* These summaries are in prose, though Alexander composed his novel in the structure of individual poems of varying length and style. They are in the first person—Josh Bell telling the story—except for the “Basketball Rule” poems and a couple of other sections, which are in the second person.
Josh moves, grooves, crisscrosses, flips, dips, and slips across the court to swoop and swoosh the basketball into the hoop.
Josh's nickname is Filthy McNasty because his game is acclaimed, his hair is long, and his height is tall. He boasts that he is the next Kevin Durant, LeBron, and Chris Paul.
His dad likes to gloat that he played with the greats, but Mom laughs that Dad is old-school whereas Josh is fresh and new. Josh would not like it if anyone else called him “fresh and new,” but Mom is talking about his game. When he is playing, he is “on fire,” and when he shoots, “[he] inspire[s]” (5).
How I Got My Nickname
Dad loves jazz music; one day, they were listening to Horace Silver, and Dad said Silver played the piano “fast and free” (6), just like Josh and his twin brother on the court. Josh thought it was only okay, but Dad told him to recognize greatness.
Dad then said he was going to dedicate the next song to Josh—the best song, the funkiest song—“Filthy McNasty.”
Josh was not sure of the name because kids made fun of him, and Mom laughed that it made sense since his room was always messy. But as he got older and became famous on the court, Dad started calling out to him to “Keep it funky, Filthy!” (9) and he felt good about his nickname. Filthy McNasty, he claims, is a “MYTHical MANchild” (10) who dribbles, fakes, then takes; who goes fast on BLAST; who, when he gets hot, has a SLAMMERIFIC SHOT. He is “right / in your face / mcNASTY” (10).
Josh’s twin brother Jordan is also a baller, and the only thing he loves more than that is betting. It’s annoying and funny to Josh.
Jordan wants everyone to call him JB. His favorite player is Michael Jordan, but he downplays it. Josh knows it is, though; JB has one pair of Air Jordans for every month of the year, not to mention MJ socks, sheets, pencils, and hats. Once, he bought a toothbrush MJ might have used on eBay. Josh laughs that JB is stalking MJ, not just sweating him.
On the way to the game
Josh is banished to the back seat with JB, who plays with his dreads until Josh hits him with his jockstrap.
Five Reasons I Have Locks
5) Some of Josh’s favorite rappers have them.
4) They make him feel like a king.
3) No one else on the team has them.
2) People can know he is Josh, not JB.
1) Mainly because he saw the clip of his Dad on ESPN’s Best Dunks Ever soaring into the air with his “long twisted hair like wings” (14) and knew that, one day, he’d need his own wings to fly.
Mom tells Dad
Mom tells Dad he is too confrontational at the boys’ games and has to sit in the top row of the bleachers. Dad tells Filthy to follow through on his jump shot. JB reminds Mom not to give him hugs since he is almost in high school.
Dad tells his son they ought to treasure their mother’s love, but the boys roll their eyes that Mom comes to all their games and is the assistant school principal.
Josh asks if Dad misses playing and Dad says that even though he does, his playing days are over and he needs to take care of the family. Josh wonders if he gets bored and if he should get a job. Dad chuckles and chides Josh that he saved his basketball money and they’re fine. He has some feelers out about coaching, but mostly, he likes keeping up with Josh and JB.
Josh then asks why Dad doesn’t wear his championship ring more, and Dad replies that he wears it when he wants to flex. Josh wants to wear it, but Dad jokes that he can only wear it if he brings home the trophy this year.
Josh suggests that Dad write a book like Vondie’s mom did. Dad asks what it would be about, and when Josh says it could be about the rules Dad always tells him and JB, Dad smiles that it would be called “I’m Da Man” by Chuck Bell.
Basketball Rule #1
In the game of life, “your family is the court” and “the ball is your heart” (20). No matter how good you are, you always have to leave your heart on the court.
JB and I
The brothers are almost thirteen, identical except that Josh is taller and has dreads and JB shaves his head, and Josh wants to go to Duke and JB wants to go to Carolina. If they “didn’t love each other, / [they'd] HATE each other” (23). Josh is a forward, a better slasher, and is faster, whereas JB is a shooting guard and a better jumper. They pass well to each other.
During the summer, Josh went to a few summer camps, but JB went to only one, saying he didn’t want to miss Bible School. Josh knows that JB cares more and more about girls and less and less about basketball because Kim kissed him in Sunday School.
At the End of Warm-Ups, My Brother Tries to Dunk
Josh takes off down the court, showing off, and slams the ball so hard that the fiberglass trembles. Dad cheers.
The gym is crowded and the air is fragrant with popcorn and sweat. Mom, a.k.a. Dr. Bell the Assistant Principal, talks to teachers. Coach does a Phil Jackson impersonation; JB and Josh want to laugh.
The whistle sounds, players gather, and the referee tosses the jump ball.
On the court, JB loves to taunt and talk trash like Dad, but Josh is silent so he can “Watch / React / Surprise” (26). Only in his head does he talk, which is in the form of a play-by-play.
The two-and-oh Wildcats for Reggie Lewis Junior High are in Game Three. Vondie Lewis has the ball. Hopes are high; they can’t stop and won’t stop until they get the championship trophy.
Josh passes to his brother, the Jumper. JB is special, as is Josh, and it doesn’t hurt that Chuck Bell is their father. Josh delights in his nasty crossover and knows he’s about to put on a show.
“A simple basketball move / in which a player dribbles / the ball quickly / from one hand / to the other” (29). When done right, this can break an opponent’s ankles. Dad taught Josh to do a soft cross first to see if the opponent falls for it, followed by a hard crossover.
