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When I Was the Greatest
Cover of When I Was the Greatest
When I Was the Greatest
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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 that Publishers Weekly calls "a funny and rewarding read" 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.
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 that Publishers Weekly calls "a funny and rewarding read" 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.
Available formats-
  • Kindle Book
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Languages:-
Copies-
  • Available:
    1
  • Library copies:
    1
Levels-
  • ATOS:
    4.8
  • Lexile:
  • Interest Level:
    UG
  • Text Difficulty:
    3

Recommended for you

 
Awards-
About the Author-
  • Jason Reynolds is a New York Times bestselling author, a Newbery Award Honoree, a Printz Award Honoree, National Book Award Honoree, a Kirkus Award winner, a two time Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award Winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors. The American Booksellers Association's 2017 spokesperson for Indies First, his many books include When I Was the Greatest, Boy in the Black Suit, All American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely), As Brave as You, For Every One, the Track series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and Lu), and Long Way Down, which received both a Newbery Honor and a Printz Honor. He lives in Washington, DC. You can find his ramblings at JasonWritesBooks.com.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from October 28, 2013
    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.

  • Kirkus

    November 1, 2013
    A literary story of growing up in Brooklyn. Ali, 15 going on 16, lives in Bed-Stuy with his mom, a social worker, and his little sister, Jazz, who has a knack for markers. He hangs out on the stoop with his two BFFs, brothers nicknamed by his sister: Noodles and Needles. Needles, the older, suffers from Tourette's syndrome, and Noodles and Ali look out for him. In the lead plotline, the three boys crash an illegal party in the basement of a nearby brownstone and then deal with the fallout. Action notwithstanding, the story actually reads more like a character study of Ali and his sister and friends and a tender homage to this seemingly dangerous neighborhood. Even though Reynolds thoughtfully (and most likely truthfully) depicts the neighborhood as one where guns and drug transactions are seen regularly, readers don't necessarily feel the danger due to the tender and deeply protective relationships of the characters, who are realistically if not exquisitely drawn. The plot, though compelling, takes back seat to them, and what unfolds is a moving and thought-provoking study of the connectivity among a family and friends that plays upon and defies readers' expectations. An author worth watching. (Fiction. 12 & up)

    COPYRIGHT(2013) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from February 1, 2014

    Gr 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

    Copyright 2014 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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    Atheneum Books for Young Readers
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  • Copyright Protection (DRM) required by the Publisher may be applied to this title to limit or prohibit printing or copying. File sharing or redistribution is prohibited. Your rights to access this material expire at the end of the lending period. Please see Important Notice about Copyrighted Materials for terms applicable to this content.

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When I Was the Greatest
When I Was the Greatest
Jason Reynolds
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