Reviews provided by Syndetics
Kirkus Book Review
Nick Hall is a bright eighth-grader who would rather do anything other than pay attention in class. Instead he daydreams about soccer, a girl he likes, and an upcoming soccer tournament. His linguistics-professor father carefully watches his educational progress, requiring extra reading and word study, much to Nick's chagrin and protest. Fortunately, his best friend, Coby, shares his passion for soccerand, sadly, the unwanted attention of twin bullies in their school. Nick senses something is going on with his parents, but their announcement that they are separating is an unexpected blow: "it's like a bombshell / drops / right in the center / of your heart / and it splatters / all across your life." The stress leads to counseling, and his life is further complicated by injury and emergency surgery. His soccer dream derailed, Nick turns to the books he has avoided and finds more than he expected. Alexander's highly anticipated follow-up to Newbery-winning The Crossover is a reflective narrative, with little of the first book's explosive energy. What the mostly free-verse novel does have is a likable protagonist, great wordplay, solid teen and adult secondary characters, and a clear picture of the challenges young people face when self-identity clashes with parental expectations. The soccer scenes are vivid and will make readers wish for more, but the depiction of Nick as he unlocks his inner reader is smooth and believable. A satisfying, winning read. (Fiction. 10-12) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
New York Times Book Review
KWAME ALEXANDER GIVES readers a bit of a head fake with the title of his latest novel in verse, "Booked." This is going to be a story about soccer, the title seems to say, but what Alexander has written is a book about the power of language. Though soccer does indeed play a large role in the life of Nick Hall, what sets him apart from his fellow eighth graders is his vocabulary. Here's a partial fist of the words Nick drops at one point or another: "sweven," "farrow," "onomatophobia," "logorrhea" and the Sir Mix-a-Lot-friendly "callipygous." (Look it up.) He even begrudgingly admires his dad's use of "codswallop." Nick hasn't picked these words up by accident. His dad, "a linguistics professor / with chronic verbomania," has written a dictionary of sorts called "Weird and Wonderful Words," and Nick is required to read a portion of it every day. "He calls it the pursuit of excellence. / You call it Shawshank," Nick says, adding, "The truth is / you / HATE / words." This statement of frustration, as both the reader and Nick will come to realize, is not really true. During the course of "Booked" - in soccer, the word refers to a player who has committed misconduct worthy of a yellow, or subsequently red, card - Nick discovers that language can help him charm a difficult teacher, impress the girl he likes, deal with a menacing set of bullying twins and help him express his emotions when his parents' marriage falls apart. It also provides a connection with the school librarian, Mr. MacDonald, who was a Grammy-winning hip-hop producer in a former life before disillusionment and brain surgery necessitated a career change. The Mac, as Nick calls him, becomes an important, if tangential, figure in Nick's life, dispensing sage advice along with corny wisecracks. Alexander's previous novel in verse, "The Crossover," won the 2015 Newbery Medal, and readers who enjoyed that one will find that it shares certain plot points with "Booked." Both deal with boys on the cusp of high school, obsessed with sports - it was basketball in "The Crossover" - and trying to figure out the mystery of girls. Both focus on families who emphasize the importance of academics to their children and provide them with love and support, though family strife becomes an issue too. In "The Crossover," a son is forced to deal with his father's illness. In "Booked," Nick's parents not only separate; his mom also moves to Kentucky to pursue her dream of working with horses. While this strains Nick's relationship with both parents, a few sessions with a therapist he nicknames Dr. Fraud and some humorous text messages to his mom seem eventually to return things to a kind of equilibrium. The biggest difference between the two books may be the role sports play in each. In "The Crossover," the main character, Josh, is a legitimate star on the basketball court, one of the best players his age in his city. Nick is certainly good at soccer - his team is invited to travel to the prestigious Dallas Cup youth tournament - and playing clearly means a lot to him. (When a medical emergency lands him in the hospital, he's worried mainly about when he can get back on a soccer field.) Names like Pelé and Messi get dropped in knowing fashion. Nick is no neophyte on the pitch. But it's that vocabulary that remains most impressive. AN OBVIOUS LOVE of words, and the way they flow together and create their own rhythm, makes Alexander's work somewhat irresistible. It's what powered "The Crossover," and it is at the core of "Booked." To pick up "Booked" is to find yourself turning page after page, swept along as Nick spills out his story. Nick is an enjoyable narrator. Sure, he can get moody - what kid wouldn't, considering everything going on in his life? - but he manages to keep his sense of humor. And whenever he does decide to drop one of those weird and wonderful words his dad has taught him, a helpful footnote appears with the definition, along with some joking commentary from Nick. I, for one, was happy to have him inform me that "ragabash" means "rubbish," or "something worthless." "Booked" is certainly not ragabash, and Nick is having too much fun with this stuff to make his claim about hating words believable. You might even say it's a load of codswallop. CONNOR ENNIS is The Times's deputy media editor.