When I Was the Greatest

When I Was the Greatest

Photographer: Michael Frost
For Ages: 12 and up
  • 10
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.
  • Atheneum Books for Young Readers | 
  • 240 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781442459472 | 
  • January 2014 | 
  • Grades 7 and up | 
  • Lexile 740L

Video

Jason Reynolds: What Are You Reading?

Jason Reynolds talks about re-reading Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward and praises how she immaculately portrays the struggles of the modern American family.

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Articles About This Book

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Posted on Off the Shelf

Posted by Len Vlahos

I recently heard author Jason Reynolds speak at a book event in Brooklyn, promoting his new young adult novel The Boy in the Black Suit, the follow-up to last year’s When I Was the Greatest. At first I was surprised that the audience at the event...

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About the Author

Jason Reynolds
Photograph courtesy of the author

Jason Reynolds

Jason Reynolds is crazy.
About stories.
After earning a BA in English from The University of Maryland, College Park, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where you can often find him walking the four blocks from the train to his apartment talking to himself. Well, not really talking to himself, but just repeating character names and plot lines he thought of on the train, over and over again, because he’s afraid he’ll forget it all before he gets home. Jason Reynolds is the author of critically acclaimed When I Was the Greatest, for which he was the recipient of the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent, and Boy in the Black Suit. You can find his ramblings at JasonWritesBooks.com.

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