I haven’t done a roundup in a while, but I’m actually a little ahead of the game, so let’s do it! Here’s what’s good for March.
Dragon Hoops, by Gene Luen Yang, (March 2020, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781626720794
Gene Luen Yang is back, and Dragon Hoops is a memoir of a year following the basketball team during the 2014-15 season at the high school where he taught, Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California. Gene wants to write a new graphic novel – at the same time he’s being courted by DC Comics to write a new Superman story – and he’s wracking his brain, coming up with options. He isn’t really a sports guy, but he decides to explore the Bishop O’Dowd varsity basketball team, after hearing all the buzz in the school hallways. He approaches the men’s varsity coach, Lou Richie, and starts writing the story of the team, the story of the young men on the team, and the pursuit of the California State Championships.
I’m not a big sports fan, and you don’t need to be to read Dragon Hoops. It’s the story of the people behind the team, and it’s exciting to read about these diverse young men, their stories, and their drive. It’s great to see Gene Yang’s journey from someone who has zero interest in sports to becoming a rabid fan of the team, because of the connections formed with the players and Coach Lou. It’s also very much Gene Yang’s story as he struggles with a work-life balance, whether or not to take on the extra work – and excitement! – that Superman would bring, and his struggle to address a difficult chapter in Bishop O’Dowd’s history.
The artwork is realistic with a cartoony feel, and the dialogue and pacing is great. Gene Yang gets readers excited for each game, and builds relationships between reader and players/coaches by interspersing biographical chapters and pivotal games in the race for the championship. He has a powerful thread through each personal story, too: each character, including Yang, has a moment when they step outside their comfort zone to pursue something greater; something Yang uses a literal “step” to illustrate. Yang steps across the street from the classrooms to the gym to meet with Coach Lou; Coach Lou steps across the street to go from public school to Bishop O’Dowd as a teen; Sendra Berenson, the inventor of women’s basketball in in 1892 took a step into a gymnasium to teach the young women in her care a new sport she’d read about; player Jeevin Sandhu, a student and practicing Sikh, takes a step into a Catholic high school so he can play basketball. Gene Yang includes the evolution of basketball from its creation to the present, and the big role of Catholic schools in high school basketball; both things I knew nothing about and found really interesting. Back matter includes comprehensive notes and a bibliography. Catch a preview of Dragon Hoops, courtesy of EW magazine.
The Phantom Twin, by Lisa Brown, (March 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626729247
This eerie tale of twins, sideshows, and hauntings is perfect for tweens and teens who love their books on the creepier side. If you have readers who loved Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Coraline, or loved Mary Downing Hahn’s books, this is the book to hand them.
At the turn of the 20th century, Isabel and Jane are conjoined twins, sold to a sideshow by their family, where they find a family among the “freaks” in the freak show. The two sisters are opposites, with Jane being the dominant personality. Where Iss would rather stay home, Jane wants to go out, and since she has more motor control over their shared body, Iss finds herself dragged along. Jane starts dating a surgeon who wants to separate them; despite Iss’s misgivings, Jane agrees: but doesn’t survive the surgery. Iss is left to face life on her own, but feels the phantom of her sister ever-present, like a phantom limb. Iss returns to the carnival, desperate for familiarity and to rebuild her life. Jane, still the dominant personality, tries to assert herself, and Iss finds herself rebelling against her sideshow family and her sister’s memory, as she tries to negotiate a life on her own and free of others’ expectations.
The Phantom Twin is fabulously creepy with an upbeat twist. It’s a feminist tale and a story of life on the fringes as much as it’s a story of grief, loss, and starting over. Back matter includes an author’s note on sideshows, carnival lingo, and more resources for further reading.