"When I Was the Greatest" by Jason Reynolds


TITLE: When I Was the Greatest

AUTHOR: Jason Reynolds

PUBLISHER: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

PUBLISHED DATE: January 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1442459472

PAGES: 240

OMG!!!! I loved this book! I laughed, cried, what didn't I do!!! (...obviously I didn't hate it!!!!)

This book has won 13 awards, and when you read, you'll know instantly why. I listened to the audiobook, and it was amazing. J. B. Adkins really did an amazing job narrating this story. He sounded exactly like the teens I work with in the library, and I was immediately swept into the story.

When I Was the Greatest, is a story about 15 year old Ali who lives in rough section of Brooklyn. His mother, Doris, is a no nonsense mama who spends most of her time working with people who have disabilities. Ali's younger sister Jazz is a little Doris - she's an excellent cook, master hair braider, has a strong clapback game, but she's still a sweet little sister! Ali trains as a boxer under the tutelage of Malloy. He's afraid to get into the ring, but when he sees someone beating his friend mercilessly, he must decide if he's going to stand up for his friend, or if he'll allow himself to be overcome by fear. All of the characters just lept off the page. Seriously...this book should be made into a movie. (And PG-13 please!!! I want to be able to show it in the library!!!! ***sidebar***why are all movies for African American teens rated R???? I mean, seriously...can we get contemporary movies for African American teens that are not debased and void of humanity???)

Ali is skeptical when Noodles and Needles move in next door. He sees Noodles sitting outside all day reading comic books. He can't be that bad reading comic books!!! So Ali befriends him. It's not long before Needles is revealed to have a disorder. I will not spoil this...you have to read it to find out what happens to Needles, and how he comes to have his name.

The young men must navigate the streets of Brooklyn to find love, what it means to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and what brotherhood and standing up for the people you love. I love how Reynolds took typically stereotypical characters, and humanized them, and made each character a fully realized human being. The storytelling is masterful. By the end of the book, I was crying.

Recommendation: Required.

Audience: Young Adults (Grade 7 and up)

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