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Bonus: Re-release of Jason Reynolds Highlight with LONG WAY DOWN, GHOST, and WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST


In this bonus episode, we wanted to share a re-release of an episode highlighting three novels by Jason Reynolds, one of our favorite Black authors for young people and for the classroom.


We feel his body of work has applications across many age levels and grades. You can check out his body of work here.







We tried to go very light on the spoilers in this episode, but a few minor spoilers were hard to avoid as we revealed what we loved about these books.


Timeline

Introduction and Summary of the Book: 00:00 - 02:08

Long Way Down: 02:09-14:55

Ghost: 14:56-25:03

When I Was the Greatest: 25:04-41:03

Classroom Connections: 41:04-44:53


Mentioned in Episode

David Greene's "In 'Long Way Down,' The Ghosts Of Gun Violence Chill A Plan For Revenge"

Jason Reynolds's As Brave as You

Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely's All American Boys

Jason Reynolds's Track series

Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give


#shownotes #kidlit #yalit #middlegrade #novelinverse #realisticfiction #contemporary #sports #socialjustice #socialissues #activism #diversereads #familyrelationships #friendship #ghosts #journey #ownvoices #series #siblingrelationships


(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)


Interested in what else we're reading? Check out our Featured Books page.

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Sara 00:00

Today we are re-releasing this episode on Jason Reynolds's work from August 15, 2018. We love his work and believe that he is a wonderful author to discuss in the classroom. And we also just love the way that he speaks. And especially the way he speaks to young people. There are lots of resources and opportunities online to see him speaking, which we can provide in our show notes. In this episode, we talk about Long Way Down, Ghost from the Track series, and When I Was the Greatest.

Jen 00:38

One of the great things about Jason Reynolds is that he has a lot of books. All of them are great for classroom use, and many work both in middle and high school. We were able to teach his book Long Way Down with our students and had such a great experience talking about his ideas and showing our students Reynolds himself speaking, which was really powerful.

Ashley 00:59

We have resources available that are relevant at this time. We are currently, as we're recording this working to finalize resources that we used in the classroom with our students for Long Way Down that we would like to share with you, so those will be available shortly. And if you are interested in access to any of the resources that we have at our Teachers Pay Teachers store and would like them for free, please email us at unabridgedpod@gmail.com.

Sara 01:28

Hello and welcome to Unabridged, the weekly podcast where teachers take on books. This is Sara. Join us for bookish episodes and a monthly book club pick.


Ashley 01:38

This is Ashley. Find us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at unabridgedpod or go to our website unabridgedpod.com where the books we read are linked for purchase.

Jen 01:46

This is Jen. Check out our Teachers Pay Teachers store, our Patreon page, and our newsletter. Please rate, review, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts to support us. You want opinions about books? We've got them.


Jen 02:00

Hey, this is Jen. Today we're happy to be discussing Jason Reynolds's books, including Long Way Down, Ghost, and When I Was the Greatest.


Long Way Down

Jen 02:09

In Long Way Down, Will Holloman's brother Shawn has just been killed in a horrific act of violence. The novel centers on Will's decision as he descends in an elevator. He can either follow the rules that govern his world and seek revenge, or he can make a change. Through the book, he contends with the ghosts from his past as he grapples with his decision.

Jen 02:29

What did you all think of this book?

Sara 02:32

I loved it. I thought, well, I think Jason Reynolds is just a masterful writer, and I am always here for a book in verse. I appreciate the attention that an author has to give to each word that they select in a book in verse. And this . . . this was just great, and what I really appreciated is, as we follow Will, I love the way that the story was crafted so that you can really understand all sides of the story, and you can understand this anger that is occurring, you know, in the lives of these young men, and I just . . . I really appreciated it. I thought it was really well done. And I think it would be really accessible for middle-grade students. And would really especially people from since I'm, you know, from a small town, and we don't . . . I don't have as much experience, I think that it provides a good portrait of the struggles that the characters are facing.

