Latest Read: When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

Here are the basics ...
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
Publication date: Jan. 7, 2014
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Category: Young Adult - Contemporary
Source: Borrowed from library

Summary: The guns and drugs and all that going on Bed Stuy, NY isn't Ali's thing. He’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? And then there’s Needles, who's 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. Until Ali and Noodles and Needles find themselves somewhere they never expected to be—where the people aren't so friendly, and even less forgiving. (Adapted
My thoughts…
The good: A story about family, friendship and a young man growing up in Brooklyn - When I Was the Greatest surprised me in the best way possible. Right off the bat, I was drawn to the tone and language of the book. It felt like I was sitting right across from the main character Ali as he told me all about his life. The writing was that smooth. Ali was just your typical guy who didn't live in the best neighborhood but had a good head on his shoulders thanks to his mother, Doris. No drugs, no drinking and no craziness. What set him apart from the rest of the boys his age was his honesty and big heart. We're quickly introduced to all the important people in his life - his mom, sister Jazz, his two best friends Noodles and Needles and later his father. It's a short book and only spans a week at most (from what I could tell) but the reader is given a pretty in-depth look into who Ali is and the type of man he's turning out to be.

I loved pretty much every relationship in the book, even the frustrating ones, because they were all portrayed realistically. Ali talks a lot about his mom and it's clear she's a force of nature. Every time Ali impersonated her or mentioned how angry she'd get if he did anything dumb, it would make me chuckle. I'm not sure if I was supposed to laugh that much but I could picture it so clearly. Ali is also really close to his sister, Jazz and their interactions would make me smile. She's got a big personality that shined through every moment she was a part of. And rounding out the family dynamic is his father. I didn't think he was going to be a big part of the book but he ends up playing an important role towards latter half.

Then Noodles and Needles. With names like that, I wasn't sure what to expect of them. Noodles is one of those boys who is all bark and no bite while his younger brother Needles is this sweet, gentle soul who has Tourette's syndrome. They have a complicated relationship, with Noodles usually being hard on Needles and often times Ali is stuck in the middle. What I admired about Ali was that he followed his gut sense of right and wrong in these situations and was a good friend to both boys. This is especially the case when the three of them are invited to an exclusive party and things don't turn out exactly as they planned (do they ever?!). This one night brings out true colors, harsh realities and later understanding and forgiveness in a way that was extremely moving.

(No) reservations: None!

Do I recommend?: I do! I've been making more of an effort to pick up books that are different from my usual reads and I'm glad I gave this one a shot.

Happy reading!


  1. "I've been making more of an effort to pick up books that are different from my usual reads...." Norwegian Wood.

    just sayin'....

  2. WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST sounds very different indeed. I'm intrigued, especially because it's set in part of NYC and focuses on family relationships. I'm glad to hear that this one worked for you!


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