JB and I. Josh and JB are identical twins and they're almost thirteen. They're easy to tell apart though; Josh is taller, has locks and wants to go to Duke, while JB's head is shaved and he wants to play at the University of North Carolina. Josh says that if they didn't love each other, they'd hate each other. They both play basketball and they each have their own skillset. Josh went to three basketball camps over the summer, while JB only went to one basketball camp and then Bible school. Josh isn't fooled, though--JB is only so religious now because at Bible camp, he gets to hang out with girls.
The fact that Mom and Dad decided to allow Josh and JB to make their own decisions about how to spend their summer suggests that they recognize the importance of letting them grow up to be individuals, rather than focusing on their relationship as twins. However, Josh's judgment of JB's choice to go to Bible school suggests he's not sold on this, as he expresses hurt that he's being left behind.
At the End of Warm-Ups, My Brother Tries to Dunk. JB tries to dunk the ball and fails. Josh laughs, makes fun of JB, and dunks the ball to show off. Dad cheers and Josh explains that he's the only kid on the team who can dunk. The gym is loud and filled with parents watching their children. Mom is talking to teachers as Coach calls the team in. He talks to them about love and Vondie bursts out laughing. Then, the game starts.
Josh's behavior regarding dunking and making fun of JB suggests that he celebrates their differences, but only when they end up being somehow better for him. Again, this follows where he is in his development and suggests that competition is one of the most important things for him at this point.
The Sportscaster. Josh explains that JB likes to tease and trash talk other players during games, which is what Dad used to do. Josh, on the other hand, is silent, as it allows him to react to what's going on better. He talks to himself and sometimes narrates his own play-by-plays in his head.
When Josh doesn't root his habit of narrating to himself in family history, it suggests that he does enjoy his individuality when he's able to deploy it to control how someone else (here, the reader) thinks of him.
Josh's Play-by-Play. As Vondie grabs the ball, the Reggie Lewis Wildcats—Josh's team—are ready to win. They've already won one game and won't stop until they win the championship trophy. Vondie passes the ball to Josh and Josh passes to JB. Josh notes that JB is special, and that JB's dad (Dad) is Chuck "Da Man" Bell. JB passes the ball back to Josh, who performs a skillful crossover.
The emphasis that Josh places on reaching the championships again shows that Josh prioritizes basketball success over all else. His mention of Dad shows how seriously he takes Dad's teachings and past as a basketball star; he understands that both things help him in the present.
cross-o-ver. Josh defines a crossover as a basketball move where a player dribbles the ball from one hand to the other. It can throw off an opponent, and basketball greats have used it to great effect. Dad taught Josh to perform a crossover slowly at first, to test one's opponent, and then go for it quickly.
While a crossover is a basketball move, the move itself also acts as a metaphor for how Josh develops over the course of the novel. As it progresses and he grows, he must cross over towards adulthood, taking Dad's teachings with him.
The Show. As Josh narrates, the text grows, shrinks, and moves diagonally across the page. He has the ball and is trying to evade Number 28 on the other team. 28 follows Josh closely, but Josh feints and avoids him. Number 14 joins in and Josh feels like he's a chef in control of his kitchen. He passes to Vondie, who makes a basket.
The style of the text here helps move the action of Josh's story, again showing how Josh has learned how to pull from musical traditions to manipulate how the reader interacts with his story.
The Bet, Part One. At halftime, the Wildcats are down by seven. Coach isn't worried; he starts blasting his favorite dance music. Josh, JB, and Vondie join in and dance the Cha-Cha Slide. JB gives Josh a look and Josh asks if he wants to bet. JB touches Josh's hair as he says he does.
Coach's nonchalance about the score suggests that he wants his players to know that there's more to the game than winning. It seems just as important that they know how to loosen up, dance, and enjoy themselves.
Ode to My Hair. Josh loves his hair. He says he'd love to "enshrine" it, treat it like gold, and then he'd mine it. He cares for it meticulously every day, and this is why he declines JB's bet.
Remember that Josh's locks connect him to Dad and give him the power to dunk. Because his hair is such an important part of his identity, it makes sense that he'd decline any bet that might put his hair in danger.