Ashley 03:36

Yeah, this is Ashley, and I, I loved it. I, like Sara said, I like a novel in verse very much. And this one I read in one sitting, which is always a good feeling. And you know, it was because it was so compelling, it moved really quickly. It was powerful and engaging, and so I just really enjoyed it. And, like Sara was saying, I feel like it's very accessible for students. And so I think that's great, but I also loved how Reynolds really gets to the heart of the matter. And I think he shows really well the struggle that Will is having, in that he is struggling with the loss, but also that his loyalty and his honor were the things that were leading him to, you know, he's . . . he's going down the elevator to kill who he believes has killed his brother. And so I think all of it is about honor and integrity and loyalty, and that that he believes that he has to do this horrendous task because that's what it takes. And so I think that's what I really appreciated is just how what can sometimes seem like senseless violence or, you know, just unnecessarily cruel kind of behavior makes a lot of sense. And I think that Jason Reynolds does a really great job of showing that within the context it is very logical for him to think that he's going to act on this, but then I love how, as the other people who have died come into play, that it shows more about, you know, the ramifications of that and ramifications of that decision. And not that he doesn't know them because I think that we see that when he thinks about his mom, who is going to be even more heartbroken as he makes this choice. You know, he's aware of it, but then just watching it play out, as you see the, the all the people that he's loved and lost, and how all of those pieces fit together into this, you know, this complex web, I think, is really powerful.


Jen 05:33

Yeah, yeah, I read this for the second time to prep for today, and it's a book that holds up on the second reading. I thought, you know, the first time--I read it in one sitting both times--the first time I was so focused on plot and what's going to happen, and so I think it's compelling on that level. And then the second time, I was much more focused on just the craft of the book and the power of the poetry and the way that Jason Reynolds uses that poetry to emphasize certain parts of Will's story. I mean, I think, as you see these themes that he's developing through the book, there are circles, there are cycles, things come back, you see things, you know, it's like a big chain. It's this, everything is linked, each character's decision impacts him or herself, but also the next generation. And so you see how it's Will at the end of this long chain of actions, instead of him making a decision that is only thinking about himself. Yeah, I mean, it's just it's beautifully written.

Jen 06:37

I kept thinking about it as a teacher and kept thinking about what I would teach the students about, like the choices about where to make line breaks, or how to separate this out on this page, and what that means about the way that you read it and how it impacts you as a reader to set aside certain super powerful statements. Yeah, I mean, there's a lot of depth there, which is, yeah, again, it's great to read something for the second time and think oh my gosh, this, this maybe even is more powerful the second time through. It really holds up.

Sara 07:05

Well, when I was prepping for today, I was taking pictures on my phone of quotes. And then I realized I was taking a picture of every page, almost to like to speak to the poetry and the way that he uses the words and breaks. And I mean, just phenomenal.

Jen 07:22

So through the book, we hear a lot about the rules that govern Will's life, and the rules are that there's to be no crying, no snitching, and that if someone you love is killed, you have to get revenge. And there's this beautiful quotation, he says, "Another thing about the rules, they weren't meant to be broken. They were meant for the broken to follow." And so I think through the book we see Will as this broken person who has such sorrow, and so as he sees these ghosts in the elevator, it's both comforting but also reminding him over and over again of the rules, which is not really comforting. I mean, what did you all think of that: of the part with the ghosts and of the rules? And . . .

Ashley 08:04

Yeah, I mean, I felt like he . . . I loved all of that about the rules and how the rules are dictated by this larger force but then are passed on through families and that then there's this profound expectation on people when this happens. And then, in the elevator you realize how often it happens and how many times in his personal life, and I just think . . . I mean, I think the the Holloman last name is significant, and I just feel like, you know, the symbolism there of him being hollow or having this like, you know, all the all this death, all this death around him that then he has to not only carry but also bear the burden of acting on, but then, you know, I loved how with the ghosts, we also see like with his dad and how . . . making mistakes, not knowing who the killer is because there's no snitching. So then, you know, one of the rules is don't snitch, and then they're having to say what I think I know because . . . and so then you know, you have to take revenge, but you don't know for sure that you're acting appropriately. And yeah, I think that. Yeah, I just feel like the ghosts helped to reveal all of that.


Sara 09:14

Yeah. I mean, I agree with what both of you have said, but . . . and I also really like the fact that throughout the book, there's this doubt, this thread of doubt about really killed Shawn. So when Riggs is mentioned, we're not we don't even know, and Will doesn't really know if that . . . if Riggs is who killed Shawn. I mean, we get this doubt and, and it's compelling to see that he just wants justice for his brother. But in the same case, he's not sure really, if Riggs is the one who killed him.

Jen 09:42

I mean, it's all just circumstantial evidence. So you feel like in a court of law, it wouldn't hold up. But that's not where we are. It's not gotten to a court of law, and it probably won't.

Sara 09:51

Well, and then with his father, too, with his father having killed the wrong person, who he thought murdered his brother, then I mean, it's all it's like this history repeating itself. And it's just really, I mean, I just can't say enough about how well crafted the story is and how many things, how many threads that are repeating throughout the book that you just . . . I mean, even now when we're talking about this, I'm like, oh, wow, oh, wow, that that was so well done.


