- ISBN-13: 9781442459472
- ISBN-10: 1442459476
- Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
- Publish Date: January 2014
- Page Count: 231
- Reading Level: Ages 12-UP
- Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.7 pounds
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.)
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.