71 pages 2 hours read

Kwame Alexander

The Crossover

Fiction | Novel/Book in Verse | Middle Grade | Published in 2014

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Summary and Study Guide


The Crossover, by award-winning children’s book author and poet Kwame Alexander, was published in 2014 and won the 2015 Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award Honor for children’s literature. Rebound, a prequel to The Crossover, was published in 2018. 12-year-old African American Josh Bell narrates The Crossover in verse; his stories and rhymes dribble down the page in much the same way he and his twin brother, Jordan, dribble the ball down the basketball court. At six feet tall and with the guidance of their legendary basketball player father, Charles (Chuck) “Da Man” Bell, Josh and Jordan are the stars of their basketball team. One of the only ways people can tell them apart is that Josh has dreadlocks and Jordan has no hair at all: “On the way to the game / I’m banished to the back / seat with JB, / who only stops / playing with my locks / when I slap him / across his bald head / with my jockstrap” (13). The brothers are closely monitored by their mother, Crystal, both at home and at school as she is their school’s assistant principal. Crystal keeps a close eye on her husband, Chuck, as well, watching what he eats and calming his nerves when they attend their sons’ basketball games.

Josh earns the nickname “Filthy McNasty” in honor of his dad’s favorite jazz song. It’s a nickname Josh doesn’t like at first because of the taunts he receives from his classmates, but once he starts “getting game,” his dad shouts his nickname from the bleachers, which makes Josh “feel real good” (8-9). His brother, Jordan, prefers to go by “JB,” as an homage to his all-time favorite basketball player, Michael Jordan, widely known as “MJ.”The only thing Jordan likes better than basketball is betting. When Josh loses a bet to his brother, Jordan gets to cut off one of Josh’s locks, but the scissors slip, and he cuts off such a large chunk that Josh has to cut them all. Josh and Jordan enjoy a tight-knit bond—laughing and playing with their friends and teammates, practicing free throws with their dad, being grossed out by their wildly-in-love parents—until Miss Sweet Tea comes along.

Jordan is immediately smitten with the new girl in school, Alexis. She plays ball, too, drinks sweet tea, and has a crush on Jordan. He’s showering more, sitting with her at lunch, talking with her on the phone, and catching a ride with her and her dad to the basketball games, all of which makes Josh feel left out. With his locks gone and now his brother, Josh struggles to find his footing and regain his confidence. His resentment towards Jordan grows until Josh snaps and throws a basketball in Jordan’s face, almost breaking his brother’s nose. Josh’s mom suspends him from the team.

To make amends, Josh writes a letter to his brother at the suggestion of his dad. Slowly, over time, Jordan begins to forgive him. Josh proves himself to his mother, and she agrees to lift his suspension from the team for the championship game. To get Josh back in shape, Chuck takes his sons to play one-on-one. As he warms up with Josh, Chuck has a heart attack and collapses. His inherited fear of hospitals kept Chuck from seeking medical attention earlier, but now he has no choice. He’ll be in the hospital during the championship game, and he tells his sons that he wants them to play. On the night of the championship game, Crystal receives a phone call at home that Chuck has had another heart attack. She tells the boys to go to the game as she races to the hospital. Jordan decides to follow her on his bike, but Josh is determined to play. It’s what his father wanted. Josh scores the game-winning goal, but his dad dies from complications of a massive heart attack.

Friends and family fill the Bell’s house after Chuck’s funeral. Josh slips outside to shoot free throws, something he and his dad had frequently done: “Dad once made / fifty free throws / IN A ROW. / The most I ever made / was nineteen” (234). The more he shoots, the closer Josh feels to his dad. Just before Josh’s fiftieth free throw, Jordan joins his brother outside. He hands over their father’s championship ring and tells Josh that he’s “Da Man” now. Josh counters that they both are and invites his brother to shoot for number fifty, completing their father’s legacy together.