When I Was the Greatest

Review From User :

Jason Reynolds just slays the voice in this book. Slays it. As I read the novel, I felt like I was sitting on the stoop right next to Ali as he told the story. The plot itself is nothing complicated. There are no tricks or twists. But the characters are so perfectly crafted, so authentically vivid, that the story grabs hold and never lets go.

There's a point early in the story where Ali is introducing the reader to Malloy, his boxing trainer. As he describes the man's history, his roots so deep in Brooklyn that he must've been the soil that planted the tree, he uses two words to describe him that say it all: "That Brooklyn." And Reynolds builds his characters so meticulously and organically that I know exactly what he means. It's that kind of writing.

In this simple coming-of-age story, we get a portrait of a kid, Ali, his family, his friends, his neighborhood. In the story's simplicity we find the complexities that are life. A story doesn't need much to portray the difficulties of growing up and the complex nature of human relationships. Reynolds captures it all perfectly. From the brilliant cover to the final page, this novel's impact resonates long after you finish it.


In Bed Stuy, New York, a small misunderstanding can escalate into having a price on your head – even if you’re totally clean. This gritty, triumphant debut captures the heart and the hardship of life for an urban teen.

A lot of the stuff that gives my neighborhood a bad name, I don’t really mess with. The guns and drugs and all that, not really my thing.

Nah, not his thing. Ali’s got enough going on, between school and boxing and helping out at home. His best friend Noodles, though. Now there’s a dude looking for trouble – and, somehow, it’s always Ali around to pick up the pieces. But, hey, a guy’s gotta look out for his boys, right? Besides, it’s all small potatoes; it’s not like anyone’s getting hurt.

And then there’s Needles. Needles is Noodles’s brother. He’s got a syndrome, and gets these ticks and blurts out the wildest, craziest things. It’s cool, though: everyone on their street knows he doesn’t mean anything by it.

Yeah, it’s cool…until Ali and Noodles and Needles find themselves somewhere they never expected to be…somewhere they never should’ve been – where the people aren’t so friendly, and even less forgiving.

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