Friday, September 19, 2014
When I Was the Greatest
Author: Jason Reynolds
Info: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, copyright 2014, 240 pages
In Bed Stuy, New York, a small misunderstanding can escalate into having a price on your head—even if you’re totally clean. This gritty, triumphant debut captures the heart and the hardship of life for an urban teen.
A lot of the stuff that gives my neighborhood a bad name, I don’t really mess with. The guns and drugs and all that, not really my thing.
Nah, not his thing. Ali’s got enough going on, between school and boxing and helping out at home. His best friend Noodles, though. Now there’s a dude looking for trouble—and, somehow, it’s always Ali around to pick up the pieces. But, hey, a guy’s gotta look out for his boys, right? Besides, it’s all small potatoes; it’s not like anyone’s getting hurt.
And then there’s Needles. Needles is Noodles’s brother. He’s got a syndrome, and gets these ticks and blurts out the wildest, craziest things. It’s cool, though: everyone on their street knows he doesn’t mean anything by it.
Yeah, it’s cool…until Ali and Noodles and Needles find themselves somewhere they never expected to be…somewhere they never should've been—where the people aren't so friendly, and even less forgiving.
Another urban lit assignment. Reynolds has a way with writing sincere characters that interact with a setting/plot without becoming a stereotype. I'll admit, I don't read a ton of urban lit, but in the wrong hands I can see how that might become a problem.
While on the surface, this is a book about living on a street in New York City, worrying about reputations, and why going to a party with a hot head can be a very bad idea, at it's core it's really a story about family. And not only the families we are born with, dad's that are trouble, mother's who are negligent. It's about the family we choose and the friends who stand by us through thick and thin.
This is a fast paced novel narrated by a compassionate, thoughtful young man. Everything is tied up in a bit too nice of a bow at the end, but the characters are so endearing that you really don't care.