Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Book Review: No Slam Dunk by Mike Lupica (2018)

Teammates Wes and Dinero are both excellent basketball players, but while Wes is more of a team player, Dinero often forsakes the good of the team to allow his own skills to shine. Both boys have picked up their attitudes toward basketball from their fathers. While Dinero's dad is still very much involved with the game, however, Wes's father has come home from Afghanistan with PTSD and a drinking problem that has kept him away from his family, and by extension, away from the basketball court. As the basketball season gets underway, Wes tries to cope with the difficulties in his family life while also helping Dinero to become a better teammate.

This middle grade novel (of which I received an ARC - thank you, Penguin Young Readers!) is full of strong characters with believable and memorable personalities: Wes's high school librarian mom, his counselor, Mr. Correa, and his friend Emmanuel, as well as his and Dinero's dads, and Wes and Dinero themselves. The conflict between the two boys is more nuanced than those at the center of a lot of kids' sports novels, and I liked that neither Wes nor Dinero is really a villain in the story. They both have life lessons to learn, and basketball serves to help them work those out.

I will admit that a lot of the basketball terminology and plays went over my head, but I was still able to follow the general idea of what was going on. Lupica does a nice job of balancing basketball action with scenes that further the interpersonal relationships that drive the story. The rise and fall of the plot throughout the book feels very natural, and the two main conflicts in the story, between Wes and Dinero, and between Wes and his dad come together nicely as they each reach their conclusions.

I guess we're not supposed to like Mike Lupica anymore now because Shannon Hale doesn't like how he acts in public, but I judge books solely on their merits, and this is a good one.  It would be a good choice for a reader who has loved Fred Bowen, but needs slightly more of a challenge. I also see some similarities to Chris Crutcher, who always uses sports to help his characters cope with difficulties in their personal lives.

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