Getting "Booked" on Poetry: Mesmerized by Kwame Alexander and His Prose (Book Review)
YA Poetry Was Not My Thing
Not a bit poetry fan? Sometimes, to get more aquatinted, you need something that jumps right off the page. Although it should speak for itself, a new type of book can be the thing that opens up your world. Critical acclaim isn't bad either. If you stray from Young Adult because it can't have any real content, then you haven't read any YA books in a while. To express heavy themes in an approachable way is something YA authors have to do, and Kwame Alexander has made this seem so easy.
Soccer Over Sonnets
I didn't know anything about Kwame Alexander before I met him at #Bookfest 2016. He was featured prominently in the promotional materials and once you hear him speak or read his work, you'll understand why. He creates literary events and workshops. He visits schools and prisons. Really, he's an all-around nice guy. He even took a few minutes to talk to me, a nobody girl with a blog.
Having written "a plethora" of books, his most recent release is Booked, a YA novel told in verse. It's Nick's last year of middle school he's hit with the biggest change he's ever encountered. Caught between his love of soccer and his dad's love of words, he must navigate this new part of his life without completely falling apart. Booked is a mix of clever writing told through a confident but troubled perspective of boyhood, blackness, and bookishness.
This Book Gets All The Stars
I laughed out loud while reading this book. I marked passages with sticky tabs, and Instagrammed the best pages. This book is tied for my favorite book the year, and I don't usually read poetry or Young Adult novels. With a compelling story and some poems on the shorter side, I breezed through this book. I could hear beats in my head as my eyes roll over the lyrical text.
The low-key grammar lessons were the best. Alexander places you in Nick's shoes, explains a topic from Nick's point of view, and then uses an example later in the story. I thought I was so clever when I would come across these examples. Kids will be jumping out of their seats or laughing as hard as they can when they come across them too. It's learning in action! The references to black pop culture always made me smile too. It was a mini-history lesson if you're paying enough attention.
And can I be as cool as Big Mac the librarian? Are any of us, really? Every shirt Big Mac owns is one I want. A smooth talker and knows just what to say to make us listen. I loved his insightfulness, and it took me back to my adolescent days. Some adults looked out for you- even if your attitude didn't warrant their affection.
A Different Kind of Blackness
So here is the thing, Nick doesn't want to be smarter than all the other kids. He just wants to do his thing and move on. But what he doesn't see is how much smarter he is anyway, knowing the big words and outsmarting the teachers. He's brought up to be bookish and completely despises it. Fortunately for him, it saves him in the end, and once he accepts that, he's a little happier for it.
And no African American Vernacular English (AAVE). It's a more acceptable name of what used to call ebonics. Previous YA novels I have read about black kids or black families prominently feature AAVE, but not Booked. Honestly, this could be a regional thing, Alexander growing up in NYC and not farther south. I am personally comforted by the AAVE dialect (something I can code switch to) but many have reservations about it because it's not a language everyone speaks. If AAVE is one of your reading deterrents, this could be a great book for you or your youngsters.
If you're looking for a fun summer read, this one is great. A middle grades book that keeps knowledge running in the background without making kids run from learning. You can buy it here. For more information on Kwame Alexander and his other books, including his 2015 Newbery Medal winner Crossover, check out his site kwamealexander.com. You can also follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.