Gene Yang is most well known for his American Born Chinese and more recently Boxers/Saints. This new book reveals something about him that I didn’t know, that he was a high school English teacher for many years (until a recent move to comics writing full time). He worked for a school in California called Bishop O’Dowd and spends this book chronicling the 2014 basketball season when the Dragons found themselves with the number one recruit in the country (a mercurial and inconsistent ranking system depending on who and when you ask the question). For reference, the other player competing for this same ranking in NBA star Ben Simmons.
So the way this book works, Gene Yang acts as narrator and guide through the season. He tells us that he always hated basketball as a kid, but he wants to have a better understanding of the game, as his workplace is so centered on it, as well as to better understand the lives of his students. The book is positioned as an entry point to the history of basketball (limited in various ways to the rise of basketball and especially the rise of basketball in Catholic schools and universities), and what it means to become a fan. He also walks us through the season and the different stories of the players on the team.
The book is very heartfelt and exciting. It’s fun to watch a basketball season unfold (especially this year), but watching someone get into the season is really engaging as well. It seems a little cheesy to watch someone get into a super popular thing (but as far as sports goes, basketball is among the least bad in many ways). There’s a few moments where the book tackles issues of race, but avoids incisive criticism, and it deals in a few light ways with the history of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and Catholic Schools. I think if you like Yang, you’ll like this one. I bought it for my classroom because it’s fun and informative.