*This review was originally written for the Spring 2017 edition of Prairie Books NOW magazine, look for copies at Libraries and Bookstores across Western Canada*
Includes quotes from the author, Alison Hughes.
Edmonton author Alison Hughes presents a novel of basketball, Shakespeare and drama on the stage and off in her latest novel Kings of the Court. We follow the Gladys Spinoza Junior High Gladiators – a basketball team with a losing record and a reactive coach, Coach Bosetti, their announcer Sameer and the mascot Vijay. Coach Bosetti is considered a bully, and often overreacts to his team’s performance, and after an away-game that he throws a ball at one of his player’s faces, he is fired from the school and the team. Unfortunately for the Gladiators, there is a shortage of willing teachers to coach the team, and the drama teacher, Mr. Williams, who knows nothing about basketball is the teacher who steps up so the team does not have to fold.
Coach Williams has a contrastingly different style of coaching compared to Coach Bosetti. Coach “Boss”, as the players called him, took to yelling, throwing things and getting himself kicked out of games on a regular basis, the players were genuinely afraid of him. Coach Williams on the other hand, while admittedly clueless to the game of basketball and sports in general, used Shakespeare quotes and positive reinforcement to show them their strengths, rather than tear them down for their weaknesses. Sameer, who’s perspective we follow throughout the novel, is enlisted as manager of the team, and helps Coach Williams learn the game, even if he had been cut from the team by Coach Boss. Hughes saw the value in coaches like Coach Williams while watching Junior High and High School basketball games, while also seeing a number of coaches like Coach Boss, who often took their emotions too far, she states “I also wanted to shout-out to those coaches who focus on strengths rather than weaknesses, and who genuinely want kids to have a great experience in sport. I also liked the humour that came with having a coach who was rather clueless about basketball, who used unconventional techniques to bring out the best in the boys.”
Sameer’s character is an interesting one, he is the home team announcer who loves the game of basketball, taking statistics and knowing strategy, but he himself does not play on the team. Before the events of the novel, Sameer was cut from the team by Coach Boss, but Sameer still felt passion for the home team. This was a purposeful decision by the author, who wanted to highlight that a team does not necessarily just consist of the coach and the players, but also the mascots, fans, announcers and scorekeepers, “Their school team was really a team effort, with lots of supporting roles. I wanted to give a voice to that kind of child, rather than only to the ones who happened to make the team.”
Basketball and Shakespeare seem like an odd combination, but the author does not feel like children should be pigeonholed into groups like “jock”, “geeks”, etc, and she felt that putting the Gladiators into a situation that forced them to look outside of their own box was exactly what they needed, and Shakespeare was the perfect choice to force that change “There’s not an element of human experience that Shakespeare didn’t probe, make profound, or poke fun at. So he was the easy choice.”
My rating: 4/5