After. As the Bell family drives home from the hospital, the car is silent. Mom and Dad are serious, while JB leans his bandaged face against the window. Even though Josh is only two feet away from any of his family members, he feels miles away.
Now that Josh's actions have hurt someone, his sense of loneliness gets even worse. This suggests that the loneliness was easier to deal with when Josh wasn't the one enforcing it.
Suspension. Mom tells Josh to sit down, asks if he'd like a sandwich, and offers him orange soda. Josh thinks all of this is weird and knows that the talking-to is coming. Mom says that this might be Josh's last meal and reminds him that boys without self-control end up in jail. She asks why Josh has been acting so "churlish" and rude the past few weeks. Josh struggles to answer and says he's sorry and didn't mean to hurt JB. Mom asks when Josh became a thug and if he's going to get angry whenever JB has a girlfriend. Josh insists he just got a little upset.
Mom's reminder that behavior like this could land Josh in jail one day again points to the state of race relations in the US--as a black man, Josh is more likely than a white peer to end up in jail for a crime. The fact that Josh was driven to (unintentional) violence at all speaks to the intensity of his feelings, which are made even more intense by the fact that Josh is entering puberty and starting to grow up.
Mom insists that's not acceptable and reminds Josh that he'll need to apologize to JB. Then, she says that there will be consequences and reminds Josh that as he and JB grow up, they're twins, not the same person. Josh says that that doesn't mean that JB has to stop loving him, but Mom isn't impressed. Reminding Josh that JB will always love him and that he could end up in prison if this continues, she tells Josh that he's suspended from the basketball team.
Like Dad, Mom is able to take the long view and believe that this is a temporary phase in her sons' lives. For Josh, however, his world is being turned upside down with Dad's poor health and JB's interest in Miss Sweet Tea, both of which leave Josh feeling alone, so this feels especially fraught for him.
chur-lish. To be churlish means to have a bad temper and to be difficult to work with. Once, when Josh wanted a pair of Stephon Marbury sneakers, Dad insisted that Marbury had a bad attitude and said that Josh didn't want to be associated with someone so churlish. Similarly, Josh doesn't understand how his behavior became so churlish. He also wonders how to apologize to JB for being churlish and almost breaking his nose.
Though Josh is once again able to use his vocabulary words to make his life make more sense, he also indicates that his ability to effectively communicate is waning. Because he's relying on physical communication and violence to express himself, he's less successful and therefore, more upset.
This week, I. Josh gets his report card, makes the honor roll, watches the Wildcats play and win a basketball game. He volunteers at the library, eats alone, and avoids Miss Sweet Tea. During practice, he cleans the garage and does his best to make up for what he did. At dinner Josh sits next to JB, but JB doesn't smile at Josh's jokes. JB doesn't seem to notice when Josh does JB’s chores, and he seems to not listen when Josh apologizes.
Though Josh offers no insight into JB's thought process, it's worth considering that Josh's violent pass likely came as a surprise and was therefore even more hurtful than it might have been. With this reading, it's easier to see that both boys are currently nursing hurt feelings and likely don't want to be fighting, but don't know how to bridge the gap.
Basketball Rule #7. Rebounding means being able to anticipate and always being ready to grab the ball. However, in a rebound, it's important that a person doesn't drop the ball.
This implies that Josh dropped the proverbial ball when he passed to JB. This also offers hope that, if Josh can catch the ball next time, he might be able to make things better.
The Nosebleed Section. Josh sits with Mom and Dad in the top row of the bleachers. He thinks that they're in the clouds and that Dad "rains" when the ref is wrong. Mom acts like an umbrella and shuts Dad down. Down on the court, JB is leading the team to victory. During a time-out, Josh tells Dad that JB won't talk to him. Dad suggests that Josh needs to be patient, let things settle down, and maybe write JB a letter in the meantime. When Josh asks Dad what he should say, Dad doesn't answer. He's cheering with the rest of the crowd as JB steals the ball.
