Swing (ebook via NetGalley and the Launch Team)
by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess
I am lucky enough to be on the Swing launch team, so I got to read it before anyone else. It makes me feel like a hipster. There’s nothing better than reading a book by one of my favorite authors before it comes out, because I normally don’t have the patience to wait once I’m excited!
The story starts out with Noah (the narrator) and his best friend Swing, who recently renamed himself due to his destined greatness in baseball, as well as his passion for jazz music. In their town, flags are mysteriously popping up, and we aren’t sure why. Taking a knee for the National Anthem comes up, and an African American boy is accused of placing the flags, and the police interaction frightens the characters in the book, making the reader think maybe it is related to current events. That is one motif in the story. Another is the romantic relationships and heartache. Noah and Swing have a best friend named Sam, and Noah begins sending her pieces of art anonymously. She begins to realize her boyfriend isn’t all that great, which is good news for Noah. Much like Alexander’s Solo, there are many stories within this story, and our protagonist goes on a journey with heartache and self-discovery, he faces a major life-changing incident, and then his life is changed because of it. However, despite the many clues, the life-changing incident isn’t as predictable as I thought.
What I liked about this book is that it has strong characters with real emotions. Swing is almost older than he actually is, though. His faults almost aren’t real faults at all. I think that’s on purpose. Noah, obviously, would be more relatable, being the main character, and we feel his heartache and depression. Unfortunately, his pain goes way deeper than I hope I’ll ever be able to relate to. I also appreciated that this book is relevant to today. Alexander is calling for change, gently opening our eyes to a reality in a less obvious way than Dear Martin or The Hate U Give (two awesome books that I highly recommend for older students) or Ghost Boys (great for middle grade).
What I didn’t like about this book was that I didn’t know where Alexander was going at times. For awhile, I thought Noah was going to hurt himself due to depression, and then the story took a change. I also had to start the story over again and read from the beginning, because I was lost if I didn’t read it straight through. However, as usual, these two authors have joined up to create another must-read, one that is relevant to today, and will be a popular read with my middle graders. (Sidenote: there is some very minor drinking and talk of “closing the deal” with a girl, but no obvious sex or cussing, which often make it hard for me to put on the shelf for sixth grade- I’d probably give potential readers the “there are some more grown up topics in this book; will your parents be okay with it?” talk.)
Book 65 of 2018