“Dunkalicious” Josh Bell “dribbles/ fakes/ then takes/ the ROCK to the/ glass, fast” in this dynamic sports novel in verse by Kwame Alexander, who lives in Northern Virginia. Schooled by their father, a former pro, Josh and his twin brother, JB, are the popular stars of their junior high basketball team. Soon, though, a new girl in “tight jeans and pink Reeboks” wreaks havoc with their close bond, and Josh finds himself alone. Alexander writes with verve and grace, using rap to capture the fast-moving action of a game, while exploring Josh’s wider world and feelings in nuanced free verse. Vivid imagery and snippets of dialogue flesh out the portrait of a loving, bantering family, with Mom a firm, supportive educator and Dad a lively teller of bad jokes and stories. Josh’s worries compound when Dad’s health problems escalate as the team drives for the championship. The ending is unexpected and powerful, with Josh applying Dad’s basketball rule to life: “A loss is inevitable/ like snow in winter./ True champions/ learn/ to dance/ through/ the storm.” Alexander’s rhyming picture book “Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band” was a finalist in 2012 for an NAACP Image Award . He’s at the top of his poetic game in this taut, complex tale of the crossover from brash, vulnerable boy to young adult.
By Kwame Alexander
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $16.99.