I hope you are having a great week as summer comes closer! I am back with a review today as I work through my huge pile of reviews to write. I am really excited about this one!
We read Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds for book club last month and it led to some fantastic discussions. This was my first Jason Reynolds book and I hope it won’t be my last!
- I’d really call this more of a short story collection than a traditional novel. Each chapter follows the walking home journey of a different kid or group of kids. While they do overlap in the details a bit, we have new protagonists each chapter and never go back to previous ones. I would love to reread the whole book so I can catch more of the overlaps!
According to Goodreads, “From National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds comes a novel told in ten blocks, showing all the different directions a walk home can take.
This story was going to begin like all the best stories. With a school bus falling from the sky. But no one saw it happen. They were all too busy— Talking about boogers. Stealing pocket change. Skateboarding. Wiping out. Braving up. Executing complicated handshakes. Planning an escape. Making jokes. Lotioning up. Finding comfort. But mostly, too busy walking home.
Jason Reynolds conjures ten tales (one per block) about what happens after the dismissal bell rings, and brilliantly weaves them into one wickedly funny, piercingly poignant look at the detours we face on the walk home, and in life.”
The first thing that captivated me in this story was the language. Both the language and writing are so clever, witty, and engaging. It is the language that puts us right into these stories and made me feel like I was walking home alongside these kids. I loved the way Reynolds describes the different experiences walking home from school and the characteristics of each protagonist. I can see the neighborhood candy lady. I can feel the sidewalk under a skateboard. I can hear the taunts and the jokes and the conversations of the kids. The language brings all these seemingly ordinary stories to life. And the characters become the kids next door or down the street. They become real.
These are simple stories but also powerful ones. Kids that steal change and turn it into ice cream for a sick parent. A skateboarder who mourns a lost sister. A jokester helping an ailing grandparent. A group of friends helping one of their own prep to ask a girl out. A friend sticking up against bullies. Two friends practicing a secret handshake with a complicated history. A boy prone to panic attacks looking after his mom. They all had a deeper purpose in life if you looked beyond their appearances. Each story starts out on the surface with details about the present. But we soon learn the backstories and the connections between these kids. And I learned that no one lives on an island. And everyone is having a hard time.
Reynolds creates great characters that feel real and relatable. These are average kids with worries and concerns like any of his middle grade readers or adults. These are kids with concerns about sick parents, aging grandparents, changing friends, bullying, fear of death, and more. I was cheering for each set of kids in every story. I loved the city setting and the way it was easy to relate to these kids average lives. It was impressive how relatable these stories felt even in a setting that is different than my own life. Perhaps it shows how connected we all are and how universal these concerns and stories are. I liked how their stories connected and overlapped in subtle ways. Again, I would like to reread this book to catch more of those connections that I’m sure I missed.
I really enjoyed this award winning novel about the walks home from school. There was an interesting theme throughout with the “school bus falling from the sky” idea. I liked the potential but I wanted more done with that idea. I guess I was expecting something fantastical or magical. But perhaps the lesson is that the ordinary details of our lives can be magical. And perhaps the relationships we build are the most important magic of all. A great read for middle grade readers and beyond. I think this would spark some great discussions with my kids one day.
What books have made you think deeper about relationships and life?
Any Jason Reynolds fans out there? Which of his books are your favorites?