Lynn: When seventh-grader Castle “Ghost” Crenshaw happens upon a middle-school track team’s practice, he scoffs. What kind of sport is this? He already knows how to run. He learned the night his drunk father chased him and his mother down the street with a gun. With his dad in prison, Ghost and his mom are scraping by with hard work, thrift-store shoes, and home haircuts. But Ghost is still running from what he calls “the scream inside,” and he’s always in trouble. Mocking one of the cocky runners, Ghost lines up to race him and flies off the line. Impressed, the coach recruits him for the elite team on the condition that Ghost keeps his nose clean.
Ghost learns quickly that there’s a lot more to running than he had imagined. Although he connects with the other newbies and his Olympic gold-winning coach, he still has to deal with bullies, taunts, poverty, and fear. Can he stay on track?
Jason Reynolds has written another winner of a middle-school novel, and Ghost is the start of a proposed series. Appealing characters and authentic dialogue, plus a compelling plot with just enough tension, make this book very hard to put down. Ghost is a character that goes straight to the heart, and his choices, good and bad, are the stuff of real life. It is impossible not to root for him, his mom, and his hope of crossing the finish line. Add the fact that the novel is only 180 short pages, and you have a book that will appeal to reluctant readers, boys and girls, like the silver bullet running shoes in the story. Stock up now! On your mark, GO!
Cindy: When Lynn read this, she warned me that I’m going to need a million copies for my school. Now that I’ve finished it, I know she’s right. In the past few years, I’ve seen an increase of requests for “drama books”—and my students aren’t asking for plays. When Ghost’s mom wakes him up and drags him from his bed to run away from his father’s hail of bullets, the drama begins. The incident continues to haunt Ghost, who sleeps in the living room rather than return to his bedroom and the terrible memories that linger there. The sports theme, team bonding, and a caring coach with issues of his own recall Chris Crutcher’s stories of older teens dealing with difficulties. Like Crutcher, Reynolds balances tough stuff with humor and characters who care, especially Ghost’s mom.
Jason Reynolds is my favorite new author. If you haven’t read his books, you need to. I’ve been buying many copies of All American Boys since I heard Reynolds speak last year, giving them to teachers and friends to share with teens to help start important conversations. I need to buy a few more copies for my middle schools, too. Even with so many copies, I never one on the shelf when I want to recommend it to a student—always a good problem to have. Ghost is another high-interest story with heart and healing. Don’t miss sharing it with your middle-school readers. I can’t wait for book two. In the meantime, I still have to get my hands on his other new middle school book, As Brave As You.