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Jason Reynolds's WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST- Pardon Me While I Fangirl--Sara's Review

I am SO excited to write today, because I have an amazing book to talk to you about for the young people in your life!

Full disclaimer, I LOVE Jason Reynolds. If you aren't familiar with Reynolds, he has a pretty prolific array of quality middle/high school work that tackles hard topics in an accessible way. If you follow him on Twitter (@JasonReynolds83), you know he is a delight and such an advocate for children and reading.

When I Was the Greatest follows Ali, a 15- year-old who loves boxing; his friends, Noodles and Needles; and his family which consists of his 11-year-old sister, Jazz; his mom, Doris; and his dad, John. Ali is a relatable protagonist in that he doesn't always make the right decision, but at his core he is a good kid. Reynolds builds the untraditional familial relationships and the friendships in the story in a way that seems authentic, and he presents you with flawed, but likable characters. He also exhibits a deft hand at creating character motivations that are nuanced and believable. A wide variety of well-fleshed-out secondary characters rounds out this story and makes it truly memorable. My favorite secondary characters are Black and Miss Brenda. (If you have read this, did you love them too?) All of the characters feel important and intentional in the development of this narrative.

Reynolds's commentary on violence is masterfully executed. The way that this is explored throughout When I Was the Greatest is an interesting examination of when and if violence is the answer in some circumstances. In addition, he provides a look at consequences of choices and the fallout of those choices for people who are not involved in the choice. As a middle-school teacher, I see so many applications of the discussion of this particular storyline in the classroom.

As a teacher, I love Reynolds's work for students. Like I said before, he has a pretty prolific repertoire of middle-grade/young-adult literature. And, I would say there is a common thread in much of his work, which makes it prime reading for literature circles, author study, or thematic reading.

As in many of my reviews, I hesitate to give too many details, because I do not want to spoil the experience for you. However, I will say that I cannot say enough about When I Was the Greatest and about Jason Reynolds's work in general. If you haven't read his work, I suggest starting, especially if you are in search of worthwhile reading for a young person in your life! A couple of other favorites are Long Way Down and Ghost. Note: Ghost definitely skews more late elementary to early middle, whereas Long Way Down skews more late middle/early high school.

Bottom Line: 5/5 * Please know that I am evaluating this as a middle-grade novel. I love this book for the quality and compelling storyline for middle-grade readers. Know that if you read this as an adult, you may evaluate this book in a different way, depending on your criteria.

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