Josh gives a SHAKE and a FAKE. Number 28 is reading him like a book, but he turns the page, watches him look, and makes him shook. He is breaking, braking, and now, the kid is took. No one expects him to pass, but there is Vondie, so he serves him the alley-oop.
The Bet, Part One
Coach is not worried even though they are down by seven at halftime. Vondie starts dancing the snake, Coach puts on music, and they’re all doing the Cha Cha Slide. Josh sees JB and can tell he is in a betting mood.
Ode to My Hair
Josh waxes poetic about his dreads, saying if they were gold he’d mine it, each day he unwinds them, these locks he designed them, and the bet JB wants—he’ll decline it.
The Bet, Part Two
JB bets that if the score is tied and it comes down to the last shot and he gets it and doesn’t miss, then he gets to cut off Josh’s hair. Josh bets, in a serious tone, that if he wins, then JB has to walk around lunch at school naked. The other boys laugh.
JB changes the terms: if Josh loses, JB cuts off one lock. If Josh wins, then JB moons the nerdy sixth graders.
Josh is reluctant, but he can tell this is a legendary bet, so he takes it. The game is tied; JB makes the shot, and the gym explodes.
In the locker room
JB cackles and comes up to Josh. Josh can see the scissors in his hand. Josh loves this game so much—even though he sat on the bench in foul trouble, JB made the shot, and he lost the bet.
The team gathers around him and starts chanting “Filthy! Filthy! Filthy!” Josh can’t hear the snip but he does hear everyone go crazy.
“An unexpected, / undesirable event; / often physically injurious” (39). A calamity is JB being silly, playing around, accidentally putting off five locks. It is Mom almost having a fit when she sees Josh, and now Dad has to take him to the barbershop and have the rest cut off.
From the title, cover, and summary of the novel The Crossover, it is clear that this is a book about sports for young people, but what is less clear is that it’s going to be told in verse. However, as soon as the reader begins embarking on Josh Bell’s journey, they realize they are doing so through poetry. Alexander told an interviewer that his novel was rejected over twenty times because of the “disconnect” between a sports novel and poetry, but that it was important for him to pursue. He explained his thought process: “So, how do we hook kids who are reluctant readers? Well, poetry is a vehicle. I believe it can be the bridge…to take our kids to a more higher level of appreciation for language and literature.” He also said that “I figured that I would write it with poetry because poetry is something I've always loved reading. The second reason is I wanted to sort of mirror a basketball game. I thought, when you play basketball, you're dribbling and you're running fast and sometimes you stop, sometimes you're dunking or shooting. Basketball, when you're playing really well, is like poetry in motion. I thought I could best mirror the game of basketball with poetry.”
The poetry featured in The Crossover isn’t your typical iambic pentameter. There is a great deal of variety, including free verse, haiku, lists, found poems, unrhymed couplets, and passages with the rhythm of jazz or rap. Alexander is “in love with poetry. And there are so many different forms of poetry. And I believe I wanted to have that sort of variety, that sort of diversity of verse, so that kids could sort of figure out what they were interested in and what they could latch on to and perhaps mimic some of these poems themselves.” Some of the most compelling poems are those that mirror the experience of playing or watching basketball. Through the structure of the poem—the way the words stop and start like dribbling; how capital letters amp up the electricity; how spreading out letters or words suggests movement and the passage of time; how staccato bursts of words convey the beat of a heart or the bounce of a ball—Alexander creates emotion, imagery, and meaning.
Alexander has stated his ambition for the novel thusly: “I believe that [boys] don't have anything that's relatable. Basketball, sports is the hook, but once you get them hooked, family, love, friendship, brotherhood, you know, jealousy, all the things that girls are interested in, all the things that we're interested in. We're all interested in the same things, but I think sometimes with boys you have got to — you have to reach them a different way.” Indeed, the story of Josh Bell is one that young readers—perhaps especially boys—can absolutely relate to. All of the pangs of growing up are here: family issues; the changing relationship with a close friend (in this case, brother); jealousy and confusion over girls; success and failure; making mistakes and paying the price and learning from them.
The novel is a loose bildungsroman in which the reader follows a central character through his or her formative year(s) and their intellectual/spiritual/psychological development. In this case, that character is Josh Bell, and we have the privilege of exploring his interior state as he goes through his eighth-grade year. He’s funny, bright, creative, talented, and fiercely loyal to his family. Whereas his twin Jordan begins to temper his love of basketball and family with his new girlfriend, Josh cannot brook any disruption to the life he loves so ardently. Of course, as perspicacious readers, we can see that if Josh had a girlfriend, he might devote a little less time to basketball and family, too. He, his brother, and his friends are in an interstitial time in their lives: they’re between childhood and young adulthood, and it’s only natural that some of them are going to start moving at a different pace than the others. Josh isn’t immature; he does indicate numerous times that he is jealous and would like a girlfriend, but he simply isn’t yet experiencing what JB and Vondie are.
Alexander does an excellent job of allowing the reader to sympathize with both Josh and JB. Josh’s feelings make complete sense: he’s used to things being a certain way—his twin brother is his best friend, they’re both stars on the basketball court, etc. Now, something has changed—Josh is eating lunch alone, walking home from school alone, and realizing that he too would like a girlfriend. But, of course, JB is not the enemy: it is perfectly normal that he wants to spend time with Alexis, who, while a minor character, is a vibrant and compelling one. He isn’t intending to hurt Josh’s feelings—he’s just growing up and expanding his interests.