Monday, February 3, 2020

Dragon Hoops


Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang. Grades 6 and up. First Second. March 2020. 448 pages. Reviewed from digital galley provided by publisher. Due out March 17 - preorder now and get this on your shelves in time for March Madness!

I live in basketball country. High school and college basketball is absolutely huge here in Southern Indiana. And I just read a book that I am for sure adding to my shelves because I know I will have an audience for it, and I think you will, too.

You know Gene Luen Yang from his Printz-winning American Born Chinese and his National-Book-Award-shortlisted Boxers and Saints and now he's back with a new book that's a rather unusual memoir of sorts. And it's a very unlikely book for him to have written.

What it's about:

Mr. Yang is not a fan of basketball, or of sports in general. He's a comics nerd, the kid who was always made fun of on the basketball court, a guy more at home at an artist's table than a stadium. But as he was searching for his next book idea, he kept hearing the students at the high school where he taught talking about their basketball team. So, he took a step across the street to the school's gym to check it out.

And so begins Mr. Yang's year of basketball. He follows a team of stellar players and a coach who's brought his team to the California State Championships five times without winning the championship. Could this be their year? With eight seniors on the team, it had better be.

My thoughts: 

This is a fantastic book that Yang's many fans will appreciate and it's sure to garner him new fans, as well. Part action-packed sports story, part character-driven portrait of this dedicated high school team (and their teachers), and part sports history, this is a graphic novel that has a little something for everyone.

Yang includes personal stories of all the teens on the team and why basketball matters in their lives. It's a very diverse group of California students who had many different paths to attending this private, Catholic high school, but they come together to make one cohesive team.

Although at its heart this is a sports story, Yang interperses the team's story with his own personal story of taking steps forward into the unknown. Throughout the book the theme of taking a small step that changes your life comes back again and again. You never know where a small step might lead. For Mr. Yang, his small step across the street to the school gym eventually led to his decision to quit teaching and move to writing and creating full time, a decision he wrestles with throughout the book.

While that part of the story may sound like a story only an adult audience would appreciate, Yang treats his teen subjects with such respect and honesty that this is truly a teen book with huge crossover potential. Sports fans will definitely appreciate this book, but there's a lot for the nerdy quiet kids who don't care about basketball, too.


Press this into the hands of teens who enjoyed Attucks!: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City by Philip Hoose (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2018). While Dragon Hoops is a graphic novel and Attucks! is prose nonfiction, both profile diverse elite basketball teams with plenty of play-by-play action mixed with a good dose of basketball history.