The Crossover is a fascinating young adult novel that I would recommend to any middle school student. In fact, I have already recommended this book to my own son, who is a fifth-grader, and he loved it. The book’s format is an array of different types of poetry. It consists of different basketball rules throughout the story that can also apply to life. There are multiple terms with definitions. It helps to better understand the context of the situation.
Josh Bell, also known as Filthy McNasty, is a talented basketball player.
He was dubbed Filthy McNasty after a song from one of his father’s favorite jazz artists. After his skills grew on the court, the name seemed to be fitting as a way of describing his gift. His twin brother, Jordan (JB) joins him in ranks. These two brothers aren’t the only basketball players in the family. Their father, Chuck Bell made quite a name for himself in his prime when he played in a professional basketball league.
It’s safe to say that this sport is in their blood.
Josh is the main character of the story and also the narrator. He stands close to six feet tall at the age of only twelve. He and his brother share a love for basketball and naturally, have a lot of things in common. Josh takes pride in dreadlocks. Aside from the fact that he is the only member of the team that can dunk, his locks make him stand out.
JB is a diehard Michael Jordan fan. He frequently shaves his head. He can sink free-throws and three-pointers with ease. When the twins are playing in sync there’s no stopping them. JB has a similar passion for basketball as Josh. The difference is that JB also has interest in girls. This ultimately forces division between the brothers when JB gets a girlfriend and Josh is left feeling abandoned.
The twins are in a constant battle about who is the better ball player. One day, JB tries unsuccessfully to dunk the ball. Josh decides to show him how it’s done. JB has a love for betting and proposes a bet to Josh. If JB makes the last shot of the game, he gets to cut one of Josh’s locks. Reluctantly, Josh takes the bet and loses. Instead of cutting one dread, JB accidently takes five off. When JB makes the cut, their teammate and friend, Vondie, yells, “Oh Snap!” Josh’s heart sinks. He says that JB created a calamity and left a bald spot on his head forcing him to cut off all the locks.
Later, the twins, Chuck, and Mom go out to eat dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Mom is very health conscious and only allows one restaurant dinner per month. She removes the salt from the table because Dad isn’t supposed to have it. JB is forced to apologize to Josh and does so unconvincingly. In an attempt to rectify the situation, JB goes to the buffet and gets Josh some food. Josh thanks him.
Josh and JB are forbidden to go in their parent’s closet. Josh is surprised when Mom tells him to go in there and get one of her hat boxes to put his locks in. Of course, he saved them. He finds Dad’s secret box and can’t fight the urge to see what’s inside. JB comes in and catches him in the act. In the box, the find Dad’s championship ring along with some newspaper clippings. They find an envelope marked, “private.” JB opens is to find two letters. One is from the Lakers inviting Dad to try out. The other is a letter saying that without surgery on his knee, he may never be able to play again.
At school, people have to look hard to tell which twin is which after Josh’s haircut. Their friends are teasing them about how they will tell them apart when JB notices Miss Sweet Tea. JB can’t stop thinking about her and Josh refers to her as pulchritudinous. He wonders why the girl is talking to JB.
After practice that day, Josh voices his concerns to JB about why Dad didn’t have surgery, why he can’t eat salt, and if he thinks they will win the championship. JB tells him that doesn’t know that answers about Dad, but they would win if Josh can make free-throws. At home, they play one-on-one until Mom shouts for them to come inside.
After the family eats, the boys and Dad go to the rec center to play ball. Dad tries to teach them how to focus by getting in their faces. JB finds Miss Sweet Tea there and approaches her. Josh thinks he looks ridiculous. On the way home, Dad stops to get donuts, which is strictly outlawed by Mom. Dad reminisces about the teaching the boys how to play when they were younger as he eats his donuts.
