Award-winning comics artist and graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang spent seventeen years teaching at Bishop O’Dowd High School in California. Near the end of his tenure there, as he was casting about for the topic of his next book, he realized that the subject was presenting itself before his very eyes in the looming playoffs for the California state high school basketball championship. Having never been any kind of athlete himself and knowing very little about basketball, he nonetheless was acquainted with the coaching staff at his high school as well as with many of the players, and he intuited a big story in the making. As he set about following the staff and team through the games leading up to the final championship win, he ended up writing what amounts to an encyclopedic history of the sport on the high school level and beyond.
In DRAGON HOOPS the author thoughtfully recounts the stories of the players on the Bishop O’Dowd team (as well as players in other times and countries)–their family backgrounds and histories as well as their individual challenges with racism, team and societal acceptance, academics and such. Coaches are given the same treatment. Yang illustrates how each purposefully stepped forward in a difficult situation to initiate positive change.
This is a fascinating book even for those like me who don’t consider themselves big sports fans. The graphic format is colorful and appealing, and the story is a fast read. There is a reference to possible sexual abuse of a student by a coach that is handled in a non-lurid, deft manner. There is offensive language, primarily various iterations of “fuck” with a few other mild profanities scattered around. [My big gripe about this is, if the author wants to throw this word around, he needs to own it and not pretend to be protecting sensibilities by blanking out some of the letters. Everybody reading it knows what word is being used or will quickly find out by asking around.] Finally, the sheer heft of this 436-page book may preclude its being checked out by some. It’s extremely bulky and awkward to hold open while reading. Just sayin’. Those caveats aside, this book is a recommended purchase for all secondary school libraries.
Categories: Asian Culture, Books We Recommend, Bullying, Civil Rights, Controversial YA Topics, Differently Abled, Diversity, Immigrants, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Peer Relationships, Political Activism, Racism, Religion, Sexual Abuse of Children in YA Fiction, Social Media, Sports Teams