Things usually do not go as planned for seventeen-year-old Noah. He and his best friend Walt (aka Swing) have been cut from the high school baseball team for the third year in a row, and it looks like Noah’s love interest since third grade, Sam, will never take it past the “best friend” zone. Noah would love to retire his bat and accept the status quo, but Walt has big plans for them both, which include making the best baseball comeback ever, getting the girl, and finally finding cool.
To go from lovelorn to ladies’ men, Walt introduces Noah to a relationship guru—his Dairy Queen-employed cousin, Floyd—and the always informative Woohoo Woman Podcast. Noah is reluctant, but decides fate may be intervening when he discovers more than just his mom’s birthday gift at the thrift shop. Inside the vintage Keepall is a gold mine of love letters from the 1960s. Walt is sure these letters and the podcasts are just what Noah needs to communicate his true feelings to Sam. To Noah, the letters are more: an initiation to the curious rhythms of love and jazz, as well as a way for him and Walt to embrace their own kind of cool. While Walt is hitting balls out of the park and catching the eye of the baseball coach, Noah composes anonymous love letters to Sam in an attempt to write his way into her heart. But as things are looking up for Noah and Walt, a chain of events alters everything Noah knows to be true about love, friendship, sacrifice, and fate.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Mild sexual themes, Racism, Underage drinking, Violence
Booklist (October 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 3))
Grades 9-12. Alexander (Rebound, 2018) and Hess (Animal Ark, 2017) struck gold with their collaboration on Solo (2017), and this spiritual successor follows the same free-verse format. While quieter overall than Solo, the quality of the poems and distinct characterization is still there. High-school junior Noah explains, “My best friend / Walt Disney Jones / is obsessed with jazz, / baseball, / dead famous people, / and finding cool, / if it’s the last thing we ever do.” Walt (aka Swing) is Noah’s biggest cheerleader when it comes to winning over his lifelong crush, Sam. Unfortunately, she has Noah firmly in the friend zone. On a serendipitous trip to the thrift store, Noah finds inspirational love letters written by an enigmatic author named Corinthian. With some meddling from Walt, Noah crafts artistic found poems from the love letters and leaves them for Sam to find. Ultimately a nuanced examination of changing friendship dynamics and first loves, this novel packs a punch into its shocking and extremely powerful ending torn straight from today’s headlines.
Kirkus Reviews starred (September 1, 2018)
Seventeen-year-old Noah struggles with the feelings he has for Sam, a childhood friend, and is encouraged to express himself by an ebullient buddy. Noah and his friend Walt Disney Jones, aka Swing, are linked by a love of baseball. Swing is also obsessed with jazz and tries to make Noah a devotee as well. Along with their various personal dramas—Swing’s new stepfather, the romantic advice Noah is receiving—someone has been planting American flags around town, leaving folks to speculate who and why. At a thrift store, Noah purchases a travel bag as a birthday gift for his mother and inside he finds long-hidden love letters. They encourage him to put his feelings on paper, but Swing forces his hand by anonymously giving his writing to Sam, causing a rift between them. Then, out of nowhere, everything changes, and the innocence of their lives is shattered as their friendship troubles are put into perspective by something far more serious. The free verse tells a story as complex as the classic jazz music woven throughout. Noah is the narrator, but it is Swing, with his humor, irresistible charm, and optimism, who steals the spotlight. All the secondary characters are distinctive and add texture to the narrative. Swing is African-American, while Noah is white. Despite the easy flow of verse, there is a density to this story with its multiple elements. Lively, moving, and heartfelt. (Fiction. 14-18)
About the Author
Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and New York Times Bestselling author of 21 books, including The Crossover, which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American literature for Children, the Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor, The NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and the Passaic Poetry Prize. Kwame writes for children of all ages. His other works include Surf’s Up, a picture book; Booked, a middle grade novel; and He Said She Said, a YA novel.
Kwame believes that poetry can change the world, and he uses it to inspire and empower young people through his PAGE TO STAGE Writing and Publishing Program released by Scholastic. A regular speaker at colleges and conferences in the U.S., he also travels the world planting seeds of literary love (Singapore, Brazil, Italy, France, Shanghai, etc.). Recently, Alexander led a delegation of 20 writers and activists to Ghana, where they delivered books, built a library, and provided literacy professional development to 300 teachers, as a part of LEAP for Ghana, an International literacy program he co-founded.
His website is www.kwamealexander.com.
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