Book Reviews

Review: When I Was the Greatest By Jason Reynolds


Published: January 7th 2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Source: Local Library

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Synopsis: 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.


Spoiler Free Review:

After reading a few of Jason Reynolds’s I was excited to read his debut for #Diversathon. I’m sad to say I was little bit disappointed in this book. There were some pros, but the story as a whole felt very anticlimactic and stretched out for a while. I think this might have to do with the fact I read this in the midst of school and tests, but I still enjoyed this book for the most part.


The writing style might not appeal to everyone, but I loved it. I grew up in NYC and reading all of the slang was so nostalgic and reminded me of my life back in Queens. The entire atmosphere felt familiar even if the book takes place in Brooklyn. I could imagine the characters’ voices in my head. I think it would be awesome to listen to the audiobook as well, just for the New York accent. 


I did have issues regarding the plot. There really wasn’t much of a plot for most of the book. It was mostly build up and it went by quite slowly to the point where I didn’t want to read the book. I did really like the family dynamic and the message behind the story. The story has some good morals behind it. In addition, there was a mental illness aspect as well. Needles, a major character has a syndrome where he gets ticks. Although it’s never mentioned, I believe Needles has the Tourette syndrome. I’m not sure if it was an accurate portrayal of the syndrome, but it was dealt with in a very positive way, which I really appreciated. 


The main character is Ali, who was an okay character. There wasn’t anything that stood out to me about him. Noodles, on the other hand, I did not like at all. Honestly, I could not justify any of his actions. I hate the whole “bad boy” or more so the foolish child’s attempts to be bad. It’s an overused trope and I couldn’t justify any of his action or how he treated his brother. Needles is my favorite out of three. I guess the whole point was to make him likable, but he was sweet and respectful. It’s hard not to love him. 


Overall, this was an entertaining read to say the least. Had some issues, but I enjoyed it for the most part. 

Rating: 3.25/5


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