Booked is a spring title that has gotten a lot of buzz, and the reasons are plentiful and obvious. First of all, for those who missed this, this is Kwame Alexander’s follow-up to his Newbery winning The Crossover, and it, like the predecessor, is a novel in verse about sports, but not *really* about sports.
Of course, as we know, The Crossover is not relevant to our conversation here. While elsewhere you might see comparisons between the two novels and find people discussing whether Booked is likely to have the same success, here in this space (and in the actual committee’s discussions) we only look at Booked next to other 2016 titles. Whether it is as good as a previous Newbery winner or a previous title by the same author (or in this case, both) becomes irrelevant when discussing in regards to this year’s Newbery.
So, now that we have that out of the way, what do we think?
For me, voice is what makes this book compelling. I often find myself lost in novels in verse, as if the author is fighting so hard to create poetry that the voice of the characters is lost to the voice of the author. Kwame Alexander is a master at creating character voice in poetry. Beyond that, it’s not just poetry – it’s strong, beautiful, gripping, and sometimes painful poetry.
Our narrator, Nick, learns the power of words, and his love/hate relationship with words creates a narrative device that brings in humor, and helps to establish a strong sense of character. It also mimics the complicated relationship he has with his parents and that his parents have with each other. Through his words the audience really learns who Nick is. We are confused with him, we cheer him on, we are devastated for him, we grow with him.
Soccer is a device to carry the novel forward, but our story here is about relationships, family, crushes, friendship, and loss.
So, concerns. I didn’t find the pacing perfect. There were moments that dragged a bit and moments that felt a bit rushed. I wonder, too, if I’m the only one who found the poetry a bit uneven? There are pieces where the words left me emotionally drained they were so devastating, and others that felt more like filler. Perhaps, though, this is intentional. Would the emotional pieces be so resonant if the whole book was that intense? Do we need the filler to make our character and story feel real?
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About Sharon McKellar
Sharon McKellar is the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services at the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, and the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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