The Crossover is a novel in verse about brotherhood and basketball. Its author, Kwame Alexander, aims to reach a wide variety of readers, including reluctant ones, through sports stories that are really about family, love, and friendship.
The Crossover’s narrator, Josh Bell, captures the highs and lows of adolescence through vivid descriptions of heart-pounding three-pointers and monotonous games spent on the bench. Basketball provides the story's structure since its main events take place during a spectacular season for Josh’s highly competitive team. Josh's "Rules for Basketball," as well as descriptions of important games, repeat throughout the novel.
Brotherhood, as well as other aspects of family life, are just as central to the novel. Throughout the novel, Josh struggles to reconnect with his twin brother, Jordan, another family basketball phenom whose “crossovers make even the toughest ballers cry.” Though Jordan never had Josh’s same passion for basketball, Josh grows increasingly frustrated by Jordan’s wish for a separate life, one that’s disconnected from his twin’s love of basketball.
When Jordan begins dating “Miss Sweet Tea,” the new girl at school, Josh feels betrayed and isolated, and he takes it out on Jordan on the court. The novel charts Josh and Jordan’s eventual path towards reconciliation, while at the same time delivering ominous hints about another member of the family: the boy’s father, a former basketball star who had NBA potential. Throughout the novel, Josh hints that his dad is seriously ill. However, despite dizzy spells and his wife’s warnings, Mr. Bell refuses to see a doctor. His refusal, the brothers’ argument, and Josh’s hopes for a championship season collide during Josh’s final game.
The Crossover, which received praise from poets and fiction writers alike, won the 2015 Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award Honor. Joyce Sidman, a former Newbery Award winner for poetry, called it a “masterful mixture of rhythm and heart.” Its rhythm and character are apparent. Alexander’s fresh metaphors (“Your game so sweet, it’s a crêpes suzette,” for example) show a sly sense of humor. His concrete poems play with font style and size to mimic a basketball game’s fast and frenetic pace. However, readers also note the novel’s strong depiction of family love and the power of connection. Josh and Jordan’s strong bond, as well as their evident love for their parents, propels the plot just as much as the brothers’ basketball dreams.
Alexander was inspired to write the novel, as he says, because “I simply wanted to write a good story about sports, family, friendship, and that first crush, all things that were important to me when I was 12.” In another interview with Sports Illustrated Kids, he elaborated on his reasons for writing: “I guess the first thing is I wanted to talk about the relationship between fathers and sons. So that's sort of where it started. And I really wanted to talk about it in a fun and funny sort of way because when I grew up with my dad, he was really a big part of my life. He taught me how to play basketball, he taught me how to play tennis, and so I wanted to show the relationship between a dad and a son. And then I thought, I really wanted boys to like and read the book, so let me choose a sport that I think a lot of boys are involved in, but one that girls can play, as well. So, I thought, basketball! And then I think the last thing is, I wanted to tell a story about family. I wanted to talk about the importance of family and the value of family and how you really have to appreciate your mom, your dad, your sisters and brothers in this life.”
He decided that he would tell the story of Josh and Jordan Bell through poetry because “poetry would mirror the energy, the movement, the pulse of a basketball game the best. I’ve always thought that if you want to get reluctant readers engaged with literature, start with poetry.”