Sweet 16: Novels for Teen Basketball Fans

March is madness! These young adult novels will keep teen basketball fans reading in between the big games.

front coverThe Crossover

Alexander, Kwame

Josh, nick-named Filthy McNasty, is a dred-headed basketball player. So are his bald-headed twin brother, Jordan, and his father who played in the NBA. Together, the twins dominate their middle school court with their father shouting from the bleachers and their mother, the assistant principal, trying to constrain their father. Josh relies on his family but things are falling apart. He has never known what it is like to be estranged from his twin brother, but then Alexis–Miss Sweet Tea–comes between them. He has never worried about his father, but starts to when he sees his dad reaching for his heart during a pickup game. Josh is growing up and crossing over, the hard way. While the story is compelling enough, what makes this verse novel excel is the poetry itself. The language paces the novel. Basketball games are succinctly captured in quick, staccato rhythms; languid free verse makes waiting for his punishment seem endless. Almost every page is an example of this synergy between diction and discourse. This book will appeal to both fans of basketball and fans of poetry. Teachers will love using this book for teaching language usage and vocabulary since much of the chapters are structured as definitions of words in the context of Josh’s story. This quick read is highly recommended. VOYA CODES: 5Q 5P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 420p., $16.99. Ages 11 to 18.
Reviewer: Ann Reddy Damon (VOYA)
ISBN(s): 9780544107717, 0544107713

(Additional reviews and award info available on CLCD.)

front coverThe Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian

Alexie, Sherman

In this blunt yet poignant story of a teenager wanting to make the best of himself, Alexie uses his own experiences to give us a feel for an Indian boy crossing over into a white world. Not only does Junior feel guilty for selling out, but his tribe members and best friend, Rowdy, add to that guilt, while his new white school mates either tease him or ignore him. Finally connecting with an equally unpopular geek as well as the popular girl, because he cares enough to address her bulimia, Junior tentatively carves out a place for himself and makes friends. His basketball prowess gains him admiration although his victory against his reservation high school is bittersweet. He is a thinking, caring kid, who eventually manages to reunite with his buddy from the reservation, Rowdy. Multiple alcohol related deaths in Junior’s family are particularly hard-hitting but make the point that alcohol is still a significant problem on many reservations. The sarcastic, self-deprecating humor should add to this book’s appeal. 2007, Little Brown and Company, $16.99. Ages 14 up.
Reviewer: Kathryn Erskine (Children’s Literature)
ISBN(s): 0316013684, 9780316013680, 142876450X, 9781428764507

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

front coverThe Perfect Shot

Alphin, Elaine Marie

The novel opens with the murder of Amanda, her little brother and her mother. It was a day when Brian Hammett and his friends were playing basketball next door. In the heat of the game, Brian brushed aside Amanda, planning on spending time with her later when all the guys weren’t there. The next spring, Brian is dealing with her death, with his guilt, and with a nagging feeling that maybe he had seen something significant on that afternoon. In this cleverly organized narrative, we come to care about Brian as he struggles with making sense of a senseless murder. Through a school project, Brian and his partner Todd confront the prejudice that led to the sensational 1913 trial and murder of Leo Frank. The details of that trial and the bias against the testimony of a young eyewitness are replayed through Brian’s memory of the day Amanda was shot and the trial of Amanda’s father, accused of the crime. Interwoven with Brian’s quest for justice is the story of Julius Malik, an African American star of the basketball team who was with Brian playing ball that afternoon. The interweaving of history, of Brian’s determination, and of Julius’ confrontation with prejudice make for a compelling look at what it takes to stand up to the larger injustices of the world and why we sometimes don’t. Category: Hardcover Fiction. KLIATT Codes: JS–Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2005, Lerner, Carolrhoda Books, 212p., $16.95. Ages 12 to 18.
Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson (KLIATT Review)
ISBN(s): 9781575058627, 1575058626

