Contrivances aside, a good-hearted story of gladiators, kings, and kids with dreams.

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KINGS OF THE COURT

Sameer and Vijay are not great basketball players, but they loyally find ways to contribute to their junior high school team.

Sameer is too short, slow, and unskilled to make the team, and it hurts “that the thing he loved to do was not the thing he happened to be very good at.” But he remembers his grandmother telling him, “Sameer, in basketball, as in life, there are many ways to contribute. And you have a lot to contribute. Find your place.” So, microphone in hand, he calls the action for home basketball games, enthusiastically announcing the play-by-play and whipping the crowds into a frenzy for the Gladiators of Gladys Spinoza. But this seems a contrivance to give Sameer a way to contribute, since basketball games are not normally announced in this manner, at least not at this level. Meanwhile his friend Vijay likewise contributes as the mascot. When the coach goes off the deep end at an away game, a Shakespeare-quoting, Henry V–loving drama teacher who doesn’t really know the game steps in to lead. He inspires the team, with help from Vijay and Sameer, and takes them to the playoffs, thanks to a lottery (another contrivance). The fact that the two kids on the sideline are both “little brown guys” is mitigated by the exuberantly multiracial and multiethnic makeup of their school.

Contrivances aside, a good-hearted story of gladiators, kings, and kids with dreams. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4598-1219-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Orca

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.

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  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2014

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Newbery Medal Winner

THE CROSSOVER

Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.

Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.

Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch. (Verse fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-10771-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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A satisfying, winning read.

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    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

BOOKED

Nick Hall is a bright eighth-grader who would rather do anything other than pay attention in class.

Instead he daydreams about soccer, a girl he likes, and an upcoming soccer tournament. His linguistics-professor father carefully watches his educational progress, requiring extra reading and word study, much to Nick’s chagrin and protest. Fortunately, his best friend, Coby, shares his passion for soccer—and, sadly, the unwanted attention of twin bullies in their school. Nick senses something is going on with his parents, but their announcement that they are separating is an unexpected blow: “it’s like a bombshell / drops / right in the center / of your heart / and it splatters / all across your life.” The stress leads to counseling, and his life is further complicated by injury and emergency surgery. His soccer dream derailed, Nick turns to the books he has avoided and finds more than he expected. Alexander’s highly anticipated follow-up to Newbery-winning The Crossover is a reflective narrative, with little of the first book’s explosive energy. What the mostly free-verse novel does have is a likable protagonist, great wordplay, solid teen and adult secondary characters, and a clear picture of the challenges young people face when self-identity clashes with parental expectations. The soccer scenes are vivid and will make readers wish for more, but the depiction of Nick as he unlocks his inner reader is smooth and believable.

A satisfying, winning read. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-57098-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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