The boys win their next game with a game winning dunk from Josh. Miss Sweet Tea congratulates him and then offers JB some sweet tea. That’s where the name comes from. At home, Dad makes the boys shoot free-throws. They must make ten in a row, except this night Josh has to make fifteen because he missed some in the game. Before bed, Josh overhears his parents arguing about Dad not wanting to see a doctor about his hypertension. Dad brushes her off.
Josh gets in trouble when he takes the fall for JB passing notes to Miss Sweet Tea. He is sent to the assistant principal’s office because the teacher accuses him of cheating on the test. The principal also happens to be his mother. She tells Josh that it will hurt his college prospects if he gets suspended and that he should look into joining the Army. He is released and reports to gym class. Today, the are learning CPR. Later, Mom talks to the boys about their grandfather. He died from heart disease and there is a history of it in the family. That is why she pushes them to eat healthy. After the next game, Dad suggests donuts and the boys politely decline.
With Mom out of town, the boys shoot free-throws with Dad. Dad scares them when he bends over and acts like he can’t breathe. JB sprays him with a water hose and he starts coughing. A few moments later, Dad grabs the hose and sprays the brothers. He wants to take their mind off what just happened. Josh is still worried. JB thinks he is fine.
Miss Sweet Tea calls and JB tosses the phone to Josh. JB freezes and can’t talk to her. Josh thinks that it is ironic that JB is such a showoff but can’t bring himself to talk to a girl on the phone. Josh pretends to be JB on the phone and even asks Miss Sweet Tea to be his girlfriend. The next day, Josh feels alone when JB eats lunch with his new girlfriend. He is forced to walk home alone too. Josh becomes increasingly jealous when he starts to think of all the ways Miss Sweet Tea will take his place. Josh becomes overwhelmed with emotions about his hair, being ignored by his brother, and Dad’s health.
On the way to a game, Josh and Dad get pulled over for a broken taillight, making them late. JB rode with Miss Sweet Tea and is on time. Hurrying into the gym, Josh falls in the mud. Making matters worse, Coach doesn’t let Josh start. He’s started every game, but this time he must go clean up and sit out for being late. The teammates laugh at him. Josh gets to play in the second half. Even though JB is open and Josh is being double-teamed, he thinks about dunking the ball. With his locks missing, so is his confidence. He hears the crowd shouting for him to pass the ball. He decides that if JB wants it so bad, he can have. He forcefully slings the ball so hard to JB that it knocks him over and bloodies his nose.
On the car ride home from the hospital, Josh feels alone. Mom sits him down in the kitchen and talks to him about control. She tells him that boys with no self-control end up in prison. She tells him she has noticed him acting different the past few weeks. Josh tells her that he didn’t mean to hurt JB. He feels like JB doesn’t love him anymore. Mom tells him that JB will always love him and he needs to apologize. She tells him that there will be consequences for his actions and suspends him from the team.
The next week, Josh is even more alone. He watches his team play without him, eats and walks home alone every day. In attempts to make things better with JB, he does his chores and tries to apologize. JB doesn’t care for it. Josh watches his brother shine on the court and voices his concerns to Dad. JB still won’t talk to him. Dad encourages Josh to be patient with him and in the meantime, write him a letter. JB takes a hard foul. Dad explodes with anger and rushes the court. After things calm down, Dad’s nose starts to bleed. The next morning, Dad apologizes for losing his temper. Mom urges his to call the doctor. She says that a spike in his blood pressure caused the nosebleed. JB hasn’t talked to Josh in five days. He tells Mom that he knows Josh meant to hurt him.
Josh is named the Junior High MVP. Everyone in his class congratulates him except Miss Sweet Tea. She calls Josh a jerk and doesn’t see why he got an award after what he did to JB. Josh waits for JB to come to his defense. Instead, JB remains silent and Josh feels crushed. He tries to convince Mom to let him back on the team for the playoffs. He explains that his grades are good, and the team needs him. This doesn’t matter to her and she tells him that his behavior is the problem.