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

front coverBlack And White

Volponi, Paul

Clearly Volponi draws on his experience working with teens incarcerated on Rikers Island to nail the voices of Eddie and Marcus. These two best friends have bright futures ahead of them as high school basketball stars certain to earn college scholarships. Eddie is white and Marcus is black, but their racial difference never comes between them until they make an unfortunate mistake. The boys’ families are not affluent (Marcus lives in the projects), so to afford senior dues, they decide to pull off some stickups using Eddie’s grandfather’s gun. Neither boy is crazy about the idea at first, but greed takes over after the first few robbery attempts are successful. Their last victim, however, is not an easy target, and Eddie accidentally shoots the gun during a struggle. Both boys run away, unsure of whether or not they committed murder. The rest of the story details the differences between the boys’ arrests and indictments, allowing readers a glimpse into the vagaries of the juvenile justice system. Volpoli’s debut novel for young adults is a winner for teenaged boys in particular. The authenticity of Marcus and Eddie as well as the accurate depictions of action on the basketball court will draw in readers, despite the author’s tendency to use short, choppy sentences. Similar in theme to Walter Dean Myers’s Monster (HarperCollins, 1999/VOYA August 1999), this worthy addition is bound to spark conversations about racial equality in the pursuit for justice and about the pitfalls of inner-city life. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2005, Viking, 160p., $15.99. Ages 12 to 18.
Reviewer: Valerie Ott (VOYA)
ISBN(s): 0670060062, 9780670060061

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

front coverBall Don’t Lie

de la Peana, Matt

Sticky has been in and out of foster homes all of his life and has seen things that would break most people–basketball is just about the only thing that hasn’t abandoned or betrayed him. Even though he’s the only white kid at the Lincoln Rec gym in LA, where ballers play on one court and the homeless sleep on the other, it’s “Sticky’s home. It’s his hiding place. It’s his church.” Sticky may be one of the lucky few who has a chance to make it big in basketball, if he can overcome crushing poverty and his painful past. His battle to survive is heartbreakingly and artistically portrayed through a dreamlike narrative, accented with rhythmic pacing and flowing street dialogue, that wanders through scenes from Sticky’s past and present life. Readers may find the nonlinear narrative challenging at first, but the high-interest topic and familiar slang will allow them to quickly settle in. de la Pena doesn’t shy away from the gritty harshness of urban poverty, but neither does he glorify or vilify the reality that Sticky faces. The characters live and breathe, and Sticky in particular has depth, acting just as a traumatized person might, displaying obsessive-compulsive tendencies, shying away from even his girlfriend’s touch, sometimes lashing out violently. Readers aren’t asked to judge Sticky but to know him and see both his flaws and beauty. The book’s language, its pacing and narrative structure, and the depth of emotions explored make it uniquely well crafted in the realm of urban basketball tales. For readers who are ready to take on the darker complexities of life, or who–like Sticky–live to play ball, this is a must-read. (Reviewed from galleys) Review Code: R — Recommended. (c) Copyright 2005, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2005, Delacorte, 288p, $16.95 and $18.99. Grades 9-12.
Reviewer: Maggie Hommel (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)
ISBN(s): 0385732325, 0385902581, 9780385732321, 9780385902588

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

front coverAirball : My Life In Briefs

Harkrader, Lisa

Moving as fluidly as a basketball superstar in action, this big-hearted first novel is set in a Kansas town renowned as the home of Brett McGrew, now a famous NBA player. Though he has no apparent athletic ability, narrator Kirby Nickel joins the seventh-grade basketball team in hopes of finally crossing paths with McGrew, whose jersey number is being retired in a ceremony to which the team has been invited. Meeting this luminary has been a life-long dream of Kirby’s; he is convinced that McGrew, who was a friend of the boy’s mother in high school, is his father. As farfetched as the premise sounds, Kirby’s sincerity and conviction—and the clues he uncovers—lend his theory pleasing plausibility. But in order to attend the event honoring McGrew, the seventh-grade team must turn its record around (they haven’t won a game in three years). The gruff coach solemnly gives each player a “Stealth Warm-up Suit,” allegedly developed by the Marine Corps (and designed to help players run faster and jump higher), announcing that, “for those who don’t have what it takes to control the technology, the uniforms… are invisible.” Some funny scenes follow as the kids proceed to practice—and eventually win every game—dressed only in their underwear. Kirby’s encounter with McGrew leads to an unexpected, satisfyingly sentimental finale. Even non-basketball fans will savor the on-court action and will cheer loudly for these determined players, especially endearingly ingenuous Kirby. Ages 8-12.
Reviewer: Publishers Weekly
ISBN(s): 9781596430600, 1596430605

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

front coverFront And Center

Murdock, Catherine Gilbert

Picture this: a tall, athletically gifted high school junior is courted by several colleges with the intent to offer a full scholarship for playing basketball. Not so obscure? It is if you are a girl, and D.J. Schwenk is about to have one emotional roller coaster of a ride. She is coming right out of football season–yes, she played on the boys’ team–and is smack dab in the beginning of basketball season where she feels normal–until the college coaches begin frequenting her games and asking her to play for their schools. On top of all that pressure, there is the issue of Brian. Or is it Beaner? What are her real feelings for each? And what about her overprotective brother who practically dictates her college acceptance requests? The seemingly large cast of characters in D.J.’s life is not such a bad thing and gives her several options to share her thoughts, something all of us need. Murdock’s novel about high schoolers is a safe read for everyone. There is no urban glitz or high maintenance friends to deal with, just real life and its various surprises. The main characters are easily related to. This will serve many a book club as well as an option for pleasure reading equally well. 2009, Houghton Mifflin, $16.00. Ages 13 to 18.
Reviewer: Elizabeth Young (Children’s Literature)
ISBN(s): 9780618959822, 0618959823, 0547403054, 9780547403052