Again, Dad's desire to yell at the ref speaks to a desire to feel relevant and useful on the court, even though his playing days are over. His suggestion to write JB a letter again speaks to the power of words and communication. Though Josh never says so outright, this moment also suggests that he may have inherited or learned his love of English from Dad as well.
Fast Break. JB moves the ball up the court. Josh can tell he's aiming for a basket when JB tries to fake out the opposing team. As JB tries to dunk the ball, an opponent's elbow hits JB and sends him flying to the floor. It's clearly a foul.
By staying engaged with the team during his suspension, Josh is able to show them that he still cares for them and wants to support them. This offers some hope that his eventual return will be accepted by all.
Storm. Dad races down the stairs to yell at the ref that what happened to JB was a foul. Josh watches JB and his opponent eye each other and wants to go help Dad, but Mom shoots Josh a piercing look and he stays put. Mom and Coach try to calm Dad down and finally, Mom leads Dad up the stairs again. She takes out a tissue as Dad's nose suddenly starts bleeding.
Again, Josh's desire to help and be a part of the game in some way speaks to his sense of loyalty to Dad and to the rest of the team, especially JB. Dad's bloody nose is another red flag that his health isn't as good as it should be.
The next morning. At breakfast the next day, Mom tells Dad to call the doctor or else. Dad apologizes to his family for losing his cool as JB asks if he can go to the mall after practice. Josh points out that they can check out a new video game, but JB doesn't respond. He hasn't spoken to Josh in five days now. Mom tells JB that Josh has apologized "profusely" for his mistake, but JB insists that it wasn't a mistake.
When Dad shifts the conversation to make it about losing his cool rather than his poor health, it shows that he's still trying to ignore his hypertension and wants to keep it a secret from his sons. This sets an example that his health isn't important, which puts Josh and JB at risk.
pro-fuse-ly. Profusely means to pour forth in great quantity. JB, for example, gets nervous and sweats profusely when Miss Sweet Tea is around. The team has also thanked JB profusely for leading them to the playoffs. Mom also said that Dad's blood pressure during the game was so high, his anger at the ref caused his nose to bleed profusely.
Josh's choice to apply this word to three very different areas of his life brings all of what he's currently worried about--JB, basketball, and Dad--together, illustrating again how language allows Josh to effectively construct his identity and his life.
Article #1 in the Daily News (December 14). The newspaper reads that the Wildcats won the game against Olive Branch Junior High, and that the team seemed unhurt by Josh's absence. JB instead led the team to victory. The team will start to fight for the county trophy next week, though they'll do so without Josh "Filthy McNasty" Bell. The paper names Josh their Most Valuable Player (MVP).
Being named the MVP even though he's currently suspended speaks to how good a player Josh is. In particular, it begins to align him with Dad, who is still highly regarded even though he's also not playing.
Mostly everyone. Most of Josh's classmates congratulate him on being selected the MVP by the Daily News. Miss Sweet Tea, however, yells at Josh that he's mean and doesn't deserve the distinction, especially after what he did to JB. Josh and JB look at each other after Miss Sweet Tea says this, and Josh waits for JB to defend him. JB, however, says nothing, and Josh thinks that the silence will kill him.
JB's choice to side with Miss Sweet Tea is an overt way to show Josh that he's still angry and not willing to make up. The silence Josh refers to is also a metaphor for JB himself, which turns it around to mean that Josh feels he'll die without his brother too.
Final Jeopardy. The Bell family eats fruit and watches Jeopardy. One of the questions is about basketball. Josh interrupts and reminds his parents that the playoffs are in two days, his grades were good, and the team needs him. JB answers the Jeopardy question as he rolls his eyes. Mom points out that she cares about Josh's behavior, not his grades as Dad tries to change the subject by talking about Mom's much-awaited Christmas dinner. He tells a bad joke and after a moment of silence, everyone laughs. Mom and Dad ask JB to bring Miss Sweet Tea to dinner so they can get to know her. JB responds to Mom and Dad, but never even looks at Josh.
