When I Was the Greatest

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When I Was the Greatest (paperback)

by Jason Reynolds

 

I just love Jason Reynolds.  When I Was the Greatest took me a bit longer to get into, though.  It is about a boy named Ali and his friends Noodles and Needles.  Ali is a teenage boy living in Brooklyn.  His mom works two jobs to support him and his sister while his dad lives in his car, stealing clothes and selling them.  He was once in jail for armed robbery, but this is not the life Ali wants.  He had a good friend named Noodles who lives next door.  Noodles has a brother with Tourette’s named Needles, and he knits to keeps his ticks under control.  Ali is a loyal friend, and does his best to keep himself and his friends out of trouble.  The three boys go to a party and get themselves into a bad situation, and face tough consequences where they learn several life lessons the hard way.

What I liked about this book is the way Reynolds developed his characters.  The relationship between Needles and Noodles, and Ali’s relationship with them, the frustration Noodles felt with his brother… there’s a backstory to it all, creating people and not just flat characters.  Also, with a gun on the cover, one would expect to read a book about gun violence, but the irony was that the gun in the story wasn’t even loaded.  This isn’t a story about violence, but choices and growth.

What I didn’t like about the book was the treatment of Needles.  I have a hard time when someone with a disability is mistreated.

Book 76 of 40

(Book 42 of 2018)

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For Everyone

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For Everyone (hardcover)

by Jason Reynolds

 

For Everyone is not a story, but a speech that Jason Reynolds wrote for the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.  It is not necessarily a motivational speech (written in verse), but a calling to the idea that success isn’t necessarily achieving your dream, but having a dream.  He wrote about his own experience with fear and distress when he was struggling to reach his dream.

What I liked about this book is that it is short and I can easily read it in 20 minutes or less if I need a reminder, if I want to motivate my students to reach for their dreams, or if I want to imagine Jason Reynolds reading them himself.

What I didn’t like about this book is… nothing.  I have nothing negative to say about my favorite author.

By the way, I actually got to listen to this weekend at the LA Times Festival of Books, AND I got to meet him!  So… dream achieved!

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Book 69 of 40

(Book 35 of 2018)

Sunny

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Sunny (hardcover)

by Jason Reynolds

 

Sunny is the third book in Jason Reynold’s Track Series, preceded by Ghost and Patina.  Sunny is one of the four newbies on the track team, and I’m hoping Reynolds continues with the series so we can learn about the fourth, Lu.  I’d also love a backstory on Coach.  (Hint hint Jason Reynolds… your readers are asking!)

Sunny is a little nutty, and writes in his diary.  He lives with his dad, and we learn he feels the blame for his mother’s death since she died of an amniotic embolism the day he was born, and his dad hasn’t come out of his depression yet.  His mom’s best friend Aurelia takes care of him and teaches him since he does not attend school.  Sunny feels very alone, isolated, depressed, and in need of change, so he quits running, which is what his mother did- run.  He decides since he likes dancing, he will throw the discus instead, so he can remain on the track team.  This third story in the series is different, and shorter than the other two, but Sunny is a fun character, and the ending left me the way most of Reynolds’ novels have left me… not sure whether to cry or cheer him on.

What I liked about this book was that I got to be with my friends again.  The thing about these characters is that their characters are all so well-written, it’s like you know them and how they will react.  For readers who aren’t familiar with them, the writing makes it easy to get to know them.  I love a good backstory.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was a little hard to get into.  I think I wasn’t so attached to his character before (like Ghost and Patina), but I liked getting to know more about him.  The story definitely picked up as I got into it.

Book 66 of 40

(Book 32 of 2018)

As Brave As You

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As Brave As You (audiobook)

by Jason Reynolds

 

In As Brave As You, Genie and Ernie leave Brooklyn to stay with their grandparents in Virginia for a month while their parents go to Jamaica.  Genie and Ernie are city boys, and aren’t used to the country.  Genie, in particular, has many questions, and no access to Google.  He wants to know about the stars, why Grandpa wears glasses, what the yellow house is in the woods, etc.  Some questions he can Google, while others he has to learn on his own.  Genie gets himself into several situations, including murdering a bird and watching his brother get his teeth knocked out, but he also builds a relationship with his grandpa.  Everyone in this story learns about family and working through the past.

