ emotions and the story’s stakes feel heightened. The story speaks truths about grief, love, and basketball, and the pictures serve to bring those wonderful themes to another dimension. Newcomers and fans of the original story will find this edition to be a worthy addition to their shelves.

Sexual Content

  • Josh and JB’s dad, Chuck “Da Man” Bell, tells his sons about how back in the day, he “kissed/ so many pretty ladies.”
  • Josh says that the only reason why JB has been “acting all religious” is because classmate “Kim Bazemore kissed him in Sunday/ school.”
  • Josh does his homework while “Vondie and JB/ debate whether the new girl/ is a knockout or just beautiful,/ a hottie or a cutie,/ a lay-up or a dunk.”
  • Josh teases JB and asks if “Miss Sweet Tea” (Alexis) is his girlfriend. JB dodges the question. However, it is clear that he likes her a lot because “his eyes get all spacey/ whenever she’s around,/ and sometimes when she’s not.”
  • Chuck faints, and his wife, Crystal, demands that he see a doctor. Chuck refuses, and they argue. In an attempt to diffuse the tension between them, he says, “Come kiss me.”
  • After Crystal and Chuck stop arguing about Chuck’s health in the bedroom, Josh narrates, “And then there is silence, so I put the/ pillow over my head/ because when they stop talking,/ I know what that means./ Uggghh!” This happens a couple times throughout the book, though it is never illustrated.
  • Alexis wants to know “am I [JB’s] girlfriend or not?”
  • Josh likes Alexis romantically as well, but JB doesn’t know that.
  • JB and Alexis walk into the cafeteria, and she’s “holding his/ precious hand.”
  • JB and Alexis kiss in the library, and Josh sees them. The kiss is illustrated.
  • JB tells Alexis “how much she’s/ the apple of/ his eye/ and that he wants/ to peel her/ and get under her skin.”

Violence

  • JB plays with Josh’s locks of hair. Josh “slap[s] him/ across his bald head/ with [Josh’s] jockstrap.”
  • JB accidentally cuts off five of Josh’s locks of hair. Josh gives JB several noogies over the course of a few interactions.
  • Josh nearly breaks JB’s nose with a hard pass during a basketball game. He does it on purpose because he’s upset with JB, and Josh is suspended from the team. The description is only a couple of words long.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Crystal’s younger brother “smokes cigars.”

Language

  • There are a few rude terms used occasionally by the younger characters. Some terms include crunking, stupid, and jerk.
  • When Josh narrates his plays in games, he talks big about his game and this leads to him occasionally threatening physical contact during the game. For instance, Josh says in part of his beginning speech, “Man, take this THUMPING.”
  • Josh’s nickname is “Filthy McNasty.”
  • JB suggests a bet against Josh. Josh responds with, “You can cut my locks off,/ but if I win the bet,/ you have to walk around/ with no pants on/ and no underwear/ at school tomorrow.”
  • JB responds with, “if you win,/ I will moon/ that nerdy group/ of sixth-graders/ that sit/ near our table/ at lunch?”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • JB only went to one basketball summer camp because “he didn’t want to miss Bible/ school.”
  • The Bells go to church on Sundays before basketball. Josh says, “When the prayers end/ and the doors open/ the Bells hit center stage,” meaning the basketball court. Josh sometimes mentions team prayers or praying to win games.

by Alli Kestler

 

 

Rebound

Ever since Chuck “Da Man” Bell’s father died, Chuck’s turbulent emotions are holding him back from his relationships. When his mom sends him to his grandparents’ house for the summer, Chuck finds healing through basketball. With the help of his friends and relatives, Chuck also learns about his family’s past.

Chuck is an emotional 12-year-old who disobeys his mother and gets into trouble with his friend, Skinny. However, Chuck’s attitude towards life adjusts as his grandparents and cousin, Roxie, teach him wisdom and basketball. Chuck realizes that his grandparents are suffering after their son’s death as well, and Chuck makes an emotional connection with them. This story presents the multifaceted nature of grief through Chuck and his family. The narrative emphasizes this shared humanity rather than suppressing the trauma that the family has endured. The family helps Chuck come to terms with his emotional turbulence, and the end shows him as a happy adult who learned how to cope.