Mom and Dad's choice to turn the conversation to JB and his relationship with Miss Sweet Tea shows again that they understand his new relationship is a normal part of his coming of age. This is also an attempt to make Josh understand this, since Josh's narration implies that he doesn't see JB's relationship as something normal or expected.
Dear Jordan. In a letter to JB, written in two columns that can be read together or separately, Josh says that without his brother, he's empty. His life seems broken now, and he feels as though he doesn't fit anywhere. He asks Jordan to help him and hang out with him again. His postscript reads that he's sorry.
Josh's letter offers the reader multiple ways to read it, though each way offers the same main point: Josh's loneliness is killing him, and he misses his brother.
I don't know. Josh isn't sure if JB read his letter, but he does notice that when he teases Vondie on the school bus, JB laughs a little.
Showing this tiny bit of positive regard suggests that JB is now willing to listen to Josh and rebuild their relationship.
No Pizza and Fries. Josh thinks that Mom is cruel for packing him a spinach and tofu salad. However, the salad isn't as cruel as the look he receives from Miss Sweet Tea.
Though Miss Sweet Tea didn't intend to pull the boys apart, she now feels compelled to do so since her loyalty lies with JB and not at all with Josh.
Even Vondie. Vondie has a girlfriend now too. She wants to be a doctor but for now, she's a candy striper and a cheerleader. She thinks that Vermont has the best tomatoes and says that purple is her favorite color. Josh already knew this; her hair is purple. Still, Josh reasons that even having Vondie's girlfriend would be better than not having a girlfriend. Josh still doesn't have a girlfriend.
Josh's assessment that Vondie's girlfriend (who he appears to think little of) is better than being single speaks to Josh's intense desire to join his friends in reaching this milestone. In other words, the loneliness is one thing, but feeling left behind in this regard is even more painful.
Uh-oh. One afternoon, while Josh is on the phone with Vondie discussing the chances of Josh playing this season, Josh hears someone panting in his parents' room. He tells the reader that they don't own a dog.
Now that Josh understands that Dad is ill, this strange panting raises alarms--which shows that Josh is growing up and becoming more aware of his surroundings.
I run into Dad's room. Josh runs to investigate the panting. He finds Dad on the floor cleaning a spot that smells like vomit. Dad explains that he ate something bad and then sits on the bed, holding his chest. Dad tries to change the conversation, but Josh knows there's something wrong. Dad shows Josh a letter offering him a coaching gig at a college. Josh is concerned about what this means for his family--Dad won't be around to play basketball with him and JB if he's working.
When Dad holds his chest, it's a signal that he's not okay and he's likely lying to Josh. Excitement--like what Dad might have felt upon receiving this letter--likely raised his blood pressure and made him vomit, which indicates that Dad is even sicker than he's letting on. Symptoms like this suggest that Dad is at high risk for a heart attack or a stroke.
Dad assures Josh that he and JB are mature enough to be okay and asks why Josh is suddenly so concerned about him getting a job. Josh points out that Dad doesn't need to work since he made so much money playing as a young man, and Mom thinks he should take it easy. Calling Josh "Filthy," Dad says he needs to get back on the court, and he laughs when Josh asks Dad to call him by his real name. Josh asks if Dad is going to take the job. Dad says he misses the smell of the balls and the experience of beating players who think they're good enough to beat him. He says he'll take it if Mom lets him.
Josh's concern that Dad won't be around to parent him shows again that he's still very much a kid and isn't ready to grow up yet. However, by asking Dad to call him by his real name instead of "Filthy," Josh begins to take control of the kind of person he wants to be going forward by dictating how people talk about him. This illustrates how a person can use language to shape their identity.
