31
Oct
18

A book about baseball that suddenly became a book about so much more. CBR10 review 41.

UnknownI’ve read a whole bunch of Kwame Alexander’s poetry stories — he writes for tweens and teens in verse, but it never feels boring or difficult. The plot moves quickly and easily and his topics are usually difficult ones. Divorce, death of a parent, unrequited crushes, adoption, the end of a friendship, etc. And it seems like his best books — for me, that would include The Crossover, Booked, and Rebound — revolve around sports. Basketball. Soccer. And now, baseball.

Noah is in high school and is in love with one of his two best friends, Sam. He’s been in love with her since the third grade, but she has a boyfriend. Cruz is huge and handsome and is a star on the varsity baseball team. Noah can’t compete with that, right?

Noah’s other best friend is Walt, but you can call him Swing, because someday he’s going to be the biggest baseball star the world has ever seen. He’s just not quite there yet.

Noah and Walt spend their days obsessing about girls, music (particularly jazz), baseball, and the mystery of who is leaving American flags all over town. When Noah’s parents go out of town, Walt moves in, and comes up with a plan to have Noah finally tell Sam how he feels about her.

And even though the words are in verse and prose, the conversations ring true for me. These boys talk like teenage boys about the random nonsense that teenage boys talk about. When talking about the mysterious flags all over town:

My soon-to-be stepfather things Amazon’s behind it. Some kind of big advertising thing they’re doing.

To sell flags?
Maybe they’re making a play for the US Army?

That’s ridiculous.
Why? I mean, they own everything. The end of the world as we know it, and it starts with Whole Foods and drones.

Not your typical poetry, right?

Later, the boys have a run-in with some local police officers, after Walt throws a big party at Noah’s house. And the topic switches over to police and Black Lives Matter and I found it extremely well done:

Men in Blue

Police officers
don’t say freeze
like they do
in the movies.
They just make you
freeze in a fear
cloaked
in deep, dark dread.
And they don’t
look menacing
all the time.
Some look like
they might actually
be a little gentle,
a little on the kind side.
But then
there’s a gun
pinned to their hip,
that makes your heart pound
so loud,
your ears burst.
And you’re not sure
what to do,
or what to say,
or how to move.
What if it’s
the wrong move?
Some look so stern,
like they don’t
have emotions
or a heart
that beats red.
But you wonder
if they might
smile when they’re home
with their own families,
playing with their own kids.
Like the guy in front of me.
He has no expression,
but under his straight lips
and steely stare,
someone must make him smile,
someone must make him love.
He loves somebody.
He’s gotta love somebody.
And I hope he remembers
somebody loves us too.

Eventually, this books becomes about a lot more than baseball. Its about race and police. And about PTSD and the veterans. And in true Alexander (and co-author Mary Rand Hess) fashion, the end of this book destroyed me. I did not expect a book about boys who wished they were better at baseball to hit me so hard.

This book is categorized as YA, and I would say its not for anyone younger than 9th grade. Its honest brutality is hard to take, even when it is beautifully presented.

 


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