Chuck’s story pairs well with Alexander’s creative narrative styles. The poetry might be off-putting to some readers, but the flow is similar to reading prose fiction thanks to his free verse. The graphic novel panels help build excitement in the basketball/daydream sequences and give a different look into Chuck’s imagination. This book is a good introduction into poetry for younger readers.

Told in free-verse poetry and graphic novel panels, Rebound shows the turbulent healing process after tragedy strikes. As Chuck learns about basketball and how his family members deal with loss, he begins to understand the world outside his emotions. The book is told from Chuck’s perspective, but his grandparents are a large focus of the story. His grandfather, Percy, uses humor and tough love to help Chuck come to terms with his father’s death. However, Percy is serious and kind when Chuck is struggling the most, but Percy never comes off as preachy.

Alexander’s writing style is unique, and it switches between poetry and graphic novel panels. However, the story flows well and has many fast-paced basketball scenes. Alexander uses different poetic techniques to emphasize sounds, emotions, and dialogue. These portions and the graphic novel panels depicting Chuck’s daydreams help enhance his narrative voice and his dreams of success. Rebound is the prequel to Kwame Alexander’s book Crossover, but Rebound can be read as a stand-alone book.

Rebound tells a story about shared humanity and suffering, and it reinforces the need for family in difficult times. Alexander writes interesting and complex family dynamics, and his integration of basketball and comic books into the text feels natural with these themes. He grounds the abstract nature of grief in a manner that is digestible for younger readers. Rebound is a good read because it presents a character who rises above self-pity and gains perspective in dire times. Anyone who has faced a difficult situation will enjoy Rebound’s blend of poetry and graphic novel elements because they effectively portray themes of grief, love, and the power of family.

Sexual Content

  • Chuck’s friend CJ likes Chuck, a topic that is revisited somewhat often throughout the book.
  • CJ pulls Chuck out on the roller rink and “kisses [him]/on the cheek,/and, just like that,/ lets go/of [his] hand,/ and skates away,/and [his] heart/ almost jumps/ out of [his] chest.”
  • Chuck’s grandparents, Alice and Percy, kiss. Percy says to Alice, “Now give me some sugar.”
  • Chuck’s friend, Skinny, meets Chuck’s cousin, Roxie, and calls her “a pretty young thing,” which does not make Roxie or Chuck very happy.
  • Uncle Richard brings his boyfriend to the Fourth of July party.

Violence

  • Skinny mentions that his cousin “Ivan got into a fight” when his team lost a basketball game, but no other context is given.
  • Chuck says, “I remember/my father spanking me/when I was little,” as his mom tries to hit him for smack talking.
  • Chuck’s mom tries to hit him when he talks back. Chuck says, “Her hand/is like/a razor-sharp claw/about to slice/the air/lightning fast/in the direction/of my face, /but I duck/before the blast/almost rips/my head off.”
  • In her way of showing affection, CJ occasionally gives Chuck “a punch/to [his] stomach/that hurts/in a good/kind of way.”
  • Chuck says to his mom, “Some of my friends’ parents got divorced, /remarried, and the new fathers abused the/ kids, and that’s not cool.”
  • On a walk, Percy tells Chuck, “My/mother wasn’t so easy. Used to make me/get a switch from our peach tree, then we/ got whupped good.”
  • When Roxie sees Chuck sitting in the truck, she “punches [Chuck]/ in the arm.”
  • After Roxie and Chuck lose a game, one of the boys on the other team taunts them. The other boy says, “Maybe you should play on a girls’ team,” and Chuck narrates, “She raises/HER fist, / ready to punch, but I grab it, / and get/in HIS face.” Percy pulls them apart before an altercation can occur.
  • While waiting outside the rink, Skinny’s cousin and his friends run over to “this other/ crew of guys/ like they’re about/ to throw down.” It is implied later that they fight off-screen.
  • Ivan walks into the roller rink “with specks/ of blood/ on his shirt/ and a sneaker/ in his hand.” It is inferred that he was in the fight that occurred off-screen, and that someone was seriously injured. No other details of the fight are given.
  • Chuck says that Ivan is bragging about “the beatdown/ they just dished out.”
  • Someone brings a gun to the rink, and everyone scatters.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Before Chuck’s father died, “he promised/to get me/ some fresh sneakers/and let me/taste beer, /as long as/You don’t tell/your mother, Charlie.”
  • At the end of the book, Chuck narrates, “my mom/ let me taste beer/ and it was disgusting.”
  • Skinny has an uncle that “smokes incessantly.”
  • According to Chuck, “Ivan/used to be/pretty cool/and fun/to be around/till he started/smoking/and hanging out/with a group/of delinquents/he met/in juvie.”
  • It is insinuated that the older guys hanging with Skinny’s cousin are drinking alcohol “hidden in/ brown paper bags.”
  • The police stop Skinny and Chuck outside the rink, and they unknowingly have Ivan’s bag containing “three sandwich bags/ filled with/ cannabis.” They are arrested for possession.