The Bet, Part Two. JB's bet is convoluted: if the score is tied and it comes down to the last shot, and if he gets the ball and doesn't miss the basket, he wants to cut off Josh's hair. Josh agrees to the bet but says that if he wins, JB has to walk around without pants during lunch tomorrow. Everyone else laughs, so JB revises the bet. He says that he'd like to cut just one of Josh's locks, and if Josh wins, JB will moon the nerdy sixth graders that sit near them at lunch. Josh agrees to the bet, even though he loves his hair and used to be one of the nerdy sixth graders. He believes he'll win because the bet is so specific.
The way that the boys interact with each other and respond to their teammates' laughter and peer pressure indicates that although Josh doesn't name their other teammates aside from Vondie, he feels compelled to accept bets like this to keep up appearances and look cool for his friends. This also implies that Josh might not have as much control over his identity and his choices as he thought; he still has to appease the crowd.
The game is tied. The score is tied and clock ticks as JB makes his free throw. The crowd is silent until the ball goes through, right at the last second. The crowd explodes and Josh's head starts to ache.
Josh's headache speaks to his honesty--he's going to go through with the bet--while JB's successful free throw shows how skilled he is at basketball.
In the locker room. After the game, in the locker room, JB cackles and approaches Josh, holding Coach's red scissors. Josh thinks that he loves this game from the bottom of his heart, even though he was benched all through the first quarter, JB played spectacularly, they won the game, and he lost the bet.
When Josh can recognize and accept his love for the game alongside all the things he doesn't like about it, it again shows that basketball is the most important thing in his life.
Cut. JB laughs and waves the scissors around. The boys' teammates start chanting "Filthy" over and over again as JB grabs Josh's hair. He doesn't hear his lock hit the ground, but he knows something is wrong when Vondie shouts, "OH, SNAP!"
Whatever's happened, the fact that it's clearly not good speaks to the dangers of bowing to peer pressure like this and allowing someone else the ability to change one's appearance without full consent.
ca-lam-i-ty. Josh defines a calamity as an unexpected bad event that often results in injuries. As an example, he says that if JB had taken cutting Josh's lock seriously, he would've only cut one. Instead, however, JB created a calamity: he cut five locks and now, there's a bald spot on the side of Josh's head. After the game, Mom is very upset to see Josh's hair and calls it a calamity. She tells Dad to take Josh to the barber over the weekend to cut off the rest of his locks.
Notice that Josh never mentions whether or not JB apologizes for what happened. This implies that JB might not realize how huge of a blow this is to Josh and the image Josh has of himself, though it could also point to the possibility that JB doesn't have the language or the emotional maturity to properly apologize.
Mom doesn't like us eating out. Even though Mom doesn't like it when the family eats out, she lets them choose a restaurant once per month. Dad chooses Chinese, even though Mom won't let him eat most of what's on the buffet. Josh knows that he would've chosen Pollard's Chicken and BBQ if Mom hadn't banned them from the restaurant. At dinner, Mom is still upset about Josh's hair and makes JB apologize. JB's apology isn't sincere, so Josh gives him a noogie. Dad breaks the boys up by telling one of his famously bad jokes.
Josh betrays his youth here when he tells the reader about Mom's ban on certain restaurants without wondering why. He'll discover later that it's because of Dad's struggles with high blood pressure, but at this point, Josh and JB are too caught up in themselves and their own trials and tribulations to ask bigger questions about their family.
As Josh fills his plate, JB asks Dad for insight on how they played. Dad says they did okay, but deems Josh's crossover lazy. Mom takes the salt off the table and JB goes to the buffet. He gives three packages of duck sauce and some wonton soup to Josh. Mom thinks this action was random, but JB asks if that's what Josh wanted. Josh thanks JB--even though he never said anything, he actually did want that food.
Taking the salt off the table is one way that Mom can control Dad's diet and make it friendlier to his heart disease. JB's ability to get exactly what Josh wanted speaks to their connection as twins. At this point, it specifically shows that they're still connected and in tune with each other, despite their current fight over Josh's hair.
Missing. Josh admits he's not a mathematician, but he usually does okay with math. However, he keeps counting his locks under his pillow. He has 37 locks and one tear, and he thinks they never add up.