Jen 10:20

Well, and it's so brilliant that there's so much that repeats, but then each ghost who enters the elevator is a different side, is a different . . . is a new experience. So there's repetition but then there are also these fresh takes on . . . .fresh take sounds positive, and it's not positive. These new angles on what Will's life has been and how he as a character and as a person has been shaped.


Jen 10:45

So I think, you know, at the end of the book, Will calls the elevator his cell and his coffin. And I think you see there are two potential outcomes that are very realistic depending on the decision that he makes, and so when you look back at Jason Reynolds's dedication, when he says "for all the young brothers and sisters in detention centers around the country, the ones I've seen, and the ones I haven't, you are loved." You get a hint of his audience, and also of how Will fits into that audience. And yeah, maybe maybe the message Reynolds is sending.


Sara 11:21

Yeah, well, and I read an article from NPR about Jason Reynolds, and he said that when he wrote this, he wanted it to be able to be read in a short amount of time because he was really trying to reach young black men that don't have . . . that they have so many things going on, like we saw in this book, that they . . . but that they might read this book.


Ashley 11:41

Yeah. I mean, I think the power for change is really awesome in this, but also I mean, I, like I said at the beginning, I just, I loved how he portrays, with so much respect, the view that Will has because I think often we don't get that. We think of somebody who take someone else's life as a killer. And we have a lot of prejudice that comes with that feeling and a lot of attitudes about the kind of person who would do that kind of thing.


Jen 12:11

Right.


Ashley 12:11

And I love how in the book, like, he's never even held a gun before. And he's so . . . you know, the whole, all this, I mean, talking about the beautiful language, like all the things about the middle drawer, and, you know, how it Shawn comes to have to carry those responsibilities and that burden, and then how that goes on to Will, and I think that, you know, that's just a different perspective that, again, if you think about it, he's trying to reach people who really are in those situations. That is, is one of integrity and honor, and not always one that is, you know, coming from a place of like cruelty or callousness, even.


Sara 12:47

Yeah. When I think too, like there's a certain community built, you know, that that you're taking care of your own. And that a lot of times, the justice is not happening elsewhere. So it's, you know, justice, the only justice that is going to happen for these horrific acts.


Jen 13:10

Yeah, I think about the end as well, when Will is looking to Shawn for reassurance. So, you know, he is trying to make this decision on behalf of his brother's on behalf of his brother, really. And he's so torn. He's so scared. And so when he looks to Shawn, and Shawn is just not giving him anything back, I mean, I just think you see, it's great to see Will as such a vulnerable character. This is not whatever decision he ends up making. It's not an easy one, that he is wrestling with it. And that he's thinking about, again, just all of these people in his life who have made him think that this is one of the decisions that is most reasonable.


Ashley 13:50

And that he has to make. I mean, a lot of . . . in a lot of ways, it seems, you know, from his perspective, it's his duty and his responsibility, and so if he doesn't do it, then he his failing on what . . . on taking care of his brother, I mean on something that is vitally important to him.


Sara 14:08

So I found this quote . . . the quote by Jason Reynolds, that he . . . talking about why he wrote Long Way Down in verse, and it says--these are his direct words--"I need my young brothers who are living in these environments, I need the kids who are not living in these environments, to have no excuses not to read the book. The truth of the matter is that I recognize that I write prose, and I love prose, and I want everybody to read prose. But I'm also not . . . I would never sort of deny the fact that, like literacy in America is not the highest, especially amongst young men, especially amongst young men of color." And I just love that he has tried to make this book as accessible as possible to everyone. And I mean, it just really speaks a lot to him as an author and to the audience he is writing for.


Ghost

Jen 14:56

So we're going to switch now to Jason Reynolds's book Ghost, which is the first in his Track--I'm going to make up this word maybe--quadrology about the newbies on the Defenders track team. So what did you guys think about? Sara's losing it over here.

