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When I Was the Greatest
by Jason Reynolds

Overview - 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.
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More About When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
 
 
 
Overview
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.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9781442459472
  • ISBN-10: 1442459476
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • Publish Date: January 2014
  • Page Count: 231
  • Reading Level: Ages 12-UP


Related Categories

Books > Juvenile Fiction > People & Places - United States - African-American
Books > Juvenile Fiction > Social Issues - Violence
Books > Juvenile Fiction > Social Issues - Friendship

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2013-10-28
  • Reviewer: Staff

The “greatest” in the title doesn’t just refer to the scene in which 15-year-old Ali defends a friend with Tourette syndrome by throwing a winning punch at a party—it also hints at what an accomplishment Reynolds’s novel is. Set in the non-“Cosby” part of Brooklyn, in the neighborhood of Bed-Stuy, the story centers around the party incident and the evolving relationship between Ali, his best friend Noodles, and Noodles’s brother Needles (the one with “the syndrome”). But Reynolds (half of the team behind 2009’s My Name Is Jason. Mine Too.) thematically addresses much more—race and class divisions in New York, taking ownership of one’s actions, and standing up for what’s right—without ever sounding preachy. Reynolds also upends tired stereotypes—Ali lives with his sister and bighearted mother, but his sometimes-absentee father isn’t a deadbeat, rather “a pretty good dude who just made some messed-up decisions”—while leaving in enough sass and grit to keep the story believable. Snappy descriptions (the barbershop is the “black man’s country club”) and a hard-won ending round out a funny and rewarding read. Ages 12–up. Agent: Elena Giovinazzo, Pippin Properties. (Jan.)

 
BookPage Reviews

Float like a butterfly, sting like Ali

Life is tough in Allen “Ali” Brooks’ Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. His mother works two jobs just to make ends meet. His father, who’s served time in prison, hustles on the streets and lives in his car, but ultimately wants to take care of his children. And Ali can’t always rely on his best friend, Noodles, a secret comic book geek with an anger management problem.

Nicknamed for the former champion heavyweight boxer, 15-year-old Ali fights the tempting violence and risky opportunities around him by throwing practice punches in the shower and in the neighborhood ring. He tries to stay out of trouble, but how can he and Noodles resist an invitation to one of Brooklyn’s most exclusive parties? When a misunderstanding involving Noodles’ older brother, who has Tourette syndrome, leads to an altercation, Ali jumps in, swinging real punches. In Ali’s biggest battle yet, many lives are at risk, and he begins to question his friendship with Noodles.

Despite his gritty surroundings, Ali’s humor lends an endearing vulnerability and hopefulness that can’t help but touch the rest of the neighborhood. Although he doesn’t seek the spotlight like his namesake, Ali fights to uphold his beliefs. As his world expands, he notices just how hard his family and friends are fighting, too. Jason Reynolds’ debut effort is indeed great, and readers should expect more greatness from this stunning new author.

 
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