As a novel written in verse, the text of The Crossover is able to play with rhythm, visuals, and language in a way that a novel written in prose cannot. Josh's narration makes use of changes in font size, line breaks, and rhyme to guide the reader through the novel, slowing down or speeding up the action according to how the text is arranged on the page. This speaks to Josh's immersion in music culture--the first several chapters are comprised of conversations between Dad and Josh about jazz, and Josh makes several references to his favorite rappers and hip-hop artists. With this, Josh's narration is able to pull from the music, the art, and the wisdom of others as he uses it to shape his budding adult identity and find a voice that's uniquely his.
One of the first conversations that Josh relates with Dad is one that took place several years ago, when Josh got his nickname Filthy McNasty. Dad made Josh listen to his favorite album by the jazz artist Horace Silver, whom Josh says is "okay, I guess." Dad, aghast and convinced his son needs to learn to appreciate Horace Silver, dedicates the next song, "Filthy McNasty," to Josh, and the name sticks. Josh explains that at first he didn't like his nickname since kids made fun of it. However, as he began to excel in middle school basketball and as Dad praised him using the nickname, he also began to grow into it and, by the start of the novel, he uses the nickname to describe how he plays.
Josh does much the same thing with his hair as he does with his nickname. At the beginning of the novel, Josh wears his hair in locks. While he notes that one of the best parts of wearing his hair like this is that people can tell him apart from JB, he spends more time explaining how his locks allow him to connect with both Dad and his favorite rappers who wear locks. Specifically, Josh mentions an old photo of Dad dunking in which it looks like Dad's locks are wings, lifting him towards the hoop. Because of the way that Josh interprets this photo, his hair can be read as an even more successful merger across musical styles and generations than his nickname is. All of this works together to suggest that a person's identity, especially at such a young age, is something that's formed when a young person chooses to emulate certain things around them, both visually and through language or art.
Tragedy strikes early in the novel when, thanks to a bet that Josh never expected to lose, JB earns the right to cut off one of Josh's locks. JB misses, however, and ends up cutting off five, which leads Mom to decide that Josh needs to shave the rest of his locks off to correct his appearance. For Josh, this represents a major loss of identity and coincides with the beginning of his struggles with basketball. Dunking suddenly becomes more difficult without his "wings" and that connection to Dad, while his anger with JB means that he's much less willing to cut his brother slack when JB starts spending more time with Miss Sweet Tea.
At the same time, Josh also begins to ask Dad to call him by his real name, not Filthy McNasty. With this, Josh begins to assert control over the identity he presents to others in the only way he believes he can: by dictating the language that others use to speak about him. Dad's honest attempts to comply with Josh's request show that Dad understands Josh's need to discover an identity that truly fits, especially in the absence of his locks.
Because the novel ends right after Dad's funeral, when Josh and JB are still consumed by grief, Josh never comes to any solid conclusions regarding his identity, his name, or who he wants to be going forward. However, it's also important to keep in mind that, at twelve years old and with his entire adolescence in front of him, Josh is at the very beginning of his journey. His willingness to make the best of his forced experimentation over the course of the novel, coupled with the exposure he has to role models and music, suggests that he will continue to draw from a variety of sources to create his identity as he moves towards adulthood and independence.
Identity and Language ThemeTracker
Identity and Language Quotes in The Crossover
But, as I got older
and started getting game,
the name took on a new meaning.
And even though I wasn't into
all that jazz,
every time I'd score,
or steal a ball,
Dad would jump up
smiling and screamin',
That's my boy out there.
Keep it funky, Filthy!
1. ever since I watched
the clip of Dad
that seven-foot Croatian center
on ESPN's Best Dunks Ever;
soaring through the air—his
long twisted hair like wings
the rim—I knew
my own wings
To get ready for the season, I went
to three summer camps. JB only went to
one. Said he didn't want to miss Bible school.
What does he think, I'm stupid? Ever since
Kim Bazemore kissed him in Sunday school,
he's been acting all religious,
thinking less and less about
basketball, and more and more about
And so each time
I count the locks
beneath my pillow
I end up with thirty-seven
plus one tear,
On the way home
Dad asks if we should stop
I tell him I'm not hungry,
plus I have a lot of homework,
I skipped lunch today
and finished my homework
are no different
from everyone else,
except we look and
JB comes running out of the bathroom.
What'd she say, Josh? Come on, tell me.
She said she likes me a lot, I tell him.
You mean she likes me a lot? he asks.
that's what I meant.
You're twins, not the same person.
But that doesn't mean he has to stop loving me.
I prefer to be called Josh, Dad.
Oh, really, Filthy? he laughs.
I'm serious, Dad--please don't call me
that name anymore.
As in: Dad treats his championship ring
like some kind of family heirloom
that we can't wear
until one of us becomes Da Man.
JB and I look out
at the exact moment
we pass by the mall
and I know exactly
what JB wants.
Dad, can we stop
at that sneaker store
in the mall?
Yeah, Dad, can we? JB echoes.
And the word we
On the forty-ninth shot,
I am only slightly aware
that I am moments from fifty.
The only thing that really matters
is that out here
in the driveway
shooting free throws
I feel closer to Dad.
You earned it, Filthy, he says,
sliding the ring on my finger.
My heart leaps
into my throat.
Dad's championship ring.
Between the bouncing
and sobbing, I whisper, Why?
I guess you Da Man now, Filthy, JB says.
And for the first time in my life
I don't want to be.