Language

  • Words like stupid, sucks, punk, wimp, nerd, loser, and fool are used frequently throughout the book.
  • There are some loud altercations near the beginning of the story when Chuck’s mom yells at Chuck in creative ways. For example, when Chuck defies his mom and slams his door in her face, she yells, “Boy, I am this/ close to wringing your neck.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • After Chuck scores the winning point in a three-on-three basketball game, he thinks, “The gym / roars like / a hyped-up choir / in church /after a sermon.”
  • Of Chuck’s father’s death, Alice says, “There’s a masterplan, and I’m not the / master. We just have to trust in the plan.

by Alli Kestler

Tears of a Tiger

After the basketball game, Andy and his friends just wanted to have a little fun. When they pile into Andy’s car and begin drinking beer, they think Andy’s swerving is funny. The fun ends when Andy plows into a wall, killing Rob, Andy’s best friend and the captain of the Hazelwood High Tigers. No one blames Andy for Rob’s death and soon everyone, except Andy, is moving on.

Andy is consumed with guilt. He can’t forget that one horrifying moment or the desperate screams of his friend’s last cries for help. Andy stops doing his school work. He begins acting out, but everyone thinks that Andy is fine – after all, he’s seeing a psychologist. Will Andy be able to move forward or will this one accident claim the futures of not one Tiger, but two?

Andy is consumed by guilt over Rob’s death. Even though he’s in pain, his friends, his family, and his psychologist think he needs to get over the guilt and get on with life. Andy’s psychologist tells him, “the answer is life, Andy, not death.” Andy begins acting out and crying for help. He thinks, “My heart is bloody, and my soul is on ice… Nobody cares.”

Tears of a Tiger tells the heart-wrenching story of Andy and his friends as they deal with Rob’s death. The story unfolds through conversations, English assignments, diary entries, and prayers. While these mediums give a unique perspective, at first the format is confusing. Through various mediums, the readers will come to understand Andy’s guilt, grief, and depression. Even though Andy desperately needs help, no one is there to bolster him up. In the end, the pain of losing Rob causes Andy to commit suicide.

Tears of a Tiger tackles some heavy topics such as death, depression, drinking and driving, as well as racism. The story will resonate with teenagers, especially those who have ever faced a difficult situation. Even though readers will understand the reasons Andy commits suicide, solutions are never discussed, which ends the story with a hopeless tone. The devastation of both Rob’s and Andy’s death will remain with readers for a long time. Tears of a Tiger is an engaging story that will leave readers questioning life and death, and they’ll be wondering if anything could have prevented Andy’s suicide.

Sexual Content

  • Rob brags that colleges will be, “Knockin’ on my door…to instruct the women in the dorms of the finer points of—shall we say—‘scorin’ and to teach skinny little farm boys what it is, what it is!”
  • Andy’s girlfriend calls a friend to ask about Andy. The friend replies, “I bet he’s in the backseat of his car, kissin’ all over some real sexy mama!!”
  • Rhonda writes a letter to her best friend saying, “Girl, that Tyrone can really kiss!!!!! Makes me want to stand up and shout Hallelujah!” In another letter, Rhonda writes about Tyrone, “That boy turns me on!”
  • When Andy gets out of high school, he plans to “use my lips for kissin’ beautiful women, not the soles of some bald-headed white man’s feet.”
  • When Gerald’s English teacher collects a poetry project, Gerald says, “Yeah, just like an English teacher—poetry turns her on.”
  • Andy’s brother goes to Andy’s grave and talks to him. “And how am I ever going to figure out girls? Do you know some girl tried to kiss me for my birthday? Gross!”

