Author: Kwame Alexander
Target Ages: 10 and up
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Novel in Poetic Verse
It does not take
to understand that
when you subtract
from the equation
ONLY. Three. Weeks.
but Dallas is in one.
ONLY your stomach is shattered
and your dream’s undone.
ONLY not playing soccer
makes the pain seem severe.
ONLY your eyes can’t conceal
tear after tear.
ONLY your ship is sinking
and you’ll miss all the fun.
ONLY. Three. Weeks.
but Dallas is in one.
What happens to a dream destroyed?
Does it sink
like a wrecked ship in the sea?
Or wade in the water
like a boy overboard?
Maybe it just floats
around and around…
or does it drown?
Fast and free
On the checkered ball
On the goal
Ten yards to go
Can’t nobody stop you
Can’t nobody cop you…
Nobody can stop Nick Hall—he’s a star on the soccer team, cruising in school and getting ready to ask out a girl of his dreams. But then a bombshell announcement shatters his world.
Booked has a strong authentic middle grade voice. Nick, the protagonist, has the passion, sass, and vulnerability typically found in this transitional period.
Despite being in poetic form, the language and imagery are accessible for the target age. The poems are written primarily in free verse, but there are also some structured ones, such as acrostic and haiku. Rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, and other sound devices are expertly incorporated, making for a smooth flow. The poems are often short and sweet, conveying a moment in time. Others are a couple pages long, especially when there is an extended scene with dialogue. I especially enjoy novels told in verse, like Booked, because the approach keeps the moments concise, focused, and fast paced—making for an engaging reading experience, especially for reluctant readers.
An important motif of the novel is the power of language. Nick, though hesitant to admit it, enjoys creative word play, vivid figurative language, and unusual words. These words are defined in the footnotes at the bottom of the page. (See Notable Vocabulary section.) Some readers may find it too didactic or distracting; however, I found it insightful. In part, it conveys Nick' grasp of the word's meaning and the experience. Also his personality is revealed in the snarky comments often included with the definitions. Finally, it models incorporating the beauty and versatility of words in everyday conversations. Ultimately, language and poetry allow Nick to release his pent up frustrations, to grapple with his emotional trials, and to savor his triumphant moments.
There is a cliffhanger at the end that may bother some readers. To be literary, a book must represent life as it is, rather than, as we want it to be. In life, everything is not neatly tied up which legitimizes the open-ended conclusion. To maximize the technique though, this type of ending should prompt the reader to think more deeply or to re-examine the text. In this case, I do not think it does. As a result, I am hoping the cliffhanger is a hint that a sequel is on the way.
There are some motifs that are worthy of classroom, book club, or family discussion.
- Family: There are several family dynamics. Nick has a strong connection with his mother, but due to her decision to leave the state to pursue her dreams, hurt and tension erupts. His relationship with his father is distant and strained.
- Divorce/Separation: Right off, the tension between the parents is clear. They decide to separate. Divorce appears to be imminent. Nick’s anguish over the choices of his parents is the most heart-wrenching part of the novel.
- Friendship: Nick and Coby have a strong friendship. Even though they talk smack, they challenge each other on and off the field.
- Bullying: A couple neighborhood bullies give Nick a hard time, but he learns to stand up for himself. His method is an excellent conversation starter.
- Disappointment: Along with disappointments at home, a big unexpected incident prevents him from fulfilling a dream.
- Passion: Finding a passion and following it is vital for young people. Generally, it keeps them out of trouble (or at least minimizes it) if they are goal oriented. For Nick, it is soccer. When he is not at school, he is usually on the soccer field working on his skills.
- Mentorship: One of the best parts is the dynamics between Nick and other adults. Mr. Mac (librarian) and Ms. Hardwick (English instructor) encourage and challenge him. Mr. Mac speaks wisdom and truth into his life.
- First Love: Nick has a love interest, April. He is awkward and nervous, but overtime his interactions improve.
In many ways, the novel follows the successful format of Kwame Alexander’s Newbery winner The Crossover. Unfortunately, Booked is not quite as literary and profound as the aforementioned award winner. The characterization, format, and motifs will appeal to middle grade readers though, especially reluctant ones.
Educators should visit The Classroom Bookshelf for some outstanding teaching ideas and links.
- verbomania: a crazed obsession for words (4)
- malapropism: the amusing and ludicrous misuse of words, especially with one of a similar sound (18)
- pugilism: the art of fighting with your fists; boxing (39)
- futsal: indoor soccer played with five players on each side (43)
- cachinnate: to laugh loudly (52)
- mewling: to cry weakly; whimper (68)
- ragabush: worthless; rubbish (79)
- codswallow: something utterly senseless; nonsense (82)
- logorrhea: an excessive use of words (100)
- flummoxed: to bewilder or confuse (117)
- onomatophobia: fear of hearing certain sounds (119)
- farrow: a litter of pigs (132)
- sweven: a dream or vision in your sleep (142)
- nutmeg: a soccer trick in which the ball is dribbled between the defender’s legs (180)
- rapprochement: a re-establishment of harmonious relations (213)
- stupefy: to stun or overwhelm with amazement (218)
- twain: two (247)
- callipygous: having a beautiful backside (258)
- incompassible: incapable of coexisting, of being together (267)
- hellkite: an extremely cruel person (271)
- gadfly: an annoying person (288)
- wordbound: unable to find expression in words (294)
- yobbery: hooliganism (296)
- zazzy: stylish or flashy (300)
It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday again. Visit Shannon Messenger's blog for more Middle Grade reading reviews.