Josh tells Dad that since it means so much to him, he'll ask Mom about the job on Dad's behalf. He does point out that Mom is really worried. Dad corrects himself to say "Josh" instead of "Filthy" and laughs at Josh's concern. Josh asks if Dad will talk to Mom about letting him play in the playoffs, as he feels like he's letting the team down. Dad points out that Josh let his family down too but as Josh asks Dad what he should do, Mom interrupts. She sees Dad holding his chest and sends Josh to set the table, a look of panic on her face.
The fact that Dad does his best to correct himself and call Josh what he wants to be called shows that Dad is happy to show Josh the same kind of understanding that he showed JB when he asked him to invite Miss Sweet Tea for dinner. He wants the boys to be their own people, and he wants them to know that becoming someone different is okay and expected.
Behind Closed Doors. Mom yells that she and Dad decided that he wouldn't play basketball. She won't listen when he insists it's just coaching and is extremely angry when Dad tries to say he's seen the doctor--in actuality, he just reads WebMD. Mom points out that reading articles isn't going to save Dad's life, but Dad says he's done talking. Mom threatens to make Dad an appointment and insists he's going crazy. When Dad says he's crazy for Mom and they stop talking, Josh knows what's going on.
Given that Dad's dad died in the hospital of hypertension, it's understandable that Dad is unwilling to seek help out of fear. However, this also means that Dad then isn't properly managing his condition, which puts him at risk of ending up in the hospital for an emergency. The fact that Josh is listening offers hope that, given what he's seen, he'll take Mom's side and take better care of himself in the future.
The girl who stole my brother. Josh decides that he's now going to call Miss Sweet Tea "The girl who stole my brother." Maddeningly, when she comes for dinner, she asks for seconds of Mom's veggie lasagna. To make matters worse, JB even asks for more salad. JB is more than happy to tell Mom how he and Miss Sweet Tea met. He explains that on her first day of school, she approached them, they talked about basketball, and Vondie said she was hot. JB says that he thought she was pulchritudinous. At that, JB looks at Josh and smiles a little. It's the first time he's acknowledged Josh in fifteen days.
When JB asks for seconds of salad, it shows that he recognizes that eating well is a good way to impress girls. Josh's exasperation with JB then suggests that he hasn't made this leap yet, even as he recognizes that diet is a good way to control Dad's high blood pressure. Then, by using Josh's word and sharing a smile with his brother, JB is able to say that he's willing to reopen lines of communication and reconnect with his brother.
Things I Learn at Dinner. Josh learns all sorts of things about Miss Sweet Tea at dinner. She's been to a girls' Nike Hoops camp and can name a bunch of champions. Her dad went to college with Shaquille O'Neal, but her parents are divorced now. She lives with her dad and her mom doesn't like that she plays basketball. Her sister, who is in college, goes to Duke.
The fact that Miss Sweet Tea's sister attends Duke, the college that Josh wants to one day attend, suggests that Josh might actually like Miss Sweet Tea if he were willing to get to know her. This begins to show Josh that if he starts to make amends with her, he might also get JB back.
Dishes. When Josh is finished cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, Mom comes in. Josh asks when Dad has his appointment with the doctor and when Mom scolds Josh for eavesdropping, he insists he gets it from her. Mom laughs and says that Dad's appointment is next week. Josh asks if, since school is out next week, he could go to the doctor with them. After Mom agrees to think about it, Josh hugs her and thanks her for loving them, letting them play basketball, and being the best mother. Mom tells Josh that if he keeps this up, he'll get to play again soon. She does tell him that a hug isn't enough to get him into the playoff game tomorrow.
Josh's concern and desire to go to Dad's doctor's appointment show that he's continuing to grow up and become more interested in other people aside from himself. He also likely recognizes that by hearing what the doctor has to say, he'll be able to better help Mom in encouraging Dad to make healthy choices. In other words, this interest shows that Josh recognizes that the doctor isn't bad, and that unlike Dad he knows he should trust the doctor/
Coach's Talk Before the Game. For the playoff game, Josh decides to sit with the team on the bench instead of in the bleachers. Coach tells the team that they've won ten games in a row now, and points out that the only difference between winning and losing streaks is one game. He encourages the rest of the team to step up since Josh isn't playing. Josh watches JB lead the team onto the court. As the game starts, Josh looks up and notices that Mom and Dad aren't in the bleachers. He turns back to the court and meets JB's eyes. He thinks they both look like they've just seen a ghost.
