Atheneum, 2016 180 pgs
Track Series vol. 1
Castle Cranshaw has been running even since his father tried to shoot his mother and himself three years ago. He calls himself ghost because he feels like he is invisible to the greater world and that his life doesn't matter. One day Ghost observes a track practice featuring kids his own age. He jumps in, merely to prove that he can run as fast as a boy he considers to be a show-off. Ghost proves himself on the track and the coach attempts to recruit him for the team. After a ride to the housing project where Ghost lives with his struggling mother Coach manages to convince Ma to let Ghost join the team. In order to keep his place on the team Ghost must manage his temper and not get into any altercations with the class bully, a challenge that he has consistently failed in the past. Now he begins to control his temper and starts to see the value of his life. Ghost even starts to make connections and friendships with the other runners. The one taint on this golden opportunity is the lack of proper running shoes or workout gear. Ghost is running in beat-up high-tops that he cuts off the top to allow for ease of movement. He is determined to acquire better running shoes, but how? His desperation leads to a bad decision that fills him with remorse and anxiety. When the true comes out will this mean the end of Ghost's running career and place on the team?
Award winning author, Jason Reynolds, presents another well-crafted work of fiction set in a contemporary urban setting featuring a diverse cast of characters, yet this time for a slightly younger audience. Readers get a glimpse of the world through the eyes of a troubled African-American middle school boy. We see the motivation for Ghost's inner anger and how the struggles of economic hopelessness can beat down a family. He and his mother are still reeling from the actions of his jailed alcoholic and abusive father. Ma is trying to balance both work and nursing school, all while caring for Ghost, but she is barely holding on. Ghost finds help and understanding from some positive adults in his life; Coach, a neighborhood shop owner, and his principal. The adults are firm with Ghost, yet kind and empathetic, and lead him firmly in the proper direction. Reynolds raises the themes of the importance of sports in helping kids to pull out of bad situations and gain confidence, learning to trust, and various ethical dilemmas. Ghost learns a valuable lesson that other people also have problems and he learns to be a friend, thus finding friendship reciprocated back to him. The story is linear and reads quickly. It is perfect for reluctant readers and will work well in a classroom setting and for library discussion. The writing is tight and Ghost, who is written in the first person, is a fully realized character. This is the first in a projected series. It seems that future installments will feature other characters' stories who are introduced in this first book. Jason Reynolds is a writer to watch and this series is sure to be a hit.