The Hoop and the Harm

Lorimer. Aug. 2023. 272p. Tr $20.99. ISBN 9781459417229; pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781459417151.
Gr 9 Up–College freshman Udoka Clendon, known by his friends and teammates as Duke or Yoosie (a play on his initials), is feeling crushed by self-doubt and expectations around his basketball career at an unnamed school in Toronto. Consumed with love for the game since he was a preschooler, Udoka refers to basketball as Her. Nurtured intermittently by an estranged older brother, he progressed through street and rec league ball to an elite prep school in Chicago. An epic dunk at a local park, caught on video, brought him social media notoriety and led to a violent flare-up that shook him and strained his friendships. Now he’s seeing a sports psychologist at the college and confronting a desire to quit the game he loves. Mo, a girlfriend, is always at the fringe of the story but is never adequately developed. A sister, Leena, is passionately committed to performing arts but struggles with the volume of attention lavished on Udoka. The author played varsity basketball at McGill and the University of Toronto and explains in a concluding note that much of the story reflects his own experience. Given the length and complexity of the narrative, it will not be an easy sell for struggling readers. Detailed and jargon-heavy descriptions of game play could discourage non-fans. The book is written at a third grade reading level.
VERDICT A potent message about the mental toll of elite sports and the value of playing for love of the game will resonate with teens. Recommended for high school libraries.

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