When I Was The Greatest by Jason Reynolds
Publication Date: January 7th 2014
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Genre/Audience: Contemporary, Young Adult
Source: This week’s free read on PulseIt
Other Books From Author: The Boy in The Black Suit
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.
This book surprised me in a good way. I wasn’t sure what to expect coming into it, but I saw that it was free to read this week on PulseIt and I had seen some good reviews about this one and Reynolds’ new book: The Boy in The Black Suit. I also thought it would be a good idea to read this for the Dive Into Diversity challenge.
The reason it surprised me is because it is a book about boys. And normally, when I read a book about boys I feel “excluded” somehow. Like I am not a part of the conversation, like it’s “boy’s club” even if I do end up enjoying the book. But that wasn’t the case with this one; I really felt like Ali, Noodles and Needles could have been my friends, just hanging out. I know it is not necessary to relate to everything that you read in order to like it, but when I read a book, I want the author to be able to take me to that place, to make me forget that I am not a part of those characters realities. And this book did that.
There really isn’t much of a plot, it is more of a “snippets of life” kind of book. There are some dramatic things happening but there isn’t a clear arc. That wasn’t a negative for me, and in fact I think it worked particularly well for the intentions of this book. I also liked how present and involved Ali’s parents and his sister were in the story, unlike in most YA. Family plays a major role in teenagers lives, but that often gets ignored in books for the sake of plot or romance, but this one explores this aspect really well. This book discusses a lot of delicate issues about family, friendship, community, loyalty, and even crime – not too much of this last one, but there is something about the temptation and the stigma of crime always being around one or two of the characters (I don’t want to reveal anything). I think these were handled in a realistic way, not sugar coating anything, but maintaining an optimistic view and message at the end of the book.
One final thing I have to praise this book about is how real the characters feel; their voices, their issues, the things that happen to them feel like something that could happen, that does happen in real life. I have never lived in Brooklyn or anywhere near, but Ali, his friends and neighborhood feel very similar to experiences I’ve seen or heard about, close to home. What I am trying to say is that, even though these issues have an important and specific background they are also a part of human life all around the globe. And that is why it is important to read diversely, because it helps us realize that we may come from different places, religions, skin color, sexuality and everything else, but we are all still human and go through a lot of the same problems and emotions.
Overall, I don’t really have any negatives to talk about, other than it was too short! I could have read a lot more about these characters and stayed with them for a while longer. It wasn’t a favorite, because it just didn’t have that indescribable “wow factor” for me, but it was still really good and worth reading. I want to read Reynolds’ new book soon!
Yes! I think this is something that everyone should give a try, especially if you are intending to read more books by POC, this author is definitely one to look out for.
Have you read this book? What did you think? If not, does it sound like something you would pick up? Do you feel the same way I do about “boy books”? Also, tell me about life where you live. Do you have close contact with your neighbors? Is it dangerous? Calm?
I’m trying to improve the format of my reviews (which is why things keep changing), so I would I like to get your opinion on that. Do you like this format? What do you think I should change? Anything that you felt needed to be included or that wasn’t necessary?