The inside of Mom and Dad's bedroom closet. Mom and Dad's closet is off limits. JB often asks Josh to go in there and snoop through Dad's things, but Josh always says no. Today, however, Josh asks Mom for a box for his locks and she tells him to take one of her Sunday hatboxes out of the closet. Dad's small secret box sits next to Mom's boxes. Just as Josh opens Dad's box, JB appears in the doorway. He apologizes again for cutting off Josh's locks and promises to make up for it by doing some of Josh's chores for the rest of the year.
Everything that happens in this poem points to Josh and JB starting to grow up: allowing Josh into her closet shows Mom trusting Josh to behave like an adult, while JB's apology shows that he's becoming more comfortable making things right and behaving maturely. Similarly, when Josh decides to open Dad's box, it represents Josh's curiosity about who exactly Dad is, a curiosity that grows as he starts to come of age.
JB notices that Josh has Dad's box open, so they rummage through it. They find newspaper clippings and old memorabilia, as well as Dad's championship ring. JB slides it onto his finger and ignores Josh, who tries to look like he wants a turn. JB finds more articles about Dad's time in a European league. Then, JB finds a manila envelope with "private" on the front. Josh decides to put it back, but JB opens it. There are two letters inside. The first is from the Los Angeles Lakers inviting Dad to their free-agent tryouts. The second reads that because Dad decided not to have surgery for patella tendinitis, he might not be able to play again.
The way that Josh introduces these letters shows that they're a shock to the boys; this in turn suggests that Josh and JB never suspected that their dad had any medical issues. By introducing this revelation that Dad does have medical issues, and specifically, that those issues kept him from playing basketball, it impresses upon the boys that their success isn't guaranteed. Instead, they'll need to make decisions to care for their health so they can succeed.
pa-tel-lar ten-di-ni-tis. Josh defines patellar tendinitis as a condition where the muscle connecting the kneecap to the shin becomes inflamed. It's an overuse injury that often happens when a person jumps a lot. Josh uses it in a sentence and says that in Mom and Dad's closet, he and JB discovered that Dad has patellar tendinitis, which is known as jumper's knee. He offers another sentence: Dad led his team in Europe to the championships, but because of patellar tendinitis, he now has no career. Josh wonders why Dad never had surgery.
Because patellar tendinitis is an overuse injury, it follows that there are times when working and practicing hard aren't actually beneficial--in Dad's case, they led to a career-ending injury. Josh's question of why Dad never had surgery shows him beginning to think more critically about the people around him. Essentially, it shows that he's starting to become more curious about people who had previously been somewhat one-dimensional to him.
Sundays After Church. Every Sunday after church, Josh and his family participate in a pick-up game of basketball at the recreation center. They listen to hip-hop and, once all the teasing dies down, the game begins. Dad passes to Josh, Josh passes to JB, and JB shoots the ball.
By connecting church with basketball, Josh sets up basketball as being an almost religious experience for his family. Similarly, Josh's mention of hip-hop introduces the reader to another place where Josh is exposed to different types of music.
Basketball Rule #2. In a random text, Dad tells Josh to hustle, run quickly, pivot and chase, aim and shoot. He tells Josh to work smart but to live smarter, and to play hard but not forget to practice.
When Dad expands his basketball rules to apply to Josh's life as a whole, he shows that he believes that success on the court is related to Josh's success in other areas of his life.
Girls. Josh and JB walk into the lunchroom together. Even though Josh isn't bald, his hair looks enough like JB's that people do double takes. When they sit down, their friends start asking how they'll be able to tell the boys apart. JB offers that he's cool and can make free throws, while Josh yells that he can dunk. A girl they've never seen before (Miss Sweet Tea) walks up to their table. The way JB looks at her is embarrassing. When the girl asks if it's true that twins know what each other are thinking, Josh points out that a person doesn't need to be JB's twin to know what he's thinking about.
When Josh and JB's friends ask how they'll tell them apart, it creates the possibility that at least to these outside observers, the boys aren't entirely full individuals to the extent that Josh has shown the reader they are. Miss Sweet Tea's question reinforces this, as it plays into the stereotypes and conceptions of twins in the popular imagination. Josh's reply, on the other hand, reinforces that twins aren't that much different from anyone else.
