Everyone once in a while, a writer comes along who shakes things up. They do things a new way, or with a new attitude, or with a new goal, and as readers, we’re just like yes. Yes, this is what we need in the book world! This is what was missing!
Right now, that writer is Jason Reynolds. If you haven’t heard about him then you probably A) aren’t really into YA or MG, B) live an isolated existence, or C) just haven’t heard about him yet. He hasn’t been on the scene very long, just a few years, but if anyone has the ability to be prolific in this flooded market, it’s Jason Reynolds.
In 2014, Jason’s novel When I Was The Greatest came out, followed by The Boy in the Black Suit in 2015. That same year, Jason teamed up with author Brendan Kiely to write All American Boys, a book told in two perspectives—one white and one black. The book is about police violence and echoes many points of the Black Lives Matter movement, while showing how many white people sit out the discussion because of pressures from their own family and friend groups. It’s a gripping book about standing up for what you believe in, standing up for others, and having a voice when your voice is needed. It’s no surprise that the book won the Coretta Scott King Award in 2016.
A man of many talents, Jason also writes poetry. He combined his love of poetry and storytelling into Long Way Down, a novel in verse. This book is like one of those amusement park rides that pulls you up high and drops you down fast. I couldn’t put it down, feeling adrenaline pumping through me as I read. It’s the story of a young black teenager who wants to avenge his brother’s death, and meets people on his way to do the deed who might sway his decision. It is powerful. Read it.
Jason isn’t only a force of nature in the young adult world. His Track series for middle grade is amazing. The three books are Ghost, Patina, and Sunny. It’s a series about kids on a track team who are all outrunning different challenges in their lives. I’ve only read Ghost so far, but I can tell you, it’s brilliantly written. Jason creates such a complex and well-rounded main character, Ghost, but his talents also lie in bringing secondary characters to life. Even the corner-storeowner is someone. Jason does not sacrifice details when describing Ghost’s neighborhood and everyone in it, making it vibrant and so real.
What’s amazing about this author of nearly 10 books in four years is that he admits to never really reading a novel until he was 17 years old. He was working in a bookstore in Washington, DC, when he picked up Black Boy by Richard Wright. This book spoke to him like nothing ever had, and he became an avid reader of African American literature, both the classics and urban fiction. He says he hates boring books and his goal is to not write boring books. Because of that, Jason speaks to the younger generation in a way that really says, I see you. I hear you. I understand you.
We need more diverse voices, in young adult and middle grade fiction especially. We need more people of color and of different abilities and different orientations. And those voices are starting to emerge as a full-force storm, a show of amazing strength in a market that, until recently, published mostly one perspective, one race.
For kids to see themselves reflected in literature, we need people like Jason Reynolds to lead the charge. To write and write and write not boring books. So that maybe one day a kid who has never finished a book will pick up All American Boys or Ghost or Long Way Down and think, Woah, I never knew reading could be like this.
So, thank you, Jason Reynolds, for making a new generation of readers, and keeping boring books off the shelves.