Violence

  • Rob was killed in a “fiery automobile accident.” Rob’s feet “stickin’ through the windshield. His legs was cut and bleedin’ really bad.” Rob was “screamin’ and hollerin’, stuck inside.” Rob’s friends tried to get him out of the car, but “The whole car is in flames, and Rob is still stuck inside, and we can hear him screamin’, ‘Andy! Andy! Help me—Help me—Oh God, please don’t let me die like this! Andy!’ He screamed for what seemed like a long time. Then it was real quiet.”
  • On the first day of junior high, Andy asked Rob a question. “He slowly put the pick in his back pocket, slowly looked at me, and then proceeded to beat the snot out of me. We’ve been tight ever since.”
  • Gerald’s stepdad is abusive. Someone says, “My friend Gerald—his dad beats him—he’s got this big scar on his face from when he had to get stitches when his dad knocked him against a radiator.”
  • Andy thinks about jumping off an overpass, but his girlfriend stops him. Afterward, he said, “‘Thanks.’ Then I kissed her real lightly on the lips and went home.”
  • Andy kills himself. Andy’s blood soaked through the ceiling, which caused his mother to run to his room. “Mrs. Jackson went to her son’s bedroom where Andrew’s body was found with a fatal gunshot wound to the head.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Before the basketball game, Andy put four six-packs in the trunk of his car.
  • Gerald writes an essay saying he would get rid of five-dollar bills. “With a five-dollar bill, somebody’s stepfather can buy a bottle of whiskey, a nickel bag of pot, or a rock or crack. He smokes it, or drinks it, and goes home and knocks his kids around, or his wife… Andy and the guys bought a six-pack of beer. They ended up buying five dollars worth of death.”
  • Andy says that he and his friends would go into stores and bother the white sales clerk because they thought, “we’re all drug dealers.”

Language

  • Crap is used three times. After the accident, Andy felt like “a piece of crap.”
  • When Keisha finds out about her boyfriend’s accident, she says, “Oh my God, Rhonda, I’ve got to go. I’ll get my mom to drive me to the hospital.”
  • After Andy dies, Gerald writes, “You know what really pisses me off? You! You’re a coward and a sellout!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • After the accident, B.J. prays to God. “Is it my fault that Robbie is dead? I wasn’t drivin’… I don’t sleep at night. I keep seein’ the fire and hearin’ his screams and feelin’ so helpless… Was all this done to teach us kids a lesson?” The prayer is said over two pages.
  • B.J. writes a poem praying to “the lord…to send me a lady—someone to love.” The poem is one page.
  • Tyron writes a letter saying that “we didn’t’ die in that accident for a reason. B.J. says it’s because the Lord needed Robbie up there and he needed us down here.”
  • Keisha writes, “Some people say…that killing yourself is a sin and you’ll go to hell for it because you can never ask for forgiveness for that… I hope God is forgiving. I hope God understands that your heart was good, but your pain was so powerful.”
  • B.J. prays and wonders, “Will stupid keep him (Andy) out of Heaven? He never learned the power and hope that comes from Your forgiveness.” The prayer goes on for one and a half pages.

Double Team

Eleven-year-old Amar’e Stoudemire has always had fun playing basketball with his friends. Competing in tournaments with his two best friends, Deuce and Mike, has made Amar’e realize that his true passion is basketball.

Amar’e and his two best friends usually play as a team, but when the competition gets intense, Amar’e thinks that he is the only one capable of getting the ball into the net. Amare’s getting attention from older, better players. When Amar’e gets invited to a special invitation-only tournament, he wonders if ditching his friends is the right thing to do. Will Amar’e’s friends stand by him even if he leaves them behind on the basketball court? In order to keep his friends, will Amar’e need to turn down the opportunity to play in the special tournament?

Basketball fans will enjoy the play-by-play action Amar’e and his friends compete in a tournament. When Amar’e’s friends get angry that he is “hogging the ball,” Amar’e doesn’t try to see things from his friends’ point of view. Instead, he is overconfident and focuses on how his friends aren’t being fair. In the end, Amar’e talks to his mother and brother about the conflict, which allows him to solve the problem and keep his friends. Amar’e brother tells him, “You’ve got to do your thing, but you don’t want to hurt anyone along the way.”

Although Amar’e has positive interactions with his parents, the story focuses on the tournaments. Because the play-by-play action is told from Amar’e’s point of view, he comes off as arrogant. Amar’e is confident that he is the only reason the team wins so he cuts his teammates out of the action. In the end, Amar’e realizes that friendship is more important than winning.