Ashley 15:17

(inaudible)


Ashley 15:20

I loved it. This is Ashley, and I felt like . . . I just read it last night. So, it is very fresh, and I thought it was quick moving, I loved the characters. I thought that, I don't love sports stories generally. I mean, I'm, I, I would not say that I'm a sports person, like, I don't like to watch sports, but like, I like doing athletic things, but I don't love reading. (laughter in the background) I'm not sure why you're laughing about that. Anyway, moving right along, (inaudible) that I don't love stories about the athletic experience necessarily, and I felt like this is very much a book about being on a track team, but he does such a great job of showing all that is beautiful and powerful about sports. And I loved that. I mean, I just thought I loved how the team comes together. I love learning about the newbies. I didn't know when I first started reading that it was about all four of them. And I can't wait to see the different . . . I mean, I really, you know, I plan to read the other three books because I love seeing the perspective of each of the characters. I love that kind of book. I love it when you see different people's points of views. But I just think it was a really rich story that also moves very quickly, and it's definitely middle grade. And I thought that was great.


Sara 16:41

Yeah, I really like this one too. I, I've always loved sports, I love to watch them on TV, and I love to participate in them. I have never really participated in track and field but I enjoyed learning about that, and I really appreciated the community that they were able to create with . . . and family that they were able to create within the team. I really liked learning about Ghost's . . . his journey and like his backstory. And the thing that I really loved about this is that my son is 10. And I started this as a read aloud with him, which I will finish, I had to go ahead and finish it ahead of him because I needed it for the podcast. But he loved this book. And, you know, I have a hard time getting him to really engage in things that aren't graphic novels and really asking to read, and he loved this. But I could also, on the other hand, see my middle schoolers in eighth grade . . . in eighth grade, really enjoy this book. And so I thought, I think that is a great . . . that is a testament to a great writer who can appeal to a 10 year old, who is just entering fifth grade, and also an eighth, an eighth grader. Because that . . . my students, I think, would have loved this book. So I thought it was really well done. And really interesting and I loved the humor too. Like I . . . it wasn't, it was a serious book but it had some really funny parts, and I, I just enjoyed it. So I thought it was really good.


Jen 18:11

And my 11 year old also really . . . 11 year old also really liked this. I will say he preferred this one to As Brave as You, which we will also have in our giveaway. I think this one's a little faster paced . . .

Sara 18:24

Yeah, for sure.


Jen 18:25

. . . no pun intended.


Sara 18:28

Track puns.


Jen 18:29

Um, yeah. I really liked seeing, I mean, yeah, his life . . . Ghost's life is a tough life. But it was also great to see that he has and finds so many great role models. And the lessons in the book are ever present, and yet, they are not heavy handed.


Ashley 18:48

Right.

Jen 18:48

So I mean, just like there's a moment on the track team, when he is really out of breath for the first time because running has always been so easy for him, and his coach says, you know, we always stand tall, and of course, he means physically, you stand tall because when you bend over, it hurts your breathing and you . . . it makes, you know, getting air harder.


Ashley 19:08

I have to say I have run for a long time in my life. And when he said that, I was like, I should keep that in mind because it is a natural . . . again, it's a natural instinct. So it all felt very natural, but you were gonna say metaphorically.


Jen 19:18

Yeah, metaphorically, that's great, too. And so I just think, yeah, I've really appreciated like, Mr. Charles--who owns the store in Ghost's neighborhood and who has this great relationship with Ghost and who measures success maybe in atypical ways--I love to see his interactions with Ghost. I really liked, you know, as he's getting to know his new coach. His last name is escaping . . . Coach Brody. Um, even Principal Marshall, who I have to say, I'd read this book before, and upon rereading it, I was like, Oh my gosh, he's such a jerk, but there is a way there that he cares for Ghost. He's not going to cut him any slack, but, so even though Ghost--and this is, you know--this is a moment that comes fairly early, but we learned that Ghost's dad is in jail. And so he doesn't have a father in the home, and his father definitely not a great role model. But he has these other people who who are fulfilling that role . . . that role who are teaching him lessons without thinking, I will now teach this young kid a lesson. And so I think it's just a really engaging way for kids to pick up on some of that.

Ashley 20:26

And I loved how it showed . . . I mean, I loved the aspects of bullying in the book and the way that those are often, for him, based on socioeconomic status, but also how he has all this rage built up inside, and we see all the times he does contain it, and he does not react. But then it seems like, you know, at school, all they're seeing is the times that he does react. But I think, just like we talked about with Long Way Down, that Jason Reynolds just a great job of just showing backstory and the depth of people and why people make the choices they do in their outward actions, like how that comes to pass, and then I loved how it's just really tender how people, even the principal, like you said, Jen, how people give him the benefit of the doubt. And there are . . . because I think in real life, that does happen, that sometimes, you know, people get screwed over again and again, but then other times, when you are honest about what happened, people do try to give you a chance to redeem yourself. And he gets that chance, several times, which I think is awesome.

