58 pages 1 hour read

Kwame Alexander


Fiction | Novel/Book in Verse | Middle Grade | Published in 2016

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Summary and Study Guide


Kwame Alexander’s Booked is a young adult novel in verse about the life of Nick Hall, an eighth-grader and soccer aficionado who struggles to meet his parents’ expectations and honor his own self-identity in the wake of his parents’ separation. The book is both a sports novel and a reflection on Nick’s experiences struggling with an injury and major changes in his home life. The book is geared toward 10- to 12-year-old readers and includes common tropes of the young adult novel—sports, bullying, a teen crush, and exploration of self and identity. Alexander, who also wrote the Newberry Award-winning verse novel The Crossover, tells a coming-of-age tale in Booked with a sequence of over 200 poems. This guide uses the 2016 hardcover first edition. 

Plot Summary

Nick begins his story on what seems to be a normal day. He wakes up late after spending the evening playing soccer video games late into the night and hears his parents arguing downstairs. Later, he is caught daydreaming in class—a common occurrence. Nick writes about his family, revealing that his father is a linguistics professor and wordsmith who has written his own dictionary of uncommon but meaningful words. Even though Nick absolutely hates books and reading, and would much rather spend his time playing soccer, Nick’s father regularly assigns Nick reading homework from his dictionary and obsessively tracks Nick’s academic progress.

Nick’s mother is a horse lover, and at the beginning of the novel, she is offered a high-ranking job out of state caring for racehorses. When she decides to take the job, Nick’s life turns upside down—realizing that his family is no longer unified, he struggles to understand the problems that led to his parents’ separation.

Meanwhile, at school, Nick and his best friend, Coby Lee, who loves football and hates books just as much as Nick, are targeted by twin bullies Dean and Don Eggleston, who give them never-ending amounts of grief. Coby helps Nick prepare for an important soccer tournament in Texas, where Nick hopes he can make a name for himself. Nick is impressed by Coby’s strength against the Egglestons; unlike Nick, Coby fights back against the boys, which turns their attention to Nick, letting Coby off the hook.

Nick finds some unlikely allies as he struggles against his bullies and with the knowledge of his parents’ separation. The first is the school librarian, Mr. Skip McDonald (“The Mac”), who used to work as a rap producer. Unlike any librarian Nick has ever met, Mr. McDonald convinces Nick to start reading and writing, to give him inspiration to help with his problems. Another ally is Nick’s crush, April Farrow, who supports him as he deals with emotions and his relationship with his father, who is cold, unforgiving, and always disappointed that his son’s interests don’t align with his own.

More conflict arises when Nick is diagnosed with a perforated appendix and must skip the tournament in Dallas. When he returns from the hospital, he finds that his mother has come back home—he begins to believe that his parents might be getting back together. However, just as things seem normal again and Nick prepares to return to school, his parents announce they are getting a divorce. Devastated, Nick seeks help from his friends and Mr. McDonald to cope.

Nick realizes that the only solution he has to cope with his struggles is to embrace his inner strength to better his life despite the hardship. He professes his love to April, bonds with his father over the books recommended by Mr. McDonald, and uses his words to conquer the Egglestons. Nick finds healing in telling his own story, and along the way mends many of the relationships that troubled him, making new meaning of his life.