While Vondie and JB. Josh does his and JB's vocabulary homework while Vondie and JB debate whether Miss Sweet Tea is hot or cute. Josh doesn't mind doing JB's homework; he loves English and owes JB since JB did the dishes last week. Josh is having a hard time concentrating though, so when Vondie and JB ask Josh's opinion on the new girl, Josh says she's pulchritudinous.
Josh's choice to use a word that's presumably off of his vocabulary list to describe Miss Sweet Tea shows where he's pulling his language from. By taking it from the school system, Josh shows that in addition to pulling from specific cultural texts, he's also a product of the same environment as all of his friends.
pul-chri-tu-di-nous. Josh defines pulchritudinous as having great beauty and appeal. He says that every guy in the cafeteria is trying to flirt with Miss Sweet Tea because she's pulchritudinous. He says that though he's never had a girlfriend, if he did, she'd also be pulchritudinous. To use it in another sentence, he wonders why pulchritudinous Miss Sweet Tea is talking to JB.
For Josh, it's disconcerting that Miss Sweet Tea seems interested in JB at all. This points to Josh's discomfort both at the fact that he and JB are getting older, and to his recognition that JB is pulling ahead in terms of adolescent milestones.
Practice. To start practice, Coach reads to the team from The Art of War. He reads that a winning strategy isn't about planning; instead, it's about responding quickly. He leads them in footwork drills and then wind sprints. During the wind sprints Coach announces that the winner doesn't have to practice. Vondie runs hard, but Josh is faster. He takes the lead but then lets Vondie win so he can practice.
The choice to let Vondie win shows that Josh understands the power of practice. Similarly, Josh's implication that he was going to win and lost on purpose brings his natural athleticism back to the forefront, suggesting his successes are what they are thanks to the combination of aptitude and practice.
Walking Home. As the boys walk home from practice, Josh peppers JB with questions. He asks if JB thinks they can win the county championship, why Dad never had knee surgery, and why Dad can't have salt. JB responds that he doesn't know until, finally, he bursts out that they'll win if Josh starts making free throws, nobody likes doctors, and Mom told Dad he can't eat foods with salt. Josh asks JB if he wants to play to 21 when they get home, and JB turns it into a bet.
JB's suggestion that Josh is struggling with his free throws again brings up the importance of practice, as it suggests that Josh hasn't practiced this particular skill enough. By answering all Josh's questions with this kind of authority, JB also shows that he's starting to grow up and become more confident in himself and what he knows.
Man to Man. Josh taunts JB as he dribbles. He suggests that JB should've gone to the mall with his girlfriend. Josh finally dribbles all the way to the top of the court, but before he can shoot, Mom yells for Josh to come clean his room.
Josh's taunting and his confidence suggest he's less concerned about his free throws or his subpar skills than JB would like him to be.
After dinner. After dinner, Dad takes Josh and JB to the rec center to practice free throws. While the boys shoot, Dad stands in front of them and gets in their faces so they learn to focus. Three guys from the local college ask Dad for autographs. JB ignores them, but Josh challenges them to a game. The guys jokingly taunt Josh and make fun of Dad's age, but the game begins. JB screams that the loser owes the winner $20.
The young men's request for autographs continues to bolster Dad's star status for the reader and suggests that he's still a relevant and revered figure in the basketball community. In this sense, even though his playing career is over, his stardom or lack thereof seems more complicated than Josh makes it out to be.
After we win. After the game, Josh notices Miss Sweet Tea shooting baskets at the other court. He wonders if she actually plays. JB goes over to her and Josh can tell he likes her. When Miss Sweet Tea tries to shoot, JB doesn't get in her way. Instead, he stands there and smiles at her. Josh thinks he looks silly.
The curiosity that Josh shows toward Miss Sweet Tea indicates that he's capable of being curious about others, even if they are interested in JB and not in him. This sets an important precedent for Josh's behavior to come.
Dad Takes Us to Krispy Kreme and Tells Us His Favorite Story (Again). Dad bites into his third donut and, when JB asks if it's true that Mom banned donuts, Dad says that Mom will never know. He praises the boys' performance in the game with the college guys and explains that they didn't let the guys pay up because they were just kids.