Jen 21:33

Yeah.


Sara 21:34

And I really enjoyed the relationship between him and his mom, and the fact that he really recognized the things that she did for him and the fact that he didn't want to ask . . . he didn't want to ask her for things because he knew that she would want to get them and that she would sacrifice to do that. I mean, it just showed such a . . . he'd had all these bad things happen, but that they had, they had this really strong relationship. And they just were there for each other, and I really, I really like that relationship as well.

Jen 22:05

It's great. What . . . yeah . . .


Ashley 22:07

Yeah, I think some of the bad choices he makes, I mean, going back to what you're saying about his mom, like, even the bad choices he's making come from . . .


Sara 22:15

a place of . . .


Ashley 22:16

Yeah, a place of understanding, or a place of . . .


Sara 22:20

. . . even love, sometimes. Mm hmm.


Ashley 22:24

But what I love about the team, I thought, like where he and Lou kind of clash at the very beginning, and then how quickly that changes and how well they support each other. And I think again, that goes back to what I loved about the sports aspect of it. And really the team component is just how powerful that can be for kids that suddenly you're not alone. And suddenly, someone who could be this fierce competitor instead becomes your ally, and that you can rival against each other and yet support each other so well. And the coach--his whole character is just awesome. But how much he does to foster that in a kid?

Sara 23:07

That moment when they are in the Chinese restaurant and they're each saying something...I mean, I don't know. I was near tears just because it was just so poignant. But I mean, so simple, you know, it was a simple thing to do. And the way that that changed their relationship, I just love that.


Jen 23:28

And he said share something that they won't know about you. But he left it up to them what to share. I think giving them that power to share the part of their story that they wanted to share, and they all make themselves very vulnerable.


Sara 23:39

Yeah.


Jen 23:39

Which I think setting up the situation in that way, he's a smart man. So, I loved too that those kids are so self aware.


Ashley 23:49

Mm hmm.


Jen 23:50

They, again, they make bad decisions. I think you see them making mistakes, but Ghost is really honest with himself when he does something wrong. And so I think there's a moment when Coach is talking to him about why he runs and what he's scared of, and he says, Ghost says he's most scared of himself. And then coach says, "I hear you kid. Trouble is you can't run away from yourself. Unfortunately, ain't nobody that fast." And I just thought, That's brilliant. Because Yeah, how many people aren't willing to face their mistakes? And then you see this kid who makes mistakes, but then does face up to them and in really powerful ways. So I really...


Sara 24:34

Yes, yes, it was a really good one.


Ashley 24:36

Yeah. And I have to say, thinking about classroom readings, it would be great to do lit circles and let kids choose which of the four characters to read about so then they have some choice, but they can do any of the four and then you know, a lot of the jigsawing and the rich discussion that can come from looking at those different perspectives and how knowing each other's story enhances the whole.


Jen 25:02

Right.


Sara 25:03

Yeah.


When I Was the Greatest

Jen 25:04

So, the last book we're talking about is When I Was the Greatest which centers on Ali, a 15 year old Brooklyn boy who boxes with this mentor, Old Man Malloy, hangs out on the stoop with his friends Noodles and Needles and takes care of his little sister Jazz. In the book, Needle's Tourette Syndrome plays a large role in the boys lives creating conflicts that require Ali and his friends to figure out where they stand on violence, friendship, and loyalty. What did you all think of this one?

Sara 25:31

So, this is Sara. And this is by far my favorite of Jason Reynolds's that I've read. I just really felt connected to the characters. And unlike Ghost, which I really loved, this one kept me wanting to come back. I mean, I found it very compelling and I wanted to know what was going to happen. Whereas with Ghost, I could kinda lay it down and I just was like, okay, I need to finish Ghost. Whereas with When I Was the Greatest, I just was reading it every chance I had. And I was on vacation when I read it. So it's a testament that finished it. And pretty quickly.


Ashley 26:12

Yes, this is Ashley, and I thought it was great. I agree with what Sara said, of all the ones I've read. I think it's definitely the strongest of his works. And I've enjoyed all the ones I've read. But I do think that, like you said Sara, that it's compelling, that the characters are endearing, and that you want to know what's going to happen with them and they're relatable. I mean, I love the relationship between Ali and Noodles. And I love how both of them navigate their relationship with Needles. But you know, I think it's just interesting to get into the characters and how they connect to each other. And I love how Reynolds reveals that and just shows the complications of friendships and how hard it is to navigate those kinds of relationships and so that I thought that was really cool.