Basketball fans will appreciate Double Team’s easy vocabulary and the black and white illustrations that are scattered throughout the story. Amar’s has positive interactions with his family and works hard. Younger sports fans with enjoy Double Team because of the relatable character and the realistic conflict. Readers who are looking for similar books should try the Zayd Saleem Chasing the Dream Series by Hena Khan.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Holy Finger Roll” is used as an exclamation.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Home Court

Eleven-year-old Amar’e Stoudemire has a lot going on. He loves to go skateboarding in the park. He takes his school work very seriously. He helps out with his dad’s landscaping company. He also likes to play basketball with his best friends – but just for fun.

When a group of older kids starts disrespecting his boys on their neighborhood basketball court, there is only one solution. Amar’e must step in and use his athletic ability and intelligence to save the day. This experience leads Amar’e to realize that basketball is his true passion. This story is based on the life of All-Star NBA sensation Amar’e Stoudemire who overcame many obstacles to become one of the most popular figures in sports today.

Like many readers, Amar’e is interested in a wide range of activities—skateboarding, basketball, and hanging out with his friends. When his friends need him, Amar’e isn’t afraid to take on some trash-talking older kids. Anyone who has been mistreated will relate to Amar’e’s difficulties. Amar’e’s struggles are illustrated with simple black and white drawings which are scattered throughout the book. Amar’e tells his story using easy vocabulary and short paragraphs to create an easy-to-read, entertaining story.

Sports fans will enjoy the play-by-play basketball action. However, the story doesn’t just focus on sports. Amar’e also enjoys learning tricks on his skateboard, helping his father, and doing well in school. Amar’e worries about his history writing assignment on Dr. King. In the end, Amar’e is able to connect Dr. King’s message to his life. He writes, “One person could do a lot, but the more people you have behind you, the more you could accomplish.”

Amar’e’s diverse interests give additional intrigue to the story, but also make the story choppy. One positive aspect of the story is Amar’e’s strong connection with his family and friends. Because the story is written from Amar’e’s point of view, readers will understand why Amar’e believes it’s important to be a good student, a good friend, and a hard worker. Younger sports fans will enjoy Home Court because of the positive message that is delivered by a relatable character. Readers who are looking for similar books should try the Zayd Saleem Chasing the Dream Series by Hena Khan.

Sexual Content

  • While playing a basketball game, Amar’e and his friends huddle up. An older boy tells them to hurry up “unless y’all are making out in there.”

Violence

  • While playing basketball with some older kids, Carlos intentionally tripped Amar’e. “My eyes were on the ball, so I didn’t see Carlos stick out his leg. I sure felt it, though. His shin banged into mine just above my ankle and I tumbled hard onto the pavement.”
  • While playing basketball with some older kids, “Yeti clobbered Duece on a moving pick. It was the bigger player on the court taking out the smallest, and it was hard to miss the foul.”
  • While playing basketball, an older boy “jammed his elbow hard into his lower back. Mike grimaced in pain and lost his dribble.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Some older kids trash-talk Amar’e and his friends. Afterward, one of Amar’e’s friends calls the boys “jerks.” Later Amar’e thinks, “Yeti was hanging on the rim again like a jerk.”
  • When an older boy throws trash on the ground, Amar’e asks, “Shouldn’t you go back to the garbage dump you came from?”
  • An older boy calls Amar’e and his friends “losers.”
  • “What the—” is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Bounce Back

Zayd has been working hard to prove that he can lead his team to the playoffs. When he injures his ankle, he’s forced to watch from the sidelines. Zayd feels as if his basketball dreams will never come true.  As Zayd watches from the bench, he struggles to figure out what his role is. Should he give his teammates advice or just cheer from the sidelines?

Zayd’s story focuses on Zayd’s basketball team as well as his Uncle Jamal’s upcoming wedding. The story shows basketball action and Zayd’s family life. Bounce Back gives readers a glimpse into the life of a large Pakistani family. Every member of Zayd’s family helps with Jamal’s wedding plans, and Zayd discovers that helping choreograph a dance is much like coaching basketball.

Bounce Back has less basketball action and focuses more on the changing dynamics of Zayd’s family. His father has a minor heart attack and has a difficult time finding the energy to exercise. Zayd and his sister think of a clever way to get their grandfather up and moving. The strong family bonds shine through and give the story more depth.

