The Crossover follows twelve-year-old Josh Bell, a star basketball player better known by his nickname Filthy McNasty, and his twin and teammate, Jordan ("JB") over what at first appears will be a normal fall and winter basketball season. In addition to their successful middle school careers on the basketball court, the boys enjoy a healthy and happy home life compromised only by the fact that Mom is the assistant principal of their school and has an annoying habit of policing the kind of foods that Dad eats. However, as Josh and JB start to learn more about their family history, specifically Dad's family's struggles with heart disease and his distrust of doctors, Josh is forced to start thinking more critically about what Mom is actually trying to do, and what Dad might be dealing with. In doing so, Josh begins to question what inheritance means, what traits are actually inheritable, and how both he and Dad fit into the story of their family as told by genetics.
When Josh talks about Dad in the beginning chapters of the novel, he talks mostly about the main reasons he admires Dad: as a young man, Dad was a basketball legend, a master at dunking, and played in Europe. Josh's narration also suggests that there was never any chance that he and JB would ever not play basketball and follow in their dad's footsteps. Notably, in a story that Dad tells, he implies that a natural aptitude for the game is something that's hereditary. He makes his sons listen to him talk about how, at three years old, he took them to a neighborhood basketball court to shoot free throws for the first time. A man offered to lower the hoop to accommodate normal three-year-old motor skills, but Dad refused his offer and both boys were able to make a basket with no coaching or assistance. Though Josh and JB tire of hearing this story and imply that Dad is obnoxiously insistent on telling it as often as possible, this story is a purposeful attempt on Dad's part to remind his sons that their talent is something they got from him, thereby casting basketball talent as something that can be inherited like height or eye color. Even more important, however, is that Dad focuses his efforts on pushing this positive story of inheritable traits. While this seems at first to be a perfectly normal case of fatherly pride, it starts to take on a more urgent meaning when Josh and JB discover that not everything they stand to inherit from Dad is positive.
When Josh overhears Mom and Dad fighting about Dad's refusal to go to the doctor for hypertension, Josh makes a shocking realization: hypertension runs in families, and he suspects that his grandfather died of hypertension given that he died in his forties. Given Mom's anger and the fact that she brings it up constantly, this leads Josh to deduce that Dad is also at risk. This starts to make some of Mom's seeming eccentricities make more sense to Josh: she's banned them from the local barbeque joint and removes salt from the table, and she does her best to keep Dad from getting angry and belligerent during the boys' basketball games.
While this leads Josh to humanize Mom more, it also encourages him to think differently about Dad. Dad seemed like a god to Josh prior to his discovery about the family history of hypertension. After this discovery, however, Josh starts to notice his dad's bloody noses, fainting spells, and episodes of vomiting--all of which make Dad look less like a god and more like a very sick man. In other words, Josh's understanding of hypertension and what it's doing to his dad's body starts to become more important than Dad's preferred vision of family history that focuses entirely on basketball.
Tragically for the Bell family, Josh and JB's journey towards humanizing their dad and merging the narratives of basketball and genetics starts and ends quickly: Dad dies not long after Christmas, after suffering several heart attacks. Following his death, Josh chooses to honor Dad and feel close to him by shooting free throws with JB, indicating that the boys are still more comfortable with the version of Dad that Dad himself presented to the world: that of a basketball legend. However, it's also important to keep in mind that, as Josh and JB get older, it's likely that they'll have to contend with the same health issues--as well as the same basketball fame, given the way that Dad and Coach talk about their potential--as Dad and their grandfather did. With this, the novel offers some hope that, because Josh and JB witnessed firsthand the consequences of not seeking medical attention for the condition, they might have a better opportunity to respect both of those narratives by following in his footsteps on the court, while also proactively managing their health so their careers and their lives aren't cut short like Dad's were.
Inheritance and Genetics ThemeTracker
Inheritance and Genetics Quotes in The Crossover
That boy is special, and it doesn't hurt
that Chuck "Da Man" Bell is his father.
And mine, too.
And while Dad is telling us another story
for the hundredth time, Mom removes the salt
from the table and JB goes to the buffet.
He brings back three packages
of duck sauce and a cup of wonton soup
and hands them all to me.
Dad pauses, and Mom looks at JB.
That was random, she says.
What, isn't that what you wanted, Filthy? JB asks.
And even though I never opened my mouth,
I say, Thanks,
And so each time
I count the locks
beneath my pillow
I end up with thirty-seven
plus one tear,
As in: Hypertension
can affect all types of people,
but you have a higher risk
if someone in your family
has had the disease.
As in: I think
died of hypertension?
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
As in: Dad's in a coma
because of a myocardial infarction,
which is the same thing
my grandfather died of.
So what does that mean for me
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.