Jen 27:03

So this is Jen. Yeah, I agree with both of you that this, this was the second of his books that I read, and for me, it's still my favorite as well. I just think it's tight. It's not that it's the shortest, but it just feels short. When I went back to review it for the podcast, I ended up being pulled in instantly. I didn't mean to reread it, but I just think the characters are so great. And they're complex enough to be interesting. The relationships feel so real. And I found the secondary characters to be some of my favorites as well. So yeah, I mean, it deals with a lot of hard things, but it makes me really happy. I enjoyed it a lot. So one of the things that I found really interesting is that Ali's family structure is not traditional. And yet he has all of these really great adults in his life. What did you all think of those relationships?


Ashley 28:05

I loved how he's connected to Miss Brenda, who lives close to them and has helped with the babysitting and those kinds of things. And then his relationship with Mr. Malloy is just awesome. I mean, I love seeing Mr. Malloy's influence on him and how he's quite different from Doris, his mom and her perspective, but how she really respects Mr. Malloy, and values him and so he becomes such an important part of his life. And then I mean, his whole relationship with his dad, which I'm sure will explore a bit more was just really fascinating because I think that he and his sister are really gracious in a lot of ways toward the dad as is Doris, who loves him, but then doesn't want to put up with his kind of shenanigans and he's always into And so I felt like all of that just made his life really rich but also made the reading experience really enjoyable.


Sara 28:58

Yeah, I agree with all of that. I loved Ali, I mean, I do feel like he was an exemplary character. I mean, he was pretty good to the core, but I loved his relationship with his mom. And even though he would be frustrated with her about the rules and all of that, that he still appreciated what he was doing for him, which again, I feel like for any teenager that age, that's pretty remarkable. And I just loved his relationship with his sister and how they took care of each other and how he protected her and how she also like, you know, took care of him and they took care of each other. And they both realized that even though Doris was not in the home a lot because she was working that they realized that she was working for them. And I loved his relationship with his dad. The one part that really stood out to me is when he went to Malloy for the first time and he said, pretend this is your father and show me what you want to do to him. And he hugged the boxing thing. And I just, I mean, to me that was just the truest example of who Ali was as a character throughout the whole book. He was just good. And yeah, I really, I really loved all the relationships. And like you said, Jen, the secondary characters really stood out and they were well developed. And even though I felt like this read younger, like a middle grade book, I mean, I was compelled to get through it.


Jen 30:32

Well, and I thought, too, I appreciated that he is not naive. I mean, he is good, but he's not naive. Like he sees that Malloy is drinking all the time. And he sees that his dad is breaking the law and that he has a gun. He sees people's weaknesses, and yet he's able to forgive them. I love the punching bag moment. The other moment I love is when his dad is telling him the story about Rufus, the stuffed dog that he had when he was a kid. And that when he comes to put him to bed, he's holding Rufus on his chest. And they cover him up. And his dad says, while you're really lucky to have Rufus to protect you, and he says, "No, I'm protecting Rufus." And so I just think that epitomizes his relationship with so many characters. And again, yeah, he's he's a good kid, but he's not perfect. He lies to his mom. He goes to a party that he knows that he's not supposed to. He hits up his dad for clothes that he knows are stolen. I mean, so he's not. He's not perfect. He's, for me, he was believably good. So, the other big characters that we definitely need to talk about are Noodles and Needles. And again, I think he is keenly aware of Noodles's downfalls. And yet, he's still his best friend. And yeah, what did y'all think about his relationship with Noodles first?

Sara 31:58

Well, I thought it was believable. And I think that Jason Reynolds is is a really gifted writer because although Noodles at times was just, you just didn't like him. He does a really good job of showing the motivation of the character and you see all these other things that are happening to Noodles and where he is coming from in his situation. And it helps you understand the reason why he acts the way he does. And so I really liked that there was all this nuance in his character that even though I felt one way about him at times, I still felt sympathetic toward him and empathetic toward him when I was reading.


Jen 32:40

And It was believable. There was enough there that Ali would go back to him, even though he became so frustrated with some of the things that he did.


Sara 32:50

And I love the way that Reynolds tied in that example between his mom and his dad, with how Noodles and Ali's relationship kind of went to. I really liked how he kept going back to that, that there was going to be this one thing that was like, the thing. But then they both came full circle. Both of those relationships came full circle by the end. I liked that a lot.


