“Ball don’t lie” Matt de la Peña

Rated 5 stars ***** 2015. Ember (Random House). 280 pp.

BallDon'tLiePeople say a skinny white dude can’t ball, but Sticky don’t pay them no mind. He don’t talk much, but lets his mad balling skills do the talking. Once he steps onto the scuffed boards of Lincoln Rec with his boys and a ball, the world disappears. Balling takes him to a place where no one else can go.

Though shuffled from foster home to foster home all his life, and afflicted with a severe case of OCD, seventeen-year-old Sticky has one thing going for him – he can ball. He’s spent years perfecting his shots and, despite setbacks in his personal life, basketball has always been there for him. Sticky’s dreams of playing college ball and making it into the NBA are threatened on the day he makes the worst decision of his life.

“Ball don’t lie” is raw. It’s honest. It’s gritty. It’s a Broadway play waiting to be cast. It’s waiting for you.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older, especially reluctant readers.


“The Reappearing Act: Coming out as Gay on a College Basketball Team let by Born-Again Christians” Kate Fagan

Rated 4 stars **** To be published May 6, 2014. ebook. ARC. Skyhorse Publishing.

TheReappearingActKate Fagan, former women’s basketball player for the University of Colorado, tells her story in “The Reappearing Act.” As she grew up she didn’t think she was gay, assuming feelings she’d had for girls over the years were just excited thoughts for possible friendships.

With her life revolving around basketball, Kate thought college life was great. During her sophomore year everything changed when her teammates invited her to join them at a Bible study. These Bible studies became weekly meetings where homosexuality and other topics were discussed. Kate had just begun to realize she might be gay, and these times served to further confuse and frighten her.

Kate was afraid of the feelings she kept having for other women. These feelings, combined with the fear of telling her parents, losing her best friend and of her teammates’ reactions caused Kate to retreat further into herself. As a result, during her college years, she led a double life constantly feeling guilty and confused as she tried to reconcile the Bible with her own feelings and beliefs. This pattern of telling lies and half-truths carried over into her adult working life, until she could finally admit to the world that she was gay.

Fagan’s honest account of her insecurities and internal battles will ring true with readers struggling with their own similar reality. “The Reappearing Act” will serve as a testimony that there is light at the end of their dark tunnels of uncertainty and fear.

Recommended for readers 18 years old and older.


“Chinese Handcuffs” Chris Crutcher

Harper Tempest, 1989. Paperback. 296 pp.

Unfortunately, despite this book having been written 23 years ago, its subject mater hasn’t gotten old and is still relevant today.

Dillon, team trainer for his high school girl’s basketball team and fledgling triathlete, watched his older brother commit suicide. Told through letters to Dillon’s brother, as well as through flashbacks, Crutcher tells the story of Jen – sexually abused by her father, then her stepfather, since she was 5 years old. Now 18, and a star basketball player, she has reached a crossroads. By trying to protect her younger sister from the same fate, her stepfather has boxed her into a corner where she can only see one way out for herself.

Determined not to have what happened to his brother happen to anyone else on his watch, Dillon tries to figure out how he can help Jen escape from a psychopath who is not beyond murdering those who get in his way. Crutcher weaves together the pain in their lives to depict an emotional storyline, combined with hope, that will resonate with teens going through similar experiences who may seek help for themselves.

Contains mature subject matter. I’d recommend it for grades 10-12.

“Black and White” Paul Volponi

Penguin Group, 2005

Black and White are seniors on their Queens, N.Y. high school basketball team who have been best friends for years. Marcus (Black) and Eddie (White) don’t care about their skin colors and, together, have been accepted in the neighborhood because of their great basketball skills. Marcus lives with his single mom and sister in the projects while Eddie lives with his parents and sister in a private house nearby.

Eddie comes up with the idea of using his grandfather’s gun to rob people so he and Marcus can get money for their senior dues. Not content with that, they continue their stickups until Eddie shoots someone during a robbery. Marcus is identified as being at the scene, and keeps the neighborhood code of silence by not turning in Eddie. While Marcus takes the heat and pleads guilty, Eddie lets him take the fall. The chasm that seems to have always existed between Black and White widens with each passing day, and causes racial unrest at their school and among their teammates.

Volponi takes on the inequalities in the justice system when it comes to the skin color of those accused, and makes readers take a hard look at what being arrested means to someone who is poor and Black and have a bad lawyer versus someone who is White, has money and can pay for a good lawyer.

As the book drew closer and closer to its inevitable conclusion, I felt Volponi accurately portrayed the racial divide, and showed the pain of more than one person’s life being changed forever because of the inability to look beyond skin color. Good read for grades 9-12.