Even though Zayd cannot play, his parents make him support his team by attending practices and games. Zayd struggles with feeling jealous when he watches someone play in his position. Zayd says, “You don’t know how horrible it feels to sit there and watch and not play.” Despite the feelings of jealousy, in the end, Zayd learns the importance of helping his team despite his injury. Zayd’s coach is also portrayed in a positive light and leads his team to the playoffs without screaming or demeaning the players.

Readers can enjoy Bounce Back even if they have not read the previous books in the series. The easy-to-follow plot will engage readers. Zayd is a likable, relatable character that tells his story with humor and honesty. Bounce Back teaches the importance of helping others, even if it is from the sidelines. Some readers who enjoyed the Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream Series may also want to read The Contract Series by Derek Jeter.

Sexual Content

  • When Zayd’s uncle gets married, Zayd asks, “Dude, aren’t you supposed to, like, kiss the bride.” People laugh and then the imam says, “How about they. . . ahem. . . celebrate in private later.”

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Zayd’s mother says, “Oh thank God. Then he sees her “mouthing a prayer.”
  • When Zayd’s grandfather becomes ill, his mother asks someone to “keep my father in your prayers.”
  • Zayd sees his grandmother. “She has her scarf on her hair and is praying. A worn copy of the Quran is sitting next to her.”

No Slam Dunk

Wes Davies only cares about two things in life—his family and basketball. This year’s basketball season gives Wes the chance to be seen by college coaches. But a new teammate Dinero’s selfish play might get in the way of Wes’ goals of them becoming a real team. While Wes tries to navigate difficult teammates, he also worries about his father. Lt. Michael Davies has returned from Afghanistan with secrets and a growing drinking problem. Will Wes be able to overcome selfish teammates? Will he be able to reconnect with his distant father?

No Slam Dunk is a story that might seem very familiar to readers who are fans of Mike Lupica. This story mirrors Travel Team. Both books have the same age boys who love basketball, dads who have problems with alcohol, and a witty best friend. No Slam Dunk’s characters tend to fall flat as they are not fleshed out well. Wes’ mother and best friend are the stereotypical characters found in a book about family; a son who is passionate about a hobby or sport and wants his dad to be in his life, and a mother who loves her son and wants the best for him. While these characteristics are certainly not bad, they are not expanded in any detail, leaving the reader to see dull characters who are no different than any other character they’ve read about.

Although Mike Lupica’s talent as a sports writer is apparent, this novel’s storyline does not measure up to the reader’s expectations. The short chapters alternate between basketball and Wes’s life at home, which makes many of the book’s scenes feel rushed. Every other chapter focuses on basketball play after basketball play, which hinders character development. While Dinero and Wes’s relationship is shown as positive growth in both of their lives, it is one of the only relationships that is nurtured.

Wes’s father, Lt. Michael Davies, has just returned from Afghanistan, and he is dealing with PTSD, isolation, and alcohol abuse. Despite having a difficult time communicating with his father, Wes doesn’t seem to feel anger or any other strong emotions, which is unrealistic. The story looks at the struggle between Lt. Davies and his family superficially and does not dive deeper into how his drinking would truly affect his family.

Although the short chapters and simple vocabulary make No Slam Dunk a good choice for reluctant readers, those who do not enjoy or know about basketball will want to leave it on the shelf. Despite some superficial characters, young basketball lovers will enjoy seeing a character they can identify with.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • One of the men under Wes’s Dad’s command while they were in Afghanistan, describes the events that led to Wes’s Dad having PTSD. The scene is not graphic and lasts two pages. “He takes out the two Taliban guys operating it and climbs in back to where rocket launchers are. That was as far as he got before taking a bullet.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Wes’s dad came home from his second tour from Afghanistan and now has a problem with drinking. “He came home wounded this time, just not in the way that people think of a wounded soldier. And to make the pain go away, he drinks.”
  • After Wes’s second game, he gets home to find his dad on his doorstep. He is acting funny, and after Wes’s mom arrives, she tells him, “Don’t you ever come to this house again after you’ve been drinking.” Later Wes and his mom have a conversation about his dad. She calls him a “happy drunk.”
  • At the end of Wes’s game against the Rockets, his dad shows up extremely intoxicated and embarrasses Wes by yelling about the team’s play in front of the whole gym.

