Title: Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang
Book Beginnings (1st page):
Friday56 (54th page):
Summary: Graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang has created another masterpiece with award-winning Dragon Hoops which follows the real-life Bishop O'Dowd Dragons basketball team on their quest to win the California State Championship in 2015. The book not only chronicles the high school team's basketball season, it also gives a history of basketball from its inception through all kinds of historic changes for women, races, and rule changes. It also takes an up-close-and-personal look at some of the players and coaches on the O'Dowd team and beyond. Yang inserts himself into the story, too. As a teacher at O'Dowd he chronicles his own transformation from a non-sports fan to a basketball fanatic.
Review: I read this book over two weeks ago and the longer it has simmered in my brain, the more I like it. In fact, in a lot of ways I think the book is downright fantastic. Here is what I liked---
- Yang takes a close look at his team's season including play-by-play moves during games. Because it is a graphic novel (memoir) the cartoon boxes serve as a kind of stop action play back.
- Many of the players were interviewed and Yang gave us a sense of their personalities and their struggles. Two of the best players, both African Americans, declined letting Yang in on all the struggles they've had in their lives, preferring to focus on the positives of their game and where they hoped to go in the future. One boy, an Iraqi American, talked about the racism he encountered during and after games and how he is able to ignore most of it. Yang even experienced some of it as a spectator sitting near people yelling racist things at the boy during the game. Another player from China talked about the differences he has experienced in the USA compared to those at home. While Yang was watching a game a parent from the opposing team assumed that Yang was this boy's parent. Two Asians must be related, right? By knowing these boys stories one can cheer on the team for personal reasons.
- Interspersed throughout the book is a look back at the evolution of the game of basketball. Page 54 shows the creator of the game, James Naismith and the simple reason he created a new game in the first place. I had to laugh to see it originally had thirteen rules. Subsequent historical pages dealt with the early game for females, the introduction of blacks to teams, the Harlem Globetrotters, the beginning of the NBA and important players who advanced the games at each step.
- Speaking of STEPS, Yang does this really cool thing through out the book of showing how each person took a step forward or backwards in advancing the game and themselves in life. The first page we see a young Yang stepping away from sports because he is so bad at them. Later we see him taking a step in the other direction as he crosses the barrier from the school building and the gym to meet the basketball coach. Later we see steps taken by the likes of Meadowlark Lemon for the Harlem Globetrotters, female players who broke barriers, and the first really famous professional player.
- In an interview for NPR Yang said he didn't intend to insert himself into the story of the O'Dowd Dragons and their award-winning season but as it evolved he found that he was changing as he told the story. I really liked how the reader is let in on the process used to balance work, family, and cartooning. We also got to watch Yang evolve into a fan. At one point in the story he and his wife have this funny exchange (see below) about how cartoonists tell a story leaving out and adding details and his wife asks him if she is real. For this reason I am not sure if we can call Dragon Hoops a graphic autobiography/memoir or just a graphic novel. Whatever it is, Yang as a character shows growth.
- It is an award winner. You know I am a sucker for award books. Dragon Hoops won a 2021 Printz Honor, the 2020 Harvey Award for Best Book, and placement on several '2020 best books of the year' lists.
- This is the third Yang graphic novel I've read and I'm ready to go out and search for his other 2020 Harvey Award winner: Superman Smashes the Klan.
Yang wins two Harvey Awards in 2020.
- I should say as a disclaimer, the book Dragon Hoops is very long, over 400 pages, and heavy. In fact the cover is designed to feel like the texture of a basketball but I suspect it is heavier than said ball. Big graphic novels don't take nearly as long to read as regular text, so don't be afraid to give this one a try. I know you will enjoy it, too.