WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST by Jason Reynolds

WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST

Age Range: 12 - 18

KIRKUS REVIEW

A literary story of growing up in Brooklyn.

Ali, 15 going on 16, lives in Bed-Stuy with his mom, a social worker, and his little sister, Jazz, who has a knack for markers. He hangs out on the stoop with his two BFFs, brothers nicknamed by his sister: Noodles and Needles. Needles, the older, suffers from Tourette’s syndrome, and Noodles and Ali look out for him. In the lead plotline, the three boys crash an illegal party in the basement of a nearby brownstone and then deal with the fallout. Action notwithstanding, the story actually reads more like a character study of Ali and his sister and friends and a tender homage to this seemingly dangerous neighborhood. Even though Reynolds thoughtfully (and most likely truthfully) depicts the neighborhood as one where guns and drug transactions are seen regularly, readers don’t necessarily feel the danger due to the tender and deeply protective relationships of the characters, who are realistically if not exquisitely drawn. The plot, though compelling, takes back seat to them, and what unfolds is a moving and thought-provoking study of the connectivity among a family and friends that plays upon and defies readers’ expectations.

An author worth watching. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4424-5947-2
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Atheneum
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2013




Kirkus Interview
Jason Reynolds
February 10, 2015

In Jason Reynolds’ new YA novel The Boy in the Black Suit, 17-year-old Matt thinks he can’t handle one more piece of terrible news, until he meets a girl who’s dealt with a lot more—and who just might be able to clue him in on how to rise up when life keeps knocking him down—in this wry novel from the author of When I Was the Greatest. Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. “Reynolds writes with a gritty realism that beautifully captures the challenges—and rewards—of growing up in the inner city,” our reviewer writes. “A vivid, satisfying and ultimately upbeat tale of grief, redemption and grace.” View video >

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