Josh pours his heart out in an apology letter to JB. He tells him how he feels empty without him. He feels broken and like a puzzle pieces, he doesn’t fit. He wants things to be like they used to. He wants his best friend and brother back. He ends with a simple, “I’m sorry.” He doesn’t know if JB has read his letter yet but feels a sense of relief when JB laughs at one of his jokes.
Josh hears a panting coming from his parents’ room. He runs to find his dad cleaning up vomit on the floor. Dad says he ate something bad. He gets up holding his chest. Josh asks him if he is alright. Dad tries to change the subject and shows Josh a letter with a coaching offer at a nearby college. Josh starts to think about Dad not being there to play ball with him and worries about his health. Dad says that he misses being on the court and he needs to be back in the game. Josh tells Dad that he will try to talk Mom into letting him take the job and in turn, wants Dad to convince her to let him back on the team.
At the playoff game, Josh cheers his team on from the bench. He watches them struggle without him on the court. He notices that his parents aren’t in the bleachers. Mom texts him and tells him that Dad wasn’t feeling well so they are going home. She reassures him that Dad will be fine. He watches are JB leads the team to victory and they are one step closer to the championship game.
At lunch the next day, Coach talks to Josh about how a fight between him and his brother ruined their relationship. He doesn’t want that to happen to JB and Josh. He tells Josh that he has to fix things between him and his brother. He informs him that his mother agreed to let Josh come back if they make it to the championship game.
The boys and Dad go to the rec center. Miss Sweet Tea meets them there. Josh and Dad play a game of one-on-one. The game is intense. Dad tries to dunk. All the sudden, falls to the floor. JB splashes water on his face, nothing. Josh performs CPR until the ambulance arrives. Dad is in a coma. JB asks if Dad will be home for Christmas. The doctor insists that he will be fine and talking to him can help. Josh is mad because he should be preparing for the game instead of being at the hospital.
Josh can’t hold back his feelings any longer. He begins to tell Mom why he is so angry. He’s mad because he is at the hospital because Dad tried to dunk. He’s mad because Dad promised he would always be there. He’s mad because JB doesn’t care about basketball of the fact that he cuts Josh’s hair. He feels empty and alone. If his crossover was better, Dad wouldn’t have had the ball and wouldn’t have tried to dunk.
Dad wakes from his coma on Christmas Eve. He tells Josh that he heard him talking to him and that he didn’t jump ship. The family celebrates Christmas at the hospital. Josh isn’t in a festive mood and wishes visiting hours would end. He says that happy is a river and he forgot how to swim. He is happy when it is time for the rest of his relatives to go. Dad tells the boys that he wants them to always be there for each other.
Before the final game, Mom gets a disturbing phone call. Dad has had another heart attack. She jumps in her car and rushes to the hospital. JB follows behind her on his bike. Josh hears his dad’s voice telling him to play in the game. Josh is in his head and doesn’t do well during warmups. Mom texts Josh to tell him that Dad will be okay, and she made JB come to support the team even though he doesn’t feel like playing. With five seconds to go, the team is down by one. Josh worries that his dad is dying and starts to cry when he sees JB in the stands crying. Josh overcomes his emotions to put his focus on the game. He performs an excellent crossover and wins the game with a last second shot.
Dad dies that night from complications of a heart attack. Josh isn’t prepared for his father’s death. There are no coaches or training to show him how to deal with this. Josh feels like his father was the light of his world and without him, his nights would be starless. With JB nowhere in sight, Josh needs some fresh air. He goes outside to shoot free throws. He makes forty-nine straight and it makes him feel closer to his dad.
JB shows up and tells Josh that he was impressed with his crossover. Josh asks him if he got to talk to Dad before he died. JB says that Dad wants them to stay out of the closet. He hands Josh his dad’s championship ring and tells him that Dad wanted him to have it. Dad always told JB that he couldn’t wear his ring until he was, “Da Man.” JB thinks for the first time that he doesn’t want to be, “Da Man.”