Language

  • While drunk, Wes’s dad yells at the end of a basketball game saying, “Throw my boy the damn ball!” He repeats this one more time.
  • Wes’s dad tells his mom that she makes “a damn fine cup of coffee.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Wes and Dinero are about to play a rematch one-on-one game. Wes tells Dinero that there’s no way he’ll beat him again, and Dinero says, “since it’s Sunday morning, you better say a prayer, dude.”

By Hannah Neeley

 

 

Travel Team

Danny Walker has a head for basketball. With his dad being the famous Richie Walker, a professional basketball player, basketball is in Danny’s DNA. Just as his dad led his seventh-grade travel team to the finals, Danny hopes to have the same chance this year. But when he doesn’t make the team due to his size, those hopes fade. With his dad back in town and a band of unlikely teammates, Danny tries to have an amazing season with a new team.

Travel Team is an exciting story about family and second chances. Danny’s dad comes back to Middletown to get closer to his son and help him develop his basketball skills. His dad is a heavy drinker, but quits to become a better coach and father. Richie teaches the team what it means to play for the love of the game.

The story examines the complicated relationships between parents and children. Danny’s dad has been absent for a lot of his life, but he still hopes for an authentic relationship with him. Although Richie is not a perfect parent, he supports Danny and wants the team to succeed. One of Richie’s flaws is his use of inappropriate language around his wife and his son. Richie is the reason for most of the inappropriate language in this story. While the story includes some explicit language, the story clearly expresses that it is not appropriate language for children. In contrast, Danny’s mom is a character many readers can look up to as an example of a great parent. She understands Danny’s love for the sport and his friends, but she knows when he needs a break. She supports him in his passion for basketball.

Sports lovers will enjoy the detailed play-by-play action. With a balanced mix of characters who play and those who don’t, even readers unfamiliar with the sport will be engaged by the story as they learn about basketball. With an action-packed narrative and funny dialogue between friends, Travel Team is an entertaining read. It does have a relatively familiar sports plot, where the underdogs ultimately come out on top.

Travel Team will engage readers who are looking for a good sports book that also teaches about overcoming obstacles. As the story explores real-life problems, Danny learns the importance of taking responsibility and shows that anyone can become a leader.

Sexual Content

  • Tess, a girl Danny likes, “leaned over and kissed him on the cheek” while they were sitting on the swings in his backyard.

 Violence

  • After Teddy Moran insulted his family, Danny tackled him. After they separated, Danny thought of “Teddy hitting the floor hard as Danny heard people start to yell all around them.” Danny threatens him, “You’re the one who’s going to get hurt.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When his wife asks a difficult question, Richie answers as “he drank down about half his beer in one gulp, like he was incredibly thirsty all of a sudden.”
  • Being dramatic, Richie says the team is “where all the bad boys go when they come out of drug rehab.”
  • Danny’s mom is upset with her husband’s drinking habits. She tells him, it’s “. . . not the children’s fault that you’re still hungover the next night. . . . Quit drinking. Now. . . It’ll be better that way than letting your son be the last one to find out what a drunk you are.”
  • Danny is thinking about parents and how they can be “pissed off” or “hungover.”
  • Richie gets in a car accident in Middletown and tells Danny and his wife that he “wasn’t drunk.” Later, Richie tells his son about the car crash that destroyed his basketball career. “I lost control of the car because I was drunk. . . That was one of the nights I drank a whole six-pack before I got in my jeep.”

 Language

  • Danny’s father, Richie, is one of the few characters who use foul language. Profanity includes: Goddamn, rat’s ass, hell, damn, screw’em, ass, bitching and moaning, for Chrissakes, swear to God, and frigging. Most of these are only used once.
  • Danny describes the park in Middletown, “to feed the butt-ugly ducks.”
  • Danny watches Mr. Ross get upset about try-outs. Danny was “curious to see when Mr. Ross, the most important guy in Middletown, was going to figure out what a jackass he was making of himself.”
  • After the fight, Danny says, “I should have kicked his ass.”
  • Danny says he “could tell how pissed off his mom was” when she is arguing with his father about drinking.
  • Danny uses the word “crap” several times.
  • Coach Kel, an old travel coach of Danny’s, uses “damn” several times. It serves to develop his character.
  • Ross speaks to Ali and Danny about his mistake in not giving Danny a position on his team. He says, “I was so hell bent on maintaining the process.”
  • Danny and Richie talk to each other about Danny coaching the Warriors himself. Danny expresses worry and at one point says “heck no,” to which his dad replies “shut your piehole.”
  • Danny calls the opponents “scumweasels” and “scumwads” while hyping up his team in an important game.