Dad's insistence that Mom won't find out about the donuts suggests that whatever Mom is trying to do by policing his foods, Dad isn't taking it seriously--and he's encouraging his sons to also not take diet (and, in all likelihood, healthy foods) seriously.
Dad reminisces about how, when Josh and JB were two, he taught them to play. Mom thought he was crazy. Then, when the boys were three, he took them to the park to shoot free throws. A maintenance guy insisted that the basket was too high for three-year-olds. Dad asked the man if a deaf person could write music as the man started to lower the hoop. The boys interrupt and say that Beethoven was deaf, and they've heard this story too many times. Dad threatens that if they interrupt again, he'll start over. Picking up the story again, he says he handed each boy a ball and positioned them to shoot. The boys each made a basket and the maintenance guy was shocked.
When Dad insists that the boys listen to this story that they've clearly heard many times, it comes off as an attempt to make it clear to Josh and JB that their talent on the court is something they inherited and that comes naturally to them. With this, Dad encourages his sons to take pride in what they've inherited from him, something that will become especially important going forward as it becomes clear that the boys might also inherit Dad’s health issues.
Basketball Rule #3. The third rule of basketball is to never let someone else lower your goals. Other people expect out of you what they expect out of their own lives. Dad encourages Josh and JB to shoot for the sun.
By encouraging Josh and JB to take charge of setting their own goals, Dad again shows them that their success is a matter of choice: by choosing to work hard and set high goals, they will, by Dad's logic, meet them.
Josh's Play-by-Play. The visiting team brings their entire school to cheer, and they're winning. Josh is at the free-throw line, and he has to make two shots for them to win. He misses both, but Vondie grabs the ball on the second rebound. The ball goes back and forth and Josh feels like he and JB will be stars. With ten seconds left, Josh and JB pass the ball until Josh is able to dunk the ball.
This game acts as more evidence to support how well Josh, JB, and Vondie work together as a team. Even if Josh is struggling with the free throws, because of the relationships he has with his teammates, the team as a whole is still able to be successful.
The new girl. After the game, Miss Sweet Tea approaches Josh and compliments him on his dunk. She asks if he'll be at the gym over Thanksgiving break and why he cut his "cute" locks. Vondie giggles. As JB walks up, Miss Sweet Tea offers him some sweet iced tea.
By approaching Josh and being nice to him, Miss Sweet Tea signals that she comes in peace--her intent isn't necessarily to come between the boys. This shows that the rift to come is Josh and JB's fault, not hers.
I Missed Three Free Throws Tonight. Josh explains that every night after dinner, Dad insists that he and JB shoot free throws until they get ten in a row. Tonight, he asks Josh to make fifteen.
Though Dad likely just wants to make sure that Josh understands the value of hard work, by singling him out like this, he risks making Josh feel jealous and inferior.
Basketball Rule #4. Josh says that if a person misses enough of life's free throws, they'll pay for it eventually.
This rule also comes back to the idea of success being linked to choice: a free throw is a relatively easy way to make points, and so this suggests that a person should take these easy opportunities when they come.
Having a mother. Josh is grateful when Mom rescues him from free-throw practice. His arms feel heavy by then, as he's attempted 36 free throws. However, he's not grateful for the fact that Mom is a principal. Rather than just letting the boys go to bed, Mom makes them read. JB listens to his iPod while he reads, so he doesn't hear Josh ask if Miss Sweet Tea is his girlfriend. JB insists he's listening to classical music, but Josh thinks it sounds more like Jay-Z. JB also doesn't hear Mom and Dad arguing.
The fact that JB is using music to separate himself from Josh casts this moment as a turning point in Josh's coming of age: here, something that he's spent his life loving and using to create his identity is being used against him. To make matters worse for Josh, JB is separating himself from Josh and ignoring him, which implies that the brothers are beginning to grow apart.
