Wednesday, May 4, 2016

"Booked" by Kwame Alexander

Booked by Kwame Alexander. April 5, 2016. HMH Books for Young Readers. 320 pages. Ages 10-12.

Twelve-year old Nick Hall seems to have things pretty good. Along with his best friend Cody, he dreams of being a soccer star and spends much of his time practicing and playing in tournaments. But soccer isn't his only interest; he also has a crush on April, a girl in his class.

The only minor problems Nick has is his father's insistence that he read and study the dictionary that he wrote, and getting reprimanded at school for constantly daydreaming in class. 

Then, one day Nick is blindsided when his parents announce that they are getting separated and his mother is moving to another state to follow her dream of training horses. From there, things just seem to get worse. Why can't his parents stay together and let his life go back to normal? As Nick struggles with all the disappointments and changes, he finds friendship and support from unexpected sources, including the quirky, former rapper, school librarian.

My Thoughts
Let me preface this by saying I generally don't personally care for "alternative formats," such as books in verse, graphic novels, books without proper punctuation, etc. If I can make myself start reading it, and the writing and story are good enough, I can get past the format. This is one such book. In fact, Kwame Alexander's previous book, The Crossover, was the first book written in verse I actually read (and enjoyed). While I found The Crossover to be more compelling and powerful, Booked is almost as good.

The story is very realistic, with issues that many tweens and young teens can relate to: first crushes, disliking assigned reading, frustration with parental expectations, disappointments, and coping with divorcing parents. Unlike The Crossover, there is less actual sports action in Booked, and the rap rhymes come from an unexpected source:  the school librarian.  As a former teacher and future librarian, it will probably come as no surprise that Mac was my favorite character. 

I LOVED that the author discarded all old-fashioned librarian stereotypes and made Mac cool and quirky, a former rapper with a Grammy to prove it, and able to relate to his students problems, and promote reading all at the same time.  I also liked how Nick's English teacher became an unexpected ally, choosing not to embarrass him and expose his secret crush, even helping him out by bringing April to visit him.  It was also nice seeing so many other great middle-grade and YA books mentioned, and hopefully readers of this book might be inspired to read some of those as well.

The one little thing that bugged me was the implication that Nick's parents HAD to chose between his career (linguistics professor) or her career (horse trainer), as though there were no colleges his dad could work at in Kentucky. As someone who lives smack in the middle of Kentucky horse country, I can assure you we have not one, but *three*, large universities, as well as a handful of private liberal arts colleges, within an hour's drive. While obviously the issues that led to their divorce would be more complicated that this alone, I take issue with the subtle implication that Kentucky has absolutely nothing to offer beyond horse racing. Aside from this, I think the story was very well-written and realistic.

I think most tweens & teens could relate to, and enjoy, this book.  Obviously fans of The Crossover would most likely enjoy this book as well, and fans of sports fiction in general. But I would not limit this only to those who play or enjoy watching sports; I never played sports and don't really enjoy watching most sports, but I still find I really enjoy books and movies that are related to sports. I think this book would be a good choice for some reluctant readers, and for those (like me) who are reluctant to try books written in verse. On the flip side, fans of books written in verse would find this a good transition into sports-related fiction. Though the suggested age range is 10-12, I think that is a bit narrow; I think some younger readers as well as some older readers would still be able to relate to Nick's story and enjoy this book.

Other Books By This Author
Kwame Alexander also wrote 2105 Newbery award winner and Coretta Scott King honor book The Crossover; the YA novel He Said, She Said, books of poetry for teens and adults, and several picture books.

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