Your Next Favorite Author-Jason Reynolds  

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Post by Laura R. 

Your Next Favorite Author-Jason Reynolds

Jason Reynolds

It’s been a big year for Jason Reynolds.  The author’s third book to be published this fall, Long Way Down, was released at the end of October.  The book faces topical issues of race and gun violence head on, and cements Reynolds’ reign over the young adult literary scene.  Written in free verse, the novel narrates 15-year-old Will Holloman’s seven-floor descent in an elevator, as he grapples with the gang murder of his older brother.  Intent on taking revenge on his brother’s killer, Will must re-evaluate his mission as each floor introduces new characters, and new revelations.  The book was longlisted for the 2017 National Book Award in Young People’s Literature.

Reynolds made his name in 2014 with his novel When I Was the Greatest, followed quickly by The Boy in the Black Suit, and the Long Way Down absolute stunner, All-American Boys (co-written with Brandon Kiely).  The latter was my first introduction to Reynolds, and evangelized me for life—I suggest his books to nearly every kid at the library looking for a recommendation.  Reynolds books have ended up on the New York Times Bestseller list (Long Way Down debuted at number four) and have earned multiple Coretta Scott King Awards honors.

Reynolds recounts that as a struggling young author, he really got his start when a friend of his, writer Christopher Myers, suggested he write in a “natural tongue.”  The result is prose that is full of heart and authenticity, affirming African-American culture and experience, and never shying away from honest stories.  Reynolds says of presenting experiences of violence and trauma to young readers, “It’s my responsibility to honor young people with honesty, even if their parents are uncomfortable. They are human beings with feelings. They also have the internet, and they come with their own set of trauma. Why should I be disrespectful to the young reader by shielding them from what they already know?”

Published in 2015 as the debate around police brutality was very much at the fore of the national conversation, All-American Boys follows the twin stories of Rashad, a black teen who is falsely accused of stealing and subsequently beaten by a police officer untilAll American Boys he ends up in the hospital, and Quinn, Rashad’s white classmate who witnesses the incident.  I loved All-American Boys not only for its candid take on the violent realities faced by young African-Americans in the US today, but also because it’s a story told through the eyes of two relatable characters dealing with more mundane teenage challenges: Rashad would rather draw than listen to his dad’s lectures on joining the army, and Quinn is busy gearing up for basketball season, hoping to land a college scholarship.

Reynolds also writes for middle graders; the second installment of his “Track” series, Patina, was released at the end of August this year.  Ghost and Patina each follow one member of an elite middle school track team.  Ghost (real name: Castle Crenshaw) is the fastest sprinter Coach has ever seen, but is struggling with memories of his violent father.  Patina, or Patty, as her friends call her, smokes the other girls during the four hundred meter dash even as she’s weighed down with caring for her six-year-old sister and diabetic-amputee mother.  Despite the difficult home lives of these characters, the Track series is laced with sparkling adolescent humor and colorful supporting characters, making for truly un-put-downable reads.   

ghostReynolds himself makes it a point to visit schools and talk to young people.  He often tells his audiences that he didn’t read a book cover to cover until he was seventeen.  He stresses the importance of writing stories that are relatable to kids today.  He told an audience of middle schoolers of the time teachers tried to get him to read Moby Dick: “The teacher was like, ‘Read this book about this man chasing a whale,’ and I’m like, bruh… I don’t know if I can connect to a man chasing a whale when I’ve never seen a whale. Nothing that’s happening in these books is happening in my neighborhood.” 

Kids can see themselves and their neighborhoods mirrored in Reynolds’ books.  As a library professional working with children in Aurora’s uber-diverse center, I find Reynolds’ stories to be a rich and necessary addition to young people’s literature.  Don’t miss any of his books! 


Sources:
Washington Post     National Book Foundation     Twitter      BookList Online 

Posted by behrhart@auroragov.org On 27 December, 2017 at 10:29 AM  

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