Ashley 33:13

Yeah, I mean, I felt like Reynolds did a great job of showing Noodles is a complex character. Yeah, I did think like you said, Sara, of all the characters, I think he was really the only one that we just got really annoyed with at times and felt fed up with just like Ali does. But that even with that, there's so much understanding of how he is the way that he is. But like that time when they go and get the haircut, and he, you know, refuses to pay and makes that whole scene. I mean, I think that was a great example of just where, you know, everyone involved, he was just totally out of line. And that even though Ali understood some of the reasons why that was happening it is still just appalling, and hard to stand by him as he's making those choices. But I think like you said, he comes around, you know, he comes full circle. And I think that part's really powerful. And I think the way that they both interact with Needles is really powerful and also shows how both of them care so much about Needles, but then it's hard for them to navigate that space. And they care about him in different ways. So, it's really interesting watching that part unfold.


Jen 34:29

Yeah, there's some really poignant moments with Needles when Ali is watching him knit to deal with his Tourette's and he sees him have something start shaping up and then he has a tick, and he loses it all. And just that Needles is so patient in the face of that constant unraveling, literal unraveling, but yeah, I mean, Needles is again, I think there's a danger there that he's too good. But he has enough, you know, like when he gets fed up with Noodles, finally. He's been so so patient, I mean, the patience of a saint. And then at some point, he just can't stand by him anymore. And he needs something from him. Something different from him. So, yeah, I appreciate that. Because I think, you know, we were talking about the book and just that danger that everybody in the book is so good or that everybody has a good side. But I think we see again, the complexity that keeps it from being too saccharin.

Sara 35:29

I have to say one of my favorite moments with Needles is when they're at the party, and he is dancing up a storm. Reynolds painted this picture in my mind. I can just see him dancing. And then when Ali is like thatNeedles got the party started, but then he's in the corner knitting when, you know, when the party gets going. I just loved that too. That was precious to me.


Jen 35:59

I think it's funny, too, that he's knitting and that they think the black yarn will make such a difference.


Sara 36:03

Instead of the purple yarn.


Jen 36:06

Like, yeah, it looks much better now.


Jen 36:10

So I think one of the interesting things Reynolds does in the book is talk about the nature of violence and when . . . Sorry, my dog was barking.


Sara 36:21

That wasn't me.


Jen 36:25

When violence is an appropriate response and when it's not, and so I think watching Ali, I mean, he fears violence in a lot of ways and so watching him, I don't want to say become comfortable with it, but appreciate that, yes, it is time to be violent, this is the right thing, I thought was really an interesting arc for a character and one that's unexpected. I don't know that I've seen that in many other books. What did y'all think of that part?


Ashley 36:54

Yeah, I mean, I feel like that's something Reynolds does well because I think we talked about that with Long Way Down, and I feel like I've seen it in all of the books of his that I've read is not, again, not condoning violence for the sake of violence, but saying there's a time to stand up and that sometimes standing up isn't just using your words, that it's taking action and that sometimes that action can be somewhat physical. And so I felt like that part, I appreciated it, and like you said, Jen, I think it's different than a lot of other authors and something that I think, I think that's one of the ways that Reynolds does a great job of having a wide audience for his books because he really shows that Noodles is the one in the book who uses violence inappropriately, and again, not out of control. He's not a terrible guy, but he is, you know, rash and impulsive, and he is always sort of like, puffed up about things. And so I feel like, you know, we have that nice contrast between him and Ali, who is not wanting to take action, even though he's clearly a great boxer. You know, he doesn't want to have to . . . take that somewhere to do something with that. And I think the, the whole party scene part is really powerful. And that he . . . it's a lot about him finding himself. And I agree with what you said that I don't think typically we don't think of violence as a way of someone finding themselves or understanding themselves better. But in this case, that really was. It was the I . . . this is what it means to be loyal, this is what it means to do the right thing. This is what it means to protect Needles who needs protection. And so I think in that context, it it is a really powerful moment and a convincing moment.


Sara 38:38

And then I think that it was also a really good comparison to then how John protects Ali when Ali expects him to, to to remedy what is going on with violence and then that John is like, No, I'm not . . . that's not what I'm gonna do, you know. So I really like the way that that he tackled violence in the . . . in the book and just the different the scope, . . . the scope of everything that we saw throughout from the beginning to the end. And the commentary on it was really interesting.


Ashley 39:10

Yeah, like I don't give too much away about the ending, but I think that that definitely I just loved that . . . I did not expect it. I don't know how you all felt. I didn't think he was going to do horrible things either.


Jen 39:22

Right.


