Reynolds, Jason. When I Was the Greatest.
4Q * 4P * S
Reynolds, Jason. When I Was the Greatest. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2014. 240p. $17.99. 978-1-4424-5947-2.
A lesson in trusting your instincts: never attend a party where you will be out of your league. When Mi and his friends, Noodles and Needles, are enticed by Noodles's would be girlfriend to her brother's party, they cannot resist. Never mind that they are underage. Needles suffers from Tourette's Syndrome but has learned to keep the physical symptoms under control by knitting and brings his supplies to the party. Unfortunately, an accidental jab with one of his needles leads to a severe beating. Mi is forced to step in and put his boxing lessons into practice before Needles is killed. Later, Mi's dad makes a surprisingly huge sacrifice to negotiate for his family's safety from revenge.
Mi's family and neighborhood are populated with stereotypes but his loyalty to each one releases them from the box of "Totally Annoying, Predictable Characters." Who would not root for someone who goes after a guy larger and older than him on behalf of a friend because "I really wanted him to remember me every time he saw his gappy smile?" There is one almost-sex scene; nothing graphic. Street talk abounds but with a refreshing lack of foul language. Reynolds skillfully gives readers a sense of place in describing Mi's block in Brooklyn, as well as the area and the home just one block away, where the fateful party is held. There is not a lot of action but even reluctant readers will be drawn into the web of relationships. --Pam Carlson.