(Additional reviews and reading level info available on CLCD.)

front coverBox Out

Coy, John

Liam, a high school sophomore, is thrilled when he’s asked to join the varsity basketball team to replace an injured player. The tough coach values Liam for his height, so he can grab the rebounds: to box out means to put yourself between a player and the basket to get the rebound. But Liam starts to feel boxed in when Coach’s insistence on praying before games in his public school makes him uncomfortable. When talking to the coach doesn’t help, Liam ends up having a lawyer’s letter sent to make the prayers cease. Liam feels good about doing the right thing, but the consequences are rough, and he ends up quitting the team. Meanwhile his girlfriend, who’s away in France for the semester, breaks up with him by e-mail. When Liam is asked to practice with the girls’ team with his new friend Darius, the girls’ coach helps Liam realize he has his own road to follow, and that he can rebound from the difficulties he’s been facing. Lots of on-the-court action adds to the appeal of this coming-of-age tale by the author of Crackback, with its clear message of standing up for yourself and what you believe in. Liam and his friends and family are sympathetic characters, and YAs, particularly sports fans and reluctant readers, will be able to appreciate his dilemmas. Category: Hardcover Fiction. KLIATT Codes: JS–Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2008, Scholastic, 304p., $16.99. Ages 12 to 18.
Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick (KLIATT Review)
ISBN(s): 9780439870320, 0439870321

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

front coverLast Shot : A Final Four Mystery

Feinstein, John

Steven Thomas from Pennsylvania and Susan Carol Anderson from North Carolina have won a fourteen-and-under writing contest and have press credentials to get into the NCAA basketball “Final Four” games in New Orleans. There, they overhear a conversation concerning the (fictional) Minnesota State U’s star player’s throwing the game which starts the two investigating. Feinstein’s insider view of this famous college basketball event has enough details to satisfy any fan: where players stay, how the press functions, what student athletes say to the cameras, and how the floor of the arena is cordoned off. He even works in plenty of real people in the media. from the motor-mouth Dick Vitale and the ever-generous Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) to his colleagues on the Washington Post, especially Tony Kornheiser who comes in for some gentle ribbing. Readers will enjoy the way Stevie and Susan Carol work together as equals to solve the mystery which hangs on some changed college grades that would make the star player ineligible and all games won by MSU to be forfeited. Teachers will appreciate the way Feinstein works in the details of the sports writers’ (and Stevie and Susan Carol’s) job: checking sources, or working-in local color, interviews, or themselves into the daily dispatches they must write. It is a quick read that the already-initiated will grab and mystery lovers neutral to sports will enjoy, too. It is the first in “The Final Four Mystery” series and sportswriter Feinstein’s very credible entry into children’s books. 2005, Knopf, $16.95. Ages 9 to 14.
Reviewer: Susan Hepler, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature)
ISBN(s): 0375831681, 0375931686, 9780375831683, 9780375931680

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

front coverLearning The Game

Waltman, Kevin

Basketball is an obsession in Nate’s small Indiana college town, and it’s the center of his teenage life. Though Nate is privileged in many ways,his father is a bigwig businessman, he’s bound for a good college, and his girlfriend, Lorrie, is bright and attractive, he hopes to land a starting spot on the varsity team and wants to fit in, so he goes along when teammates steal from an empty frat house over the summer. Nate loses a friend over the incident, and the guilt becomes overwhelming; when cops start asking questions, he’s forced to decide between a dream basketball season and doing what he knows is right. Waltman nails the small-town setting and creates a teenage world that is complex, realistic, and dark; fast-paced basketball scenes balance the more weighty moral thread and keep the story flowing. Nate’s life may be flawless from the outside, but he deals with teenage insecurities and constantly worries about his apathetic parents and troubled, drug-using older brother. Lengthy orations about his feelings and observations are occasionally indulgent, but overall his emotions ring true. Actions in this world always have consequences, answers are never simple, and Waltman successfully weaves the guilt, lies, and anger after the theft into interactions between Nate, Lorrie, teammates, and parents. Carl Deuker fans and others who love sports will be drawn in by the action-packed basketball scenes; readers will also leave the book with new insights about friendship, tough choices, and the value and consequences of telling the truth. (Reviewed from galleys) Review Code: R — Recommended. (c) Copyright 2005, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2005, Scholastic, 224p, $16.95. Grades 7-12.
Reviewer: Maggie Hommel (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)
ISBN(s): 0439731097, 9780439731096