Mom shouts. Josh listens to his parents fight. Mom wants Dad to see the doctor for hypertension since it's genetic. Dad insists he doesn't need a doctor and brushes off Mom's remark that Dad's dad didn't need a doctor either. Mom asks Dad about his fainting spell, but he asks for a kiss and tells Mom he loves her. Mom says if he loves her, he'll see the doctor. They go silent after this, so Josh pulls a pillow over his head. He knows what's going on and thinks it's gross.
The mention of fainting spells in particular suggests that there's more going with Dad's health than Josh and JB are privy to at this point. This also becomes a moment of coming of age for Josh, as it forces him to be aware of the more adult world of illness and the fact that his parents are mortal humans, not gods.
hy-per-ten-sion. Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure. Josh uses it in a sentence and says that Mom tries to keep Dad from eating salt, as too much salt can cause hypertension. In another sentence, he notes that lots of people can get hypertension, but a person is at a higher risk if someone in their family also has it. Josh thinks his grandfather might've died of hypertension.
Now, everything makes sense to Josh and he understands that Dad is at risk, since Dad's dad presumably died of hypertension. Though Josh doesn't take this a step further, this realization also suggests that Josh and JB are at risk given Dad's current struggle with hypertension.
To fall asleep. As Josh tries to fall asleep, he counts his locks over and over again. He feels like they're "strands of his past."
The locks now symbolize the godlike figure that Dad was to Josh before Josh learned about his hypertension.
Why We Only Ate Salad for Thanksgiving. Josh explains that every year, Grandma cooks dinner, but this year, she fell and couldn't cook. Mom's brother, Uncle Bob, fancies himself a chef since he watches Food TV. He decides to cook, but the food is bad: he makes macaroni with no cheese, hard cornbread, and a ham that was green. Mom asks Bob if there are eggs to go with the ham, and Grandma laughs so hard she falls out of her wheelchair.
Uncle Bob's inability to cook anything truly edible points back to the way that Dad talks about skill and practice. In this case, watching TV isn't enough--if Uncle Bob truly wanted to get good at cooking, he'd need to cook more often than once per year at holidays.
How Do You Spell Trouble? Josh is busy taking his vocabulary test when JB passes Josh a note to pass along to Miss Sweet Tea, who sits in front. The window is cracked, so Josh watches the wind blow Miss Sweet Tea's hair. He forgets about the test until JB hits him with his pencil. Just as Josh taps Miss Sweet Tea on the shoulder, the teacher notices Josh and the note. Josh wonders whether he should give the teacher the note and embarrass JB, or hide it and take the blame. JB sweats and Miss Sweet Tea smiles. Josh decides to keep the note.
When Josh gets distracted, it shows that he's also attracted to Miss Sweet Tea. However, his choice to keep the note and protect JB shows that deep down, Josh loves his brother and wants him to be happy, even if it's a bit painful at this point. This can also be read as a result of his close twin relationship with JB.
Bad News. Josh sits in Mom's office and reads about the Air Force and the Marines. Mom is busy for an hour dealing with parents, substitute teachers, and broken windows. Finally, she sits next to Josh and says she's not going to suspend him, but Josh won't be able to get into college if he cheats. She suggests he look into the Air Force or the Marines. Josh starts to tell her the truth, but then a pipe bursts in the girls' bathroom. He apologizes and leaves for class.
When Josh still doesn't tell Mom the truth, it reinforces just how close he is with JB--he's willing to risk suspension to keep JB's secret safe. When Mom brings up college, it shows that she knows the most effective way to get to Josh is to remind him that his behavior off the court will affect whether or not he can fulfill his dream of playing in college.
Gym class. As far as Josh is concerned, gym is supposed to be about balls. Today, however, the teacher leads a course on CPR. Josh doesn't pay any attention to his teacher or the dummy and instead he watches JB and Miss Sweet Tea pass notes. He wonders what's in them, but is interrupted when the teacher invites Josh to assist him. As Josh practices his chest compressions, he thinks that if life is fair, he'll eventually be the one passing notes with a girl while JB practices mouth-to-mouth on a dummy.
It's telling that the gym class where Josh's jealousy begins to take over is one that doesn't include sports. This suggests that Josh relies heavily on basketball--to have an outlet, to connect more deeply with JB, and to have the mentorship relationships he has with Coach and Dad--and in its absence, negative emotions begin to take over.