69 pages • 2 hours read
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Published by Ember, a Random House Children’s Books imprint, Hoops is a fast-paced young adult novel about basketball. Originally written and published by the American author Walter Dean Myers in 1983, Hoops has remained a popular text due to its relatable protagonist, Lonnie, and Myers’ realistic portrayals of the struggles Lonnie faces. Myers is a prolific, highly regarded author; Hoops was one of his four publications cited when he was awarded the esteemed ALA Margaret A. Edwards Award in 1994 for significant contributions to the field of young adult literature.
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Hoops is narrated by Lonnie Jackson, a young Black man living in Harlem. Lonnie splits his time between his mother’s house and a bedroom at a local motel, the Grant, where he works. A rising basketball star, Lonnie has had many experiences outside of school and off the court that have negatively impacted him: He has been in jail, he sold drugs, and he watched his father leave his mother. Throughout the book, Lonnie struggles to find a path that will allow him to find true success and happiness given the environment he lives in.
Much of the novel follows Lonnie and a team of other Black teenage boys as they compete in a new basketball tournament. Lonnie, Ox, and Paul, among others, form a ragtag team coached by the washed-up former basketball player Cal Jones. Cal is a tough coach at first, and the boys don’t really want to play as a team. This development is paralleled by Cal’s focus on helping Lonnie find his voice as a leader on the team’s offense.
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As the team begins winning games and gaining notoriety, Cal’s past is revealed to Lonnie; Cal lost his place in the basketball world after helping to alter the outcomes of specific games for gambling purposes. Lonnie also builds a friendship with Cal’s former partner, Aggie. Together, Cal and Lonnie work against negative beliefs and attitudes about Black men in U.S. society; this is portrayed specifically through their interactions with Mr. O’Donnel, a White man who wants to control the outcome of the tournament.
Meanwhile, building tension with Lonnie’s girlfriend, Mary-Ann, results in her being physically assaulted by Tyrone, a man who runs an after-hours bar where she works. Mary-Ann and Lonnie figure out that Tyrone has been dealing in stolen checks; they capitalize on this twice, using the money for the basketball team and Cal both times. Mary-Ann and Lonnie become more connected and committed to each other over the course of the novel; Lonnie is eventually comfortable telling her that he loves her.
The climax of the novel takes place at the championship basketball game, where Cal weaves an intricate plan to both launch Lonnie into basketball stardom and to take down Tyrone. Cal bets against his own team, pushing Tyrone to also bet on that outcome. When Lonnie goes in during the second half, he reverses the flow of the game, finding himself and winning the tournament for his team. Tyrone is immediately furious and attacks Cal, stabbing him in an ultimately fatal move. After Cal’s burial, the novel closes on Lonnie and Mary-Ann walking together and talking about the future. Lonnie is determined to make his own way in the world no matter what he encounters.
By Walter Dean Myers