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

front coverRebound

Krech, Bob

From the first page of Krech’s thought-provoking novel, his protagonist/narrator Ray Wisniewski lets us know that despite what the guidance counselors keep saying, race matters. In Ray’s New Jersey high school, the black guys play basketball and the Polish guys wrestle: when you are the only white person in the locker room after basketball tryouts, you definitely notice. To pursue his own hoop dreams, Ray has to deal with a white coach who falls all over himself to favor black kids, hostile black kids who do not want Ray on the team, well-meaning parents who try to hide their discomfort in his new black friendships, and a lifelong best friend whose anti-black racism proves to be dangerously deep and disturbing. Wisniewski’s present-tense narrative voice, although believably kidlike, is fairly flat and uninteresting: “Friday night is excellent for me! Fifteen points, eight rebounds. We win by ten and our record is 11-0. Still undefeated!” But the constant sports action and mounting tensions of the story should draw in reluctant readers, who will find themselves grappling with an unflinching, if occasionally heavy-handed, exploration of the painful and enduring presence of racism in our society in all its overt and covert manifestations. 2006, Marshall Cavendish, $16.99. Ages 12 up.
Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature)
ISBN(s): 9780761453192, 0761453199

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

front coverRucker Park Setup

Volponi, Paul

J.R. and Mackey grew up playing pickup basketball in Harlem, and by the time they reached high school, there was no doubt that “[t]hese two got man-style game.” Although the duo took Washington High to the state playoffs, garnered All City honors, and received college scholarship offers, their lifetime goal has always been winning the tournament at Rucker Park, the toughest, most prestigious basketball tournament in street ball. When their dream is on the verge of becoming reality, however, everything goes wrong. J.R. is murdered right on the court, and Mackey is left to clean up the mess that he may very well be responsible for creating. By the time the final whistle blows, Mackey will have to settle the score in both the game and the murder of his best friend. The reader will have no doubt that Volponi has played street ball in New York City. His description of playing pickup ball on one of the toughest courts in the world feels wholly authentic. The characters also feel real and are probably composites of people Volponi has known. Readers need not be sports fans to enjoy the story; it has equal merit as a character study and has a surprising murder-mystery element as well. Language and violence do not rise to a level that would preclude middle school students from reading this book, and high school students will find the story and characterization complex enough to be an engaging read. VOYA CODES: 5Q 5P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2007, Viking, 153p., $15.99. Ages 11 to 18.
Reviewer: James Blasingame (VOYA)
ISBN(s): 0670061301, 9780670061303

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

front coverBasketball (Or Something Like It)

Baskin, Nora Raleigh

Irate fans, a revolving door of dissatisfied and underperforming coaches, charges of nepotism, pressure for superhuman feats from players. NBA? College hoops? No, it’s the sixth-grade basketball travel team, and for a handful of featured players on the North Bridge team, much of the fun of the game has long been undermined by their parents. Michael and Hank have fathers who live vicariously through their sons’ sports achievements; Nathan’s father wants his black son to find success in an arena other than sports. Truly talented Jeremy has been abandoned by his father, and the grandmother who took him in is supportive but pretty ignorant of the game’s importance to the troubled kid; Anabel, Michael’s sister, is a skillful shooter who is totally overlooked by her son-centered parents. Cynicism runs deep, and Baskin takes on everything from overequipped, overtrained grade schoolers (“It was a typical, suburban, elitist sports rivalry. Let the better team buy the win”) to parent coaches who promote their own kids while benching the talent. She ends on a hopeful note as the kids rally to support one other and a couple of parents actually open their eyes to their sons’ integrity, but the adult drama in the bleachers, parking lot, and parent meetings leaves a bitter, authentic taste that lingers past the sweetened conclusion. Review Code: R — Recommended. (c) Copyright 2005, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2005, HarperCollins, 166p, $16.89 and $15.99. Grades 4-7.
Reviewer: Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)
ISBN(s): 0060596104, 0060596112, 9780060596101, 9780060596118