 Supernatural

  • None

 Spiritual Content

  • Richie speaks about planning to start a new basketball team. “It’s like your mom says. You want to make God laugh? Tell Him about your plans.”
  • Richie is talking to his players at the end of a very important game and says, “Thirty seconds in basketball is longer than church.”
  • Danny thinks about his mom and her strange expressions. “God Bless America. It was one of his mom’s expressions when she wanted to swear.”
  • Danny describes his mom’s plans. “His mom was meeting Will’s mom for a girls’ brunch after church on Sunday.”
  • Danny thinks about the possibility of Ty playing for his team. “Having just come from church, he wasn’t sure whether he should be praying for stuff like this, but he was praying hard now that Ty Ross didn’t really hate his guts.”
  • Danny’s teammate Will is sitting on the bench during a game “with a towel on his head that he’d fashioned into some kind of turban.” Danny says to him, “Uh, Mohammed?” Will replies by saying, “I was actually going for that do-rag look.”

By Hannah Neeley

On Point

Zayd worked hard to get on the gold basketball team. He was looking forward to a winning season and playing on the team with his best friend Adam. Zayd’s dream season is not close to reality. The team struggles to work as a team and keeps losing. To make matters worse, Adam decides he does not want to be on the team, even though he’s team captain. When the coach tells Zayd to take point, Zayd is not sure he has the skills to play the position. Zayd wants to lead his team to victory, but he wonders is he will be able to step up.

Readers will be drawn into Zayd’s daily life and his struggles on the basketball court. On Point has less basketball action than the first book of the series. Instead, the story focuses more on Zayd’s family life and the changing relationship between he and his best friend. Even though book one develops the characters, On Point can be read as a stand-alone.

Zayd faces typical dilemmas including how to deal with pressure, changing friendships, and insecurities. One dilemma Zayd faces is when a friend tells him to sign a behavioral slip for his parents, but Zayd knows that he needs to be honest. However, he does think “I suddenly realize that when I got into trouble for skipping violin practice to play basketball it was also Adam’s idea.” Through Zayd’s story readers will learn the importance of speaking up for yourself.

Zayd has a big extended family that love and support each other. The relationship between Zayd’s family members bring humor as well as show the complicated, but positive aspects of family life. Through the family’s daily life, the reader gets a glimpse into the Pakistani culture. Urdu words are scattered throughout the story; however, more context into their meaning would be helpful. The chapters are short, dialogue breaks up the paragraphs, and the word choice makes the text easy to read. On Point would be a good book for sports lovers and the relatable plot would be accessible to reluctant readers.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Oh my god” is used once as an exclamation.
  • Zayd’s sister calls him and his friends “dorks.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Power Forward

Zayd wants to take the basketball world by storm. In order to make his dreams come true, he’s going to have to overcome many obstacles. He knows he’s just a scrawny fourth-grader who weighs fifty-six pounds, but he’s convinced that size won’t get in his way. Zayd needs to step up his game to advance to the gold team. He’s prepared to practice, but his parents want him to focus on practicing the violin. Can Zayd convince his parents to let him pursue his passion?

Power Forward has a straightforward, easy-to-follow plot that is perfect for younger readers who are looking to transition into chapter books. The story focuses on Zayd’s desire to play basketball, but also includes glimpses into Zayd’s family life and integrates the Pakistani culture into the story. Zayd’s family adds humor and depth to the story.

Through Zayd’s experience, readers will be exposed to lessons about family, truthfulness, and the importance of perseverance. Many readers will relate to Zayd because he deals with the difficulty of being small for his age. He shows that one does not need to be at the top of the growth chart in order to be successful in sports. For those looking for a simple sports story, Power Forward is a slam dunk.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Oh my God!” is used as an exclamation three times in the book.
  • A character tells Zayd to explain why he skipped violin practice. “Maybe they’ll understand why you did such a boneheaded thing.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • A character tells someone that she is going to “the mosque to plan the fund-raiser.”

 

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