What I liked about this book was the point of view.  I enjoyed listening to Genie’s thoughts, questions, and worries.  He is curious and asks questions that many of us wouldn’t ask, like why a blind person wears glasses.  Another thing that isn’t specifically about the book, is the voice actor who read the story (since I listened to it as an audiobook).  Guy Lockard has narrated many of Jason Reynolds’ books, and he is an excellent choice.  He gives the characters a real voice, takes on their accents, and puts emotion and tone into the dialogue that I wouldn’t have caught while just reading.  You can’t beat that.  I want to listen to Ghost as an audiobook now, just because I appreciate Lockard’s narration.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it kind of stressed me out.  Not because of the trouble that Genie got himself into, but because there was a lot of talk about Grandpa’s revolver he took apart and put back together, and a blind man with a gun kind of sets up for a bad accident.  Ernie also went into the woods to learn to shoot on his 14th birthday, and that was an accident waiting to happen.  Since Grandpa’s father had committed suicide and Grandpa himself appeared depressed at times, I had a little anxiety throughout the story.

Book 40 of 40 (Woot woot!)

(Book 6 of 2018)

Long Way Down

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Long Way Down (audiobook)

by Jason Reynolds

 

Long Way Down is a powerful book about what it’s like to live in a place where people suffer from gun violence whether they are in a gang or not.  Will’s brother was just shot.  He and his mother are grieving their loss, but Will has to follow the rules:  don’t cry, don’t snitch, and get revenge.  He takes his brother’s gun and goes to follow rule number 3 when he is visited by the ghosts of several people he knows who died of gun violence.

What I liked about this book… first of all, the audiobook is read by Jason Reynolds himself, which to me, MADE the audiobook.  I may need to relisten just to get it all again.  Second of all, the language is beautiful (yet the subject is quite the opposite).  The entire book sounds like it should be read at open mic night.  I want to share this with an old friend who teaches kids to write poetry.  The use of repetition and metaphor make it sound like a poem.  Third, the power of the subject matter… I’m a middle aged white lady who lives in a nice neighborhood (although I did grow up in the projects and heard gunshots at night, but never knew anyone who was gang related growing up).  I cannot relate to any of it, but the power of the story gave me insight into a world I will never know first-hand.  I could go on with what I loved about this book, but nothing will stick with me more than the end.  Those last 2 words.  Just read it.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it’s a pretty short book.  However, the length of it was appropriate.  I just wanted more.

 

Book 22 of 40

Miles Morales

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Miles Morales (hard cover and ebook)

by Jason Reynolds

AR level 4.9, 9 points

 

Miles Morales is based on the Spiderman comics.  I was really excited to read this one since it is by one of my favorite authors, and he can write no wrong as far as I’m concerned!  It is known at the beginning of the book that Miles is Spiderman.  His current battle is fighting the guys who are stealing shoes from the kids in the neighborhood.  Miles’s spidey sense is really bothering him around his history teacher, Mr. Chamberlain, and Miles learns that he has been having strange dreams involving his family members, including his uncle who was a criminal.  As it turns out, Mr. Chamberlain is part of a larger group of weird men headed by the Warden, an evil villain who is spreading racism and preventing young black men and women from being successful.  Miles finds himself in a position to fight for social justice.

What I liked about this book is that it has that message of social justice, and although the Warden was defeated, Mr. Chamberlain was still keeping Miles down.  There are many “Mr. Chamberlains” out there, and it is up to us to stand up for the “Mileses” out there.  However, I’m not sure that my sixth graders would catch on to that.  I feel like it wasn’t direct enough for them to get the point.

What I didn’t like about this book is that it seemed like the reader had to already have a background in Spiderman and Miles Morales.  I didn’t realize it was a separate comic until after the story ended.  I’m sure someone more familiar with the comics would appreciate the story a lot more.

Book 18 of 40

Patina

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Patina (hardcover)

by Jason Reynolds

 

Patina is the second installment in the track series.  I’m not sure how many there will be, but Ghost was the first book, and I loved it!  Patina is still a great novel, but I wasn’t as attached to the main character, Patina, as I was to Ghost.  Patty (Patina) is a young woman who has a lot on her plate.  She is the only African American girl at her fancy private school, and has put up a wall that makes it hard to get to know anyone.  She takes on a lot of responsibility with her little sister Maddy, even though she lives with her aunt and uncle (who adopted them) since her dad passed and her mom had her legs amputated due to diabetes.  Patty’s aunt Momly works hard to make sure everyone is well taken care of, but Patty still has the burdens of school, pleasing her mom, being poor in a rich school, having a white Momly, and being the best on her track team.  When there is an accident, Patty’s life takes a turn and she starts to realize what is important to her.

What I liked about this book is the compelling character that Reynolds has written.  I really enjoy his writing style, and I wish he had more middle grade-appropriate literature, but he is more of a young adult author.  For me, Patty is relatable, even if I am not in her situation.  I can relate to feeling like I have to take on more responsibility than I actually need to, and then feeling the weight of that choice.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it left me with a cliffhanger!  I don’t need a cliffhanger to keep me returning for more… I will continue to read Jason Reynolds’ books, regardless.  NOW I have to WAIT for his next one to come out to find out if Patty actually won the relay (although I think she did).

Book 6 of 40