The Crossover Summary

Kwame Alexander

The Crossover

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

The Crossover Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.

American author Kwame Alexander published The Crossover in 2014. The young adult novel was awarded both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Honor Book award. The story is told in verse rather than prose and tells of a pair of African-American twin brothers whose passion for basketball takes different paths as they enter junior high school and face various conflicts in their lives. Josh Bell, nicknamed Filthy McNasty by his father (after a jazz song by Horace Silver), serves as the narrator of the book. JB (Jordan) is his twin brother. The boys’ father, Chuck “Da Man,” is a former professional basketball player, a star in the Euroleague, who remains well known and admired long after having played his last game on the court.  Symbolically referencing changes that pull the brothers apart, the title of the book is a basketball move in which the player dribbles the ball while alternating hands in order to change his direction.

As the story opens it is the beginning of the twelve-year-old brothers’ seventh grade year at Reggie Lewis Middle School. Their mother, Crystal, is the assistant principal of their school.  Crystal, in what turns out to be a bit of foreshadowing, carries with her a concern about the way her husband takes care of himself, and about his avoidance of doctors. The boys are very actively involved in basketball but Josh more than JB wishes to pursue the game at the level his father once did. Josh has a devotion to the game that goes beyond the recognition and financial rewards it could bring. He is comfortable with where he finds himself in life. The first sign of change in Josh’s life is when JB finds a girlfriend and begins spending more of his time with her than with his family. Josh’s feelings of isolation from his brother are mixed with jealousy and ultimately anger. Increasing his anger is a bet he makes with JB which ultimately leads to JB accidentally cutting his twin’s dreadlocks, forcing Josh to have his hair shaved.

As the chasm between the brothers widens, Josh takes his anger onto the court. He deliberately throws a solid pass at his brother’s face, which almost breaks JB’s nose. This leads to Josh being suspended from playing basketball. For most of the rest of the story there is a clear distancing between Josh and JB. Meanwhile, at only thirty-nine years of age, Chuck’s health is in decline.  He suffers coughing fits and mild heart issues. As time goes on, his years of neglecting his health catch up with him and he suffers a severe heart attack and is hospitalized. Josh begins to realize that his father’s stardom as an athlete, which brought with it a sense of invincibility, contributed to his fate. Two more heart attacks follow, leading to Chuck’s death. A part of Josh seems to have died with his father. There seems to be no joy left in his life. In time, however, Josh becomes aware that he and his brother still have each other. JB feels similarly and the icy relationship between the twins begins to thaw.

Alexander’s poetic style varies somewhat throughout the book. Some of the poems are traditional prose poems, while at other times the passages are more in the style of rap, particularly when Josh talks of action on the basketball court. Still others show his ability as a wordsmith and he delves into the meanings of certain words. Whatever the poetic format, the use of verse serves as a bridge between the ever-changing external world in which Josh lives and his inner life, which, given his age and the circumstances surrounding him, is also in a constant state of flux. While The Crossover is largely a coming of age story, other themes are dealt with in often subtle ways. Racial injustice is not in the forefront of the novel, but is touched upon, for example when, during a simple trip driving to get to a game, Chuck is pulled over for something very minor. At another point Josh’s mother warns him that bad consequences often result when a young black man is not able to control his anger.

The New York Times Sunday Book Review recognizes that in spite of the use of concise poetic language and of basketball as the major overarching theme, The Crossover is a book of wide scope: “The biggest surprise of The Crossover is that, for all the bells and whistles of a young man’s game, it is most boldly and certainly a book about tenderness. It’s the trigger that causes a rift between the brothers, and what will ultimately heal them. More important, readers should observe the careful way Alexander builds the small moments between the brothers… the way they refuse to let go of each other, regardless.”