Are you in the grips of March Madness? Can’t get enough of basketball? Let me suggest some great books to read in between games. “Pick-up Game: A Full Day of Full Court” (Candlewick Press, 2011) is a collection of interlinked short stories and poems written by an all-star team of nine YA authors, including Walter Dean Meyers, Adam Rapp, Robert Lipsyte, and Rita Williams-Garcia. Together, they tell the story of what happens single steamy July day at the The Cage, New York City’s premier amateur basketball court. (Although the stories are fictional, The Cage is a real court, a place legendary for its fast action and tough, physical play; it has been the proving ground of a fair number of players who would go on to become pros.)
Novels written by a collection of authors are often a mess, but this one really works. Each story picks up where the last one left off, with sifting perspectives and characters that weave in and out of the narratives. Walter Dean Meyers opens the book with Boo, who struggles to guard a weird new guy with dead eyes and freakishly pale skin. Cochise is a Mohawk Indian whose father helped build the World Trade Center; his lungs are shot because the toxic air he breathed while cleaning up in the days following 9/11. Other especially memorable characters include an Iraq War vet who finds peace on the court, a hotshot hoping to attract the attention of the scouts, and a scrappy girl named Dominique who refuses to let the big boys get the best of her. Combining gritty street ball action with terrific characters, this book is a slam-dunk.
Basketball fans might also like “Boy21,” (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012), by Matthew Quick, a story of basketball, friendship, and redemption. Paul Volponi, the author of “Hurricane Song: A Novel of New Orleans,” is back on the court with “The Final Four” (Viking Juvenile, 2012), a book built around a semifinal game in the NCAA tournament.
If you’d like to learn more about The Cage, check out “Inside the Cage: A Season at West 4th Street’s Legendary Tournament,” (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2005), by Wight Martindale Jr. You may also want to check some classic nonfiction titles about the game of street ball, including “The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004), by Darcy Frey; and “Heaven is a Playground,” (Bison Books, 2004), by Rick Telander.