Saturday, March 7, 2020

Book Review: Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Gene Yang teaches math at a Catholic high school with an excellent basketball team. When he learns the school is about to go to the State Championships--which they've been to many times and never won--yet again, he decides to follow the team and for a year and make it the story of his next book. The book went off in directions he never anticipated.

He did a lot of interviews with the coaches and students. The head coach himself was once a student, and a basketball player, at the school. The two stars of the team have been best friends for years and seem to be complete opposites. The school has been so close to major success so many times, and yet keeps falling short. Several players have gone on to the NBA.

As the story wends its way through the season, with the predictable and yet no less enjoyable ups and downs, what isn't predictable is the revelation of a scandal involving the previous coach, and also the lessons learned by Gene as the year goes on. He starts off not particularly interested in sports in general and basketball in particular, And of course he gets into it and feels and wins and losses and close calls as passionately as any long-term fans, but he also learns from it. He's offered a big opportunity midway through the book, which is a distraction, and also involves him making a big decision. In the end, the Dragons basketball players inspire him in the choice he makes.

Will they win the big game? If not, how will his book end? Gene's wife points out that winning isn't the only possible ending here. In fact, losing can be a more inspiring ending, if addressed well.

I loved this story. The kids are so impressive--I want to look them up and see what successes they went on to--and amazingly diverse and really thoughtful. The parts with Gene are unique. I can't recall often seeing an author insert themselves into a narrative in this way. It feels unintentional, like he was pulled in against his will. And yet, as the season unfolds and he takes inspiration from the athletes, it also feels so natural, like it was the intention all along.

You don't have to like basketball to love this graphic novel.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

This book is published by First Second, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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