So, there’s this guy, right. He goes by the name of Jason Reynolds. Dude got mad skills. There’s not one piece of work by him that I’ve read and not liked (excuse the double negative). I fell in literary love with Jason Reynolds in 2015 when he spoke on a panel at the National Conference of Association of African-American Librarians. While he’s mostly written young adult lit, he’s also dipped in the middle grade lit pond. Quick overview, The Track Series is about a group of middle school students on one of the best track teams in the city. While we meet the four newbies on the team in Ghost—Ghost, Patina, Lu, and Sunny—as they begin a new season, the novel deeply surrounds the experience from Ghost’s perspective. Although each book delves into an individual, Patina picked up where Ghost ended, drawing a seamless connection between the two. Today, I’m introducing you to the first two novels in The Track Series.
First up: Ghost, Reynolds’ 2016 National Book Award Finalist novel that begins the The Track Series. In this first book, Ghost stumbles upon the annual try-outs for the Defenders track team. Track really isn’t his thing though; basketball is. This doesn’t stop Ghost—or his big mouth and snark—from a challenging the team’s best runner. When he wins and the coach decides he belongs on the team, Ghost has to finally come to terms with all the things he’s been running from figuratively.
Up next: Patina, where Reynolds takes us into the life of Patty, the only female newbie on the team. For Patty, life’s a little complicated, and running is her way of paying homage to those she loves most, and proving her worth to those who taunt her. Being a part of the Defenders helps her realize her strength and that she can withstand.
Why I love Jason Reynolds, Ghost, and Patina:
- When I first opened Ghost, I was immediately drawn to the story. The writing is so relatable. Most of the students I work with use similar vernacular. I can appreciate Reynolds using this style of writing because it helps my students feel comfortable with the prose. As I got ready to write this blog, I noticed a Banned Books Week bookmark sticking out from another book, and it presented an AHA moment. This year’s Banned Books Week theme was Words Have Power. For me, Reynold’s use of this dialect is an example of how words have power. The power of his words comes in his use of a particular style of language. It connects a certain audience to the writing and makes them want to continue reading. I’m in a new school this year, which means building relationships and working intently to build a culture of reading. A couple of weeks ago, an 8th grader was sitting at the circulation desk and I asked him if he liked to read. His response, “I used to, but I don’t anymore.” We proceeded to discuss why and before the end of the conversation, I knew this was my chance to make him fall in love with reading again. I asked if I gave him a book I knew he would love, would he read it. I promised he could bring it back if he didn’t like it, but asked that he at least give it a chance. A few days later, his class was in the library—I was actually in a classroom; when I came back, my clerk was thrilled to tell me this young man had started reading the book and really liked it. Hashtag WIN. That leads me to my next point.
- These books—and just about everything Jason Reynolds writes—are perfect for reluctant readers. Engaging realistic fiction.
- Each book gives more depth to each newbie. In book one, we see the multiple layers of Ghost—a kid we want to loathe but can only truly have love for. In book two, we view the intricate way in which Patty has to weave different worlds. Sure, it would do well to produce a novel in which the end results of the team’s season are revealed, but Reynold’s decision to separate the personal stories of the newbies allows for true character depth and guaranteed opportunities for readers—especially, reluctant readers—to engage with relevant literature in the future. After all, Ghost and Patina were both witty and emotional, and Reynolds’ history reveals a promise to continue that trend.