Seeing the proverbial ghost again suggests that things are about to change. With Dad no longer in the bleachers, it suggests that he'll be the one in trouble this time, while JB was the one who suffered last time. As with the last time this happened, sharing this look allows the boys to feel unified and as though they're a team in whatever's to come.
Josh's Play-by-Play. The Wildcats are down by three and not doing well. Vondie brings the ball up the court, but the defense presses close. Vondie passes to JB, who holds onto the ball as long as possible. He shoots but the ball bounces off the rim. The Wildcats lose the first half, and Josh thinks they must miss him.
For Josh, having to sit out and watch his team struggle shows him first how hard they've worked--Vondie and JB are still doing reasonably well--but it also shows Josh what an integral part of the team he was and with this, helps reaffirm his desire to get back on the court.
Text Messages from Mom, Part One. Around 7 pm, Mom texts Josh to say that she and Dad went out for some fresh air since Dad wasn't feeling well. A few minutes later, she says that they're going to go home. At 7:45, she asks about the score and how JB is doing, and then assures Josh that the second half will be better. She tells Josh to get a ride home with either Coach or Vondie, to say hi to Miss Sweet Tea (whom she calls by her real name, Alexis), and that she thinks Dad's okay. Mom amends this and says Dad is fine. Dad asked her to tell Josh that the boys shouldn't come home if they lose.
Mom's amendment in particular betrays that this is likely more serious than she's letting on. In this way, she tries to distract Josh by talking about anything else to keep him from worrying about Dad. Dad's message does much the same thing, though it seems much more in character for Dad. This again shows how Dad prioritizes basketball over his health.
The Second Half. Vondie passes to JB, who expertly moves the ball up the court and makes a basket. JB is playing splendidly and Josh feels like he, Coach, and Miss Sweet Tea are JB's "choir." Josh cheers as JB leads the Wildcats to victory and earns them a place in the championship game.
As Josh begins to think of himself as a member of a choir and finds the ability to cheer for JB, he also begins to recognize that the rest of the team is made up of players who are also very good and deserving of recognition.
Tomorrow Is the Last Day of School Before Christmas Vacation. Josh is studying by himself. JB is too, which worries Josh: tomorrow is the big vocabulary standards test. In an aside, he asks the reader to not say the word "standards" around Mom, as she thinks they're silly. After the game, Josh studies all his vocabulary words and the clues he made up to remember them. To remember what heirloom means, Josh says that Dad treats his championship ring like a family heirloom, and that Josh and JB can't wear it until one of them becomes “Da Man.” While JB is in the bathroom, Josh puts eight pages of vocabulary words on JB's pillow. He listens as JB climbs into bed and quietly says "thanks."
By bringing up Dad's championship ring again, Josh reminds the reader that his goal in life is to one day be good enough to wear the ring. Though Josh still thinks highly of Dad, now that he's aware of Dad's unwillingness to care for his health, it suggests that becoming "Da Man" might not be the entirely positive endeavor that Josh once thought it was. When Josh tells the reader about Mom's dislike of standards and giving JB the vocabulary words, Josh demonstrates his growing maturity and that he cares for others.
Coach comes over. During lunch, Coach sits down at Josh's table with a McDonald's lunch. He gives a fry each to Josh and Vondie and then tells Josh that he and JB need to stop fighting. Coach explains that when he was in high school, he and his brother got into a bad fight. He says they've been estranged ever since and asks Josh if that's what he wants. Josh shakes his head, so Coach tells Josh to fix things fast. He also tells Josh to give Mom something nice for Christmas; she's agreed to let Josh back on the team if they make it to the championship game.
