This was very wholesome. I have been a fan of Gene Luen Yang’s work for a while now, and I try to read all of his graphic novels (I have given up on his superhero comics work; there is too much of it). So when the Read Harder Challenge said I had to read a nonfiction YA comic, I was excited to finally be able to fit this one in.
Dragon Hoops is a memoir of Yang’s time shadowing the Bishop O’Dowd High School basketball team as they try to finally win the California State Championship (Yang taught math there for seventeen years before he left to pursue comics writing full-time). Yang was and is a nerd who has never been interested in sports before, but something about the chatter in the school halls (and as he confesses in the notes at the back of the book, his son joining his school’s basketball team) leads him to ask the coach, Lou, if he can shadow them to see if the team’s experiences would make a good book. And he soon realizes they will.
It’s fun watching Yang experience sports for the first time, and in such an up close and personal way. He talks to all the team coaches, and as many players that are willing, to understand why they are on the team and what it means to them, among many other things. The book covers the full basketball season. Along with Yang’s experiences and that of the players and coaches, we also get intermittent chapters on the history of basketball, all of which were really fun. Yang has a good time poking at critics of progress and change in the sport (which of course reflects the progress in society at large). He has a running gag of old historically contemporary white men doing commentary:
Yang’s style is very understated, but he uses that understated style to effectively tackle the issues of race and class and sexism that crop up for the kids whose stories he’s following. Two particular team members, a South Asian Punjabi named Jeevan and a Chinese kid who goes by “Alex” in America because most Americans can’t pronounce his real first name, Qianjun. Every now and then Yang gets roped into the casual racism as well.
But while that stuff is important to the story, the main feature here is the team and the game, and what it means for them to strive to be the best, and what happens when they are (or aren’t).
Read Harder Challenge 2022: Read a nonfiction YA comic.