I enjoyed both books, particularly The Crossover, which was written in beautiful free verse, a great choice for this particular title about twin brothers who, while enjoying their fame as junior high basketball stars, worry about losing their father to poor health, and each other. No Place by Strasser, was not quite as compelling or beautiful, but definitely makes readers think about society and how we treat homelessness.
But a third of the way through No Place, the main character discusses how his parents, both vegetarian, cook up meat just for him to add "extra protein" to his portion of the family's meals. He states that his parents know he needs the protein, because he is a star player for his school's baseball team. Of course, his mother is the vegetarian stereotype: successful big-wig turned peace-loving, organic gardening expert. The perpetuation of these two myths is frustrating as usual. I know many vegetarians and vegans who are not necessarily the most peaceful people ever (although, truth be told, if you take meat out of the equation for compassion's sake, you can't help but think about being more compassionate to your own species). Most important, the protein myth drives me NUTS.
Most Americans get twice as much protein they need each day (or more!), yet the majority also eat far fewer fruits and vegetables - just one or two servings, when the recommended amount is 5 to 8 or more! We should be thinking about how to stave off cancer and other deadly diseases with the rich nutrients, vitamins, and phytochemicals from plant foods. Instead, we are piling on the protein bars when in reality we are not exercising enough to warrant those types of extra calories. And don't think that the running, CrossFit, yoga crowds are the majority (yet). More than one third of Americans are obese.
In addition, even if we were a nation of very active people, we wouldn't require that much more protein, and it is easily obtained through plant foods. I should know - I am a "meat-free athlete" who has run two half-marathons, among other things. Here is a great link to more information on the topic: http://pcrm.org/health/diets/vsk/vegetarian-starter-kit-protein.
The Crossover by Alexander, takes a different, albeit not much more sensitive approach. Twins Josh and Jordan are worried about their father's hidden health crisis. Their mother struggles with him over it, until she finally is able to drag him to a doctor. She returns with a new healthy eating plan that involves, much to the rest of the family's chagrin, no more fried chicken. Instead, they are eating healthier fare such as hummus, which the twins and their dad moan about. While I understand how hard it is to ditch fatty, salty, fried foods and the like, I have yet to encounter a person who does not like hummus (OK, so I'm sure there are a FEW out there). Even my 87 year-old grandmother, who scoffs at vegan food, likes hummus. Luckily, it is true that a healthy vegan diet can reverse heart disease, and I was pleased to see that emphasized in Alexander's book.
Still, while The Crossover treats vegetarian and vegan diets with respect, it misrepresents the food as not being as decadent, filling, or delicious. And, I hate to say it, it also perpetuates the "it's all healthy" myth. Any online search (or cookbook perusal in your favorite library or bookstore!) can immediately dispel these notions. For example: http://vegnews.com/articles/page.do?pageId=5040&catId=2. There are vegans out there who are unhealthy and overweight! Thankfully, it is normally a very healthful way to live. Now, off to go eat a bag of Dandies Marshmallows.