The Moves Make the Man
is a young adult sports novel by American author Bruce Brooks first published in 1984. Set in 1961 during the Civil Rights Movement, the story focuses on Jerome Foxworthy, an African-American boy nicknamed Jayfox, who just became the only black kid in his new school due to integration efforts. He befriends a white boy named Braxton Rivers III, nicknamed Bix, a talented baseball player known for his blunt nature. Despite the differences between them, the two form a tight bond. Exploring themes including racism, domestic violence, and coping with family tragedy, The Moves Make the Man
is one of Brooks’ most acclaimed books. It won multiple awards including best book of 1984 from School Library Journal, the Boston Globe Horn Book Award, ALA Notable children’s book, and a Newbery Honor. It is a mainstay of school libraries and literature classes.The Moves Make the Man
opens with Jerome narrating, telling how he’s determined to write down Bix’s story in the aftermath of the boy’s disappearance. Jerome remembers when he first saw Bix, playing baseball for an all-white team. Bix was a talented player, and was visited by his mother, who seemed to be behaving strangely. In the second chapter, the narrative truly begins, as Jerome is told he must attend a previously whites-only school as part of government-mandated integration. When he arrives, he has a couple of racially-tinged confrontations, but overall, the school is welcoming. He only runs into serious problems when he decides to join the basketball team. He’s very skilled, and his playing style is far flashier than the other players. This angers the racist coach, who quickly benches him from the playoffs. Not long after, Jerome’s mother suffers an injury that sends her to the hospital for an extended period, leaving him and his two younger brothers to fend for themselves. He signs up for a home economics class so he can learn to cook, since he needs to fix the evening meal for the family. When he arrives in class, he’s told there’s another boy in class, but he’s not there that day. It turns out to be Bix, and the two are partnered together. Their first assignment is to bake a mock apple pie, and they work together well. Their pie is deemed to be the best in the class, but this makes Bix angry. He says the success was because of a lie, and he never lies.
Bix leaves the class after his outburst, but Jerome eventually tracks him down at a local basketball court. Bix is prickly at first, but eventually, Jerome offers to teach him to play basketball and the two become friends. Bix is a fast learner, but is reluctant to incorporate Jerome’s tricks, which include fake-out moves and gestures designed to confuse opponents. Bix calls them lies, something he’s consistently opposed to. Bix storms off the court, ending their lessons, and they don’t see each other for a while again. They eventually reconnect when Bix finds Jerome and asks him to referee a one-on-one basketball game between Jerome and his stepfather. The outcome of the game will determine whether Bix is allowed to see his mother, who is in a mental institution. Bix is determined to win, but he doesn’t want to use the moves he considers lies. Jerome agrees to referee, but when the game takes place, Bix and Jerome are both surprised to see how good a player the stepfather is. He uses fakes and “moves” that leave Bix trailing early on, but the game turns tense when Bix’s stepfather blames him for his mother’s breakdown. He accuses him of causing it with his strange honesty. Bix is determined to prove him wrong, and uses the “moves” he was previously opposed to, faking his stepfather out and winning the game.
When Bix goes to see his mother, Jerome comes with him for support. Bix’s mother turns out to be severely mentally ill, so much so that she doesn’t recognize him at first. When he’s leaving, she has a moment of awareness and begins screaming for her son. However, Bix has already left the hospital and made a quick disappearance. Jerome describes how he and Bix’s stepfather looked all over for him, but eventually traced him to a bus leaving for Washington DC. Neither of them were able to track Bix after that. Jerome got a postcard from Washington DC a few months later that had no message, but he believes that it was from Bix. The story ends with Jerome stating that “moves” or lies always have consequences, both for the person telling the lie and the person hearing it.
Bruce Brooks is an American author of young adult and children’s literature. He is the author of fifteen works of fiction, including the four-book The Wolf Bay Wings
series, about a youth hockey team, as well as five nonfiction books about sports and nature. Four of his books have received honors from the American Library Association.