Book Review

Book Review: When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

When I Was the GreatestWhen I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

YA, realistic fiction

Ali is a good kid living on a rough block. He stays out of the bad stuff, helping his mom who works 2 jobs with his younger sister and being trained to box by their family friend, Malloy. He has two friends, brothers nicknamed Needles and Noodles. The stories behind their nicknames are pretty interesting parts of the plot that I don’t want to give away here.

The three friends get their big break, an invitation to one of the hottest parties in their neighborhood. While there, a misunderstanding escalates quickly requiring Ali to put practice his boxing skills. The friends have to deal with wounds, both physical and emotional, when dealing with the aftermath of that night.

I picked this up as part of a YA for Adults Book Club through my local library. While a slow read at times, this book provides a brief glimpse into the life of an urban black teen… the troubles and the realities they face. Unless that is your existence, it can be difficult to understand or empathize. Ali’s parents, though both very distant, play a huge role in Ali’s life. Despite their situation, his parents have clearly given him a good foundation to know better than to get into some of the bad things that surround him. And as we discussed in book club, it is interesting how big his parents’ role is considering in many YA books the parents are barely part of the story.

I am really glad I got to know Jason Reynolds here and hope to pick up his newest book, The Boy in the Black Suit.

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