cover image When I Was the Greatest

When I Was the Greatest

Jason Reynolds. S&S/Atheneum, $17.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4424-5947-2

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.)