Look Both Ways *

by Jason Reynolds (2019)

A Middle School selection. 

* This title may contain sensitive content for young readers and your community. Click here for more information.

“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. No one heard anything. So instead, this story will begin like all the…good ones.
With boogers.” 

And thus begins a story in ten acts, told as only Jason Reynolds could tell it – full of the humor and heart that gets to the quick of life as a middle schooler.

We step right into the lives of these neighborhood kids as they head home from school one day. Ten sets of characters, ten blocks, ten stories. With each chapter, a short story in and of itself, the reader walks along the sidewalk, learning about the lives of the unforgettable characters from Latimer Middle School.

Reynolds shows ten different ways to find the depth and dignity in our children, lying just beneath the swagger and sweat, backpacks and backtalk. It might be the friendship between Jasmine and TJ even though “boys and girls can’t just be friends.” Or the Low Cuts finding the courage to face the neighborhood pool hall filled with “old men, like scraggly human cigarettes with non-human cigarettes dangling from their mouths” – all to help one boy’s mom who could be the parent of any of them. It could be a broken skateboard leading to a boy’s confession to his mother, or an envelope with a joke inside – a gift for a Grandfather who’s memory is slipping away. And, it could also be a quickly grabbed fistful of roses, thorns and all, to show an emotion you can’t quite name.

Jason Reynolds honors the humor, poetry, and kindness found in this age group that is too often characterized as angst-ridden and irritable. By meshing funny scenes with poignant ones, he captures the complexity of the middle school experience. Everyone’s story is different, everyone has a story to tell, and everyone’s story is more complicated than it first appears.

By weaving together the individual threads of the stories, Reynolds shows us that we are all interconnected. That the unseen burdens carried by others are really shared by the community. That there is so much more to know about each person we encounter on our way home from school. Your students will love hanging out with Canton, Say-So, Kenzie, Simeon, Fatima, Bit, Bryson, Jasmine, and the rest of the kids as they burst through the door at the end of the day.

“Canton smiled, knowing that a school bus is many things.
So is a walk home.” 

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