Review of Becoming Muhammad Ali: Based on the Story of Young Cassius Clay

Becoming Muhammad Ali: Based on the Story of Young Cassius Clay
by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander; illus. by Dawud Anyabwile
Intermediate, Middle School    Patterson/Little, Brown/Houghton    320 pp.    g
10/20    978-0-316-49816-6    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-316-49818-0    $9.99

Patterson and Alexander, two heavyweights in the world of books (and their respective publishing houses), unite to tell the story of how Cassius Clay grew up to be Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest boxers of all time. The book, authorized by the Ali estate, is not so much a biographical novel as a chance to hang out with young Cassius Clay as he lives his daily life in Louisville in the late 1950s — going to school, being with friends, shooting hoops, watching boxing on television, and working, while navigating the dangers of life in a segregated city, all of which is related in lean and eloquent first-person verse with plenty of white space on each page. Clay’s poetic narration is framed by first-person prose sections (called “rounds” instead of chapters) by his (fictional) best friend Lucius Wakely, who, by the end of the story, writes for a big newspaper and is at ringside for the “Rumble in the Jungle,” Ali’s 1974 fight in Zaire against George Foreman. Anyabwile, who illustrated the graphic novel edition of Alexander’s The Crossover (rev. 5/14), adds a powerful visual element with occasional dynamic, full-page black-and-white images; and a short bibliography is appended.

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Dean Schneider
Dean Schneider teaches seventh and eighth grades at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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