While it's unclear if Coach is also a twin, his advice still shows that he understands the power of the sibling relationship to either move mountains or destroy everything. This suggests that as Josh and JB grow up, part of their coming of age will be having to learn to accept each other as they grow rather than just deciding to grow apart.
es-tranged. Josh defines "estranged" as a time when one person becomes a stranger to someone who they used to be close to, like a friend or a loved one. Josh thinks that Miss Sweet Tea's divorced parents are estranged. He thinks that when he threw the ball at JB, he felt estranged from himself. He also shares that even though he and JB are currently estranged, Dad is going to make them play together in a tournament at the rec center tomorrow.
Dad's decision to make the boys play together speaks to Dad's belief that the boys' shared love of basketball might be enough to help them turn their relationship around. In other words, just as the boys have choices in regards to their basketball success, they also have the choice to make up or continue their feud.
School's Out. On the last day of school before winter break, Mom works late so Dad picks up Josh and JB. The boys still aren't talking, but they both laugh at Dad's jokes. When JB asks what they're getting for Christmas, Josh points out that they always get books. Again, the boys laugh. Dad reminds them that their talent will help them win games, but intelligence will help them win at life. JB notes that that's a quotation from Michael Jordan. Dad tells the boys that because they've done so well in school, they can choose something extra as a gift for Christmas. JB and Josh look out the window at the mall at the same moment. Josh knows what JB wants, so he asks if they can stop at the sneaker store. JB echoes Josh's request.
Notice that Josh hasn't said anything about being particularly interested in sneakers himself; that's JB's thing. Because of this, his request to stop at the sneaker store becomes something he does purely to show JB he sees him and cares about him and the things he's interested in. When JB seems willing to laugh and agrees with Josh's request, it suggests that he sees this as the olive branch that it is and is now willing to start to move forward.
The Phone Rings. Josh answers the phone since Mom is decorating the tree and Dad is outside shooting free throws. Miss Sweet Tea asks if she can speak to JB, but Josh explains that he's busy. Josh realizes now why JB is on his second shower and tells the reader that JB usually doesn't even take a single shower.
The realization that JB is masturbating in the shower again shows Josh that JB is developing much faster than he is, though the lack of judgment in Josh's tone suggests he's becoming more used to the idea of JB changing.
Basketball Rule #8. Sometimes, a player needs to lean back and fade into the background in order to get the best shot.
As Josh continues to cast himself as the helper in the family, he begins to see that doing so will actually allow him to be more successful.
When we get to the court. At the rec center, Josh challenges Dad to a warm-up game. Dad agrees and hits Josh in the chest with the ball--Josh was distracted while watching JB and Miss Sweet Tea holding hands. Dad tells "Filthy" to pay attention but corrects himself to say "Josh" instead. Josh focuses and plays well, making a basket as JB and Miss Sweet Tea come to watch. Josh starts his crossover, but Dad steals the ball. Dad taunts Josh before starting his own crossover that Josh can't keep up with. Dad laughs, but stops suddenly.
Again, Dad's willingness to call Josh by his name shows that Dad respects that both of his sons are growing, changing, and taking control of their identities in perfectly normal ways. When he's able to steal the ball out of Josh's crossover, it speaks to the skills he still has on the court and the progress that Josh still has to make in order to become “Da Man.”
At Noon in the Gym, with Dad. People watch Dad and Josh play. Josh does well and is up by five points, but Dad steals the ball. Dad winks and as he starts his crossover, Josh falls. As Dad heads for the hoop, he stumbles. People scream and then stand still. Dad falls, his eyes roll, and Josh screams. Miss Sweet Tea calls 911 while JB brings water and splashes it on Dad's face. Dad doesn't stir. Remembering gym class, Josh performs CPR on Dad as he hears sirens coming.
Dad's heart attack here makes it clear that Mom is right: Dad shouldn't play anymore if he wants to preserve his health. As Josh and JB take over caring for their father, the tables turn and suddenly, they're thrown into adult roles. This indicates that coming of age can happen suddenly and horrifically at times.