Ashley 39:23

But I also didn't . . . I just couldn't anticipate, I kept thinking, how's he gonna work this out? But I think that what I love is that--and I think Reynolds does a great job with this--is suggesting that there could be another way. That that doesn't have to always be the way and that there is a reason why people make the choices that they do. And that sometimes, like, I mean, like I was just saying, like sometimes standing up for somebody means that you have to protect them physically. But that there . . . that doesn't always have to be the outcome, and that doesn't have to be the choice. And I loved that, like I loved all of that at the end, and I felt like it was, I mean we talked about the plausibility before we were recording whether that would really work things out or not, and you know what his dad does. We could debate whether it could, but I think it's feasible. And I loved that it was just a way of him using his wits and using his understanding of the world to try to, you know, take a new pathway.


Jen 40:17

Yeah.


Sara 40:19

And I do have to say one, one thing before we close, I love the way that Jason Reynolds uses Brooklyn as the backdrop of this story. I almost felt like Brooklyn was another character because I felt like he did such a great job of describing their pride in where they live. And because when even when Ali is like, let's just leave, and John is like, no, this is our home. And he just, he described the community in such a way that is just, I don't know, I just . . . I really appreciated the way that Brooklyn was portrayed for these characters. And the fact that, you know, even when there was this trouble that they weren't just going to leave because it was their home and, I don't know, he just did a did a really good job of making it come alive for me.


Classroom Connections


Jen 41:04

So I think to close things out, let's just talk a little bit about how we think Jason Reynolds's works would work in the classroom.


Sara 41:14

From a middle-school perspective, I think that all these ones that we've discussed have a place in a middle-school class. And what I would have liked . . . would like to do is lit circles with them and let . . . and just do an author study on Jason Reynolds and let students choose which book feels the most appropriate for them because I think that they definitely range. Ghost, I feel like ranges younger than both When I Was the Greatest and Long Way Down, with Long Way Down kind of skewing more toward like eighth grade, ninth grade. I mean, I think that would be a great opportunity to study his work and his over-arcing message, so I would definitely use it in middle school.


Ashley 41:56

Yeah, I think from high school as well. They're a great fit for the classroom. I think that he does a great job of keeping them . . . I mean, I used a lot of books in my class that did have language and things like that in it. And I think that, you know, different teachers have different perspectives on that, but--and different schools have different perspectives--but he keeps everything very clean. And even the things that haven't been more, like Sara said, I think like Long Way Down the it's very easy to read, but the content is more mature. Yeah, but even when things have more richer content, he still does it in a way that's accessible to students. And that is gonna, you know, you're not gonna alienate readers, as far as the way that he presents everything that's happening. And so I really like that part. I also think that his books have a nice, common thread. I mean, I think what we talked about with the different books and how he shows the role of violence in society, but also the way that trends and cycles can be broken. I think that a lot of that comes off in a lot of his books. And so I think that there would be some great discussion if kids do the lit circles, like Sara was saying, where there's a lot of common threads that can be picked apart from the different angles and the different books' perspectives, and I love that because I think that that really enriches the discussion. And we didn't talk today about All American Boys, but that is one that has been used in the classroom. We have worked on several teachers who have used it, and I know that nationally, people are using it in the classroom quite a bit. And it is great for talking about police brutality and race relations, connected to police brutality. And I think, again, I mean, it's a great . . . it's Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. And it's a great fit for the classroom because it isn't super, super long. It comes from two different perspectives. It really does a good job of showing all sides of the story. And so, you know, I think he's got a lot out there that can be used in the classroom and used well.


Jen 43:53

Agreed. Yeah, I mean, I think the potential for author study is great. I think it also pairs well with other works. So, this year a teacher taught All American Boys alongside The Hate U Give. And I think that was a great pairing. I think All American Boys skews a little younger than The Hate U Give. So I think that's nice, too, to allow that range. You know, one's from a male perspective or two males' perspectives and one's from a female perspective. So I think that is a nice option as well, just because he is so topical, like Ashley was saying, just dealing with violence. The last book we talked about, I had marked a quotation, "the obvious should never be ignored." And I think that's a really great point that you can see in all of Reynolds's work, that there are things that we need to talk about, and he's not going to shy away from talking about them in a way that is accessible to readers. So I just think, yeah, his books are made for the classroom.


Sara 44:52

Thanks for listening. We love Jason Reynolds's work, and we think his books are a great fit in the classroom.

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Please note: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

© 2020 by Ashley, Jen, and Sara of Unabridged Podcast, LLC. All rights reserved.