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

front coverTall Story

Gourlay, Candy

Told in two first person voices, this middle grade novel brings together the lives of two half-siblings. Thirteen-year-old Andi, the shortest and the youngest on her basketball team, has her life disrupted with a move into a bigger house and the sudden arrival of her half-brother from the Philippines. Sixteen-year-old Bernardo has lived his whole life with his aunt and uncle, waiting for the immigration papers that seem practically mythic in nature. The events of the back story are integrated into the narrative, making for a lively yet layered text. The alternating viewpoints allow us to see secondary characters through more than a single set of lenses: e.g., Mum who was “born with no volume control” and Mad Nena who gives Bernardo a gift that could equally be a curse. The legend of a giant who protects the village clashes with Bernardo’s desire to be united with his mother and her family, so that his guilt hovers between the real and imagined and makes no distinction between them. Family bonds and affections carry across great distances, bridged inventively by cell phones and basketball. The conflicts lie in the intersections of the narrators’ lives. Andi wanted a big brother, but did he have to be eight feet tall? Bernardo’s great height (due to his gigantism) connects both to the legends of his native land and to a ticking time-bomb in his body, one that manifests dramatically on the day of an important game. Andi’s smart, sassy voice and Bernardo’s moody ruminations almost make the relationship of the siblings run parallel to the eruptions of the earth itself, back in the Philippines. Humorous moments allow breathing space and insights into the narrators’ minds. In all, Gourlay has crafted a book that works at many levels–as an interesting read, a portrayal of heartfelt cultural connections rarely seen in books for young readers, a basketball story, and a tale whose repeating echoes place the plain old love of families right in the realm of magic. 2010, Random House, $16.99. Ages 9 to 12.
Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami (Children’s Literature)
ISBN(s): 9780385752183, 0385752172, 0385752180, 9780385752176

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

front coverThe Hoopster

Sitomer, Alan Lawrence

Andre Anderson is a black teen on the way up. His prowess on the basketball court is roundly acknowledged, his new romance with luscious Latina Gwen has hit the floor running, and he’s been tapped by the magazine editor with whom he interns to write a feature on racism. All of which means, of course, he’s in for a predictable fall. First he comes to blows with cousin Cedric over his prize-winning monologue at a comedy club, which relies too much on racial stereotyping to suit Andre. Already on edge over Cedric’s insensitivity and the pressure of writing his article, he next has a major falling out with Gwen, who accuses him of bringing every issue into a racial focus. Finally, after Andre’s feature is published to the acclaim of his boss, a posse of white supremacists assaults him in the parking garage, brutally mangles his hand, and leaves him hospitalized and emotionally withdrawn–until, of course, friends and family and Gwen all rally around him again, he’s feted for his bravery at a publishing banquet, and he’s back to making magic on the court, despite hand injuries from which he was never expected to fully recover. Sitomer pushes his characters a little too briskly through their paces, and his prose never captures the grit of his subject matter (“Gwen flushed at Andre’s words, never expecting to hear such innuendos coming from Andre’s clean mouth. Then again, she was also a bit excited”). Readers eager to know where Andre goes next will nonetheless be glad to know that two more volumes are planned. Review Code: Ad — Additional book of acceptable quality for collections needing more material in the area. (c) Copyright 2005, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2005, Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, 218p, $16.99. Grades 6-10.
Reviewer: Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)
ISBN(s): 0786854839, 9780786854837

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

front coverHoops Of Steel

Foley, John

Jackson O’Connell lives for basketball, but he’s not your typical jock. Sensitive, stressed-out, and 17, Jax begins his senior year as a role player for the same high school team that he started for as a sophomore, having missed his junior season after breaking his shooting hand in a fight he believes caused his family to implode. Struggling at home, in school, and on the court, Jackson tries to apply quotes from the basketball books he reads to his life, from inelegant attempts at romance, to fighting for minutes on the court, to working through a friend’s attempted suicide. Jackson’s first-person narration reads like an account of a basketball game. Some chapters sprint, others read slowly, and in a few the author “milks the clock,” setting scenes as though they were precision plays. Jax’s story is realistic, urban, blue-collar, and gritty, reflecting the turbulence he experiences as he faces and overcomes challenge after challenge. […] KLIATT Codes: S–Recommended for senior high school students. 2007, Llewellyn, Flux, 238p., $8.95. Ages 15 to 18.
Reviewer: Jay Wise (KLIATT Review)
ISBN(s): 9780738709819, 0738709816

(Additional reviews and reading level info available on CLCD.)

This list only includes titles published in the last 10 years, but quite a few award-winning basketball books were published in prior years. (Slam! and Hoops by Walter Dean Myers, for example.)

What books do your teen basketball fans love? Let us know in the Comments section below.

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