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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Book Review: Ghost by Jason Reynolds

"You can't run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be."

I read a lot of middle grade fiction. Not only do I order books for that section of the library but, let's be honest, kids' books are sometimes just more fun to read than adult books. I must confess, though, that I would not normally choose a sports themed book.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds is one of those books that made me glad that I stepped outside of my elves-battling-dragons comfort zone.

Castle Crenshaw started referring to himself as Ghost the night his father went into a drunken rage and chased him and his mother with a gun. Three years after that fateful night Castle walks past the park and sees a group of kids on the track. Curious, he stops to watch because "running ain't nothing I ever had to practice. It's just something I knew how to do." On a whim, Castle decides to prove that Lu, the sprinter to beat, isn't "that fast" by running alongside. Blown away by Castle's natural talent Coach Brody convinces him to run with the Defenders. For the first time in his life Castle is part of a team, but only if he can stay out of trouble. Easier said than done for "the boy with the altercations and the big file. The one who yelled at teachers and punched stupid dudes in the face for talking smack. The one who felt...different. And mad. And sad. The one with all the scream inside."

Ghost is the first book in a four-volume series revolving around, the Defenders, an elite middle school track team. Ninety-nine percent of children's books about sports spotlight boys playing, football, basketball, or baseball. Reynolds went the unexpected route by writing about the less popular sport of track. I also love that the Defenders is a coed team and future books in the series will feature some of the female members of the team as main characters.

So, I have gone on and on about Ghost being a "sports" book but, obviously, it is much more than a book about track. Castle Crenshaw is such an authentic character and you will cry, cheer, and laugh as a he struggles to move beyond the shame of being poor and having a father in jail. Yes, Castle makes some serious mistakes. Like when he steals an expensive pair of track shoes or smacks the school bully with his lunch tray. But you also see the love Castle has for his mother when he sits and watches romance movies with her despite thinking that they are goofy and boring. Or how much Castle longs for his sober father every time he buys a bag of sunflower seeds at the corner store.

There is also a beautiful circularity to Ghost. The story begins with Castle remembering the worst night of his life when: "the shot--loudest sound I ever heard--made my legs move even faster. I don't know if that's possible, but that's definitely what it seemed like." At the conclusion of Ghost, Castle is in the starting blocks at his first track meet, but this time when the gun goes off  he is confident, eager, and proud.

Jason Reynold's writing absolutely shines and this exceptional coming-of-age story is sure to appeal young readers whether they are boy/girl, black/white, rich/poor, etc. Check out the amazing video below in which Jason Reynolds explains what led him to become an author of juvenile and teen fiction.