Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Castle Cranshaw runs.  And he's fast.  You have to be when you're running away from the memory of your daddy pulling a gun on you.  The memory of fleeing with his mom and spending the night in terror inside the local grocery's storage room.  The idea that life might not get any better, and that running is all he'll do isn't just a possibility in Castle's mind.  It's inevitable.  So maybe he needs that running practice.

Oh, and don't call him Castle.  He's Ghost.

Waiting at the bus stop, Ghost likes to watch the people in the gym across the street.  They're so weird.  Running in place but never going anywhere.  What's the point of that?  If he runs, it's because he has to.  As he eats his snack (sunflower seeds, always), he wanders over to a park where there's a track.  On the track, some kids warm up while their parents cheer in the stands.  A man with a shaved head that makes him look like a turtle (Ghost's words, not mine), pep talks them.  One kid, named Lu, really stands out.   Ghost is puzzled--he looks black, but his skin is pale, "like God forgot to put the color in him."  This kid has the "flyest gear."  And he is fast.  And he knows it.

But Ghost knows he's faster.

So he gets out there and shows them.  And even though he never knew that people ran track as a sport--even though he didn't even try out for the Defenders, Coach puts him on the team.

There are conditions, though: Ghost has to do his homework every night.  And there can be no problems at school.  Homework?  Yeah, Ghost can work with that.

But incidents?  They find him.  People are always making fun of his off-brand shoes or his haircut by Mom or his too-big clothes.  Ghost has this red rage that boils up inside of him.  He can't control it.  And it's scary--because what if one day he is the man chasing his family with a gun?  What if he becomes his father?

Slowly, Coach teaches Ghost how to run and how to live.  None of these characters are perfect.  But Ghost is funny as heck and his voice is so strong.  Even when he does completely idiotic things, I still rooted for him.  I wanted him to learn that he had the power and the talent to make things better.  I mean, he doesn't end up with lots of money or with a magically repaired family or with tons of friends ... but his life is better.

I'm a little ashamed to admit that this is my first book by Jason Reynolds (don't worry, I have When We Were The Greatest on audiobook in my car, waiting for my drive to work tomorrow morning).  I completely get the hype.  Reynolds has flow and charm and humor.  He doesn't need a lot of words or a bunch of complex plot points to make you care about his characters.  It's ... magical.

I love this book so much.  This is the first new book I've read this year that I want to win the Newbery.  It's THAT good.

What are you waiting for?  Run, don't walk, to get this!  Unless you are me and are the world's worst runner ever (I think this is Guinness-verified), in which case just walk very quickly.


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