When I Was the Greatest

240p. S & S/Atheneum. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781442459472; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442459496. LC 2012045734.
RedReviewStarGr 7–10—Ali lives with his mother, Doris, and kid sister, Jazz, in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn and spends all of his free time with best friends Noodles and Needles, brothers who live in a run-down brownstone next door. Needles was born with Tourette's syndrome, and after a particularly bad episode of tics, Doris gave him some knitting needles to focus his attention. The three teens hang out on the stoop and streets, living life and getting in just a touch of mischief. When their friend Tasha gets them into a party-and not just any party, an exclusive, adults-only party-trouble escalates. How will the trio deal with the fallout of that eventful night? Reynolds's debut oozes with authenticity-details about bodegas, barbershops, and local streets flesh out the setting-and builds with great tempo, starting in a slow groove and picking up to a swift beat. The main and secondary characters are well developed; their sweetness, sassiness, and even stupidity are endearing and relatable. This title is an easy sell to teens living in urban areas but will appeal to anyone looking for realistic protagonists in the daily grind, learning about themselves and one another. Reynolds is an author to watch.—Emily Moore, Camden County Library System, NJ
Affable narrator Ali, his best friend Noodles, and Noodles's brother Needles live in Brooklyn’s tough Bed-Stuy neighborhood. Ali's thing is boxing; Noodles's is comic books; and Needles's is...knitting, as a way to keep his Tourette syndrome under control. The book's violent climax occurs at a party that the boys discover they're too young for. Reynolds demonstrates a gift for conversational tone and sly humor.
Ali's thing is boxing; his best friend Noodles's is comic books; Noodles's brother Needles's is...knitting. If this all sounds Time Warp Trio-ish, think again: the three teens live in Brooklyn's tough Bed-Stuy neighborhood, and their pastimes are as much strategies of survival as they are personality quirks. Ali, affable and vulnerable, tells their story, and through him Reynolds demonstrates a gift for conversational tone and sly humor: "[I] took a glance down at the kicks I had on. Perfect. I mean, not a mark on them and not a lace twisted. Them bad boys were clean enough for a cop to harass me just for having them on." (Additional irony can be found in the fact that the shoes in question were in fact stolen--but by Ali's dad, a petty criminal ne'er-do-well who is nevertheless a loving father.) Ali is a good kid, but Noodles is angry about something; Needles knits, at the suggestion of Ali's mother, as a way to keep his Tourette syndrome under control, a strategy that gives the novel some humor (as when Noodles steals some black yarn for Needles to knit rather than the embarrassing purple he's been working with) but also its violent climax, at a party that all three boys discover they are too young for. In his "What Makes a Good YA Urban Novel?" column in the November/December 2013 Horn Book, teacher Randy Ribay asks for books that show that "people are people above and beyond their zip codes." Here's one. roger sutton

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