Look Both Ways

by Jason Reynolds (2019)

Adolescents are often misunderstood.  By the world at large – and by each other.

Jason Reynolds helps us gaze into the lives of a neighborhood of middle schoolers 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 gains insight into the heart and soul of the students at Latimer Middle School.  Eventually, the reader recognizes that these stories offer insight into the daily trials and tribulations of many, most, all middle school students.

Jason Reynolds honors the humor, poetry, and kindness among this age group that is sometimes characterized by strife and turmoil.  Reynolds meshes funny scenes and poignant ones to truly capture the middle school experience.  Using these varied skills, Reynolds is able to weave the stories into a tapestry that makes for one interconnected novel.

Are the Low Cuts change-pilferers, or are they the good guys?  Is the “big dude” at school as intimidating as he seems?  Why is the girl with the skateboard such a loner?  Everyone’s story is different, everyone has a story to tell and understand, and everyone’s story is often a little or lot different than one might expect at first.

Reynolds’ characters are realistic and accessible, full of genuine kindness despite some of the harsh realities in their world.  The characters in each story are tested with daily ordeals that are sometimes left unacknowledged by adults.  They reveal the best of the human spirit as they demonstrate their kindness and love for their friends and family.

Taken together, Reynolds’ stories illuminate the essential notion that, “Everyone is fighting a hard battle.”  When we recognize that, then stories, friends, and even daily walks home can provide each of us with what is needed to be our best selves in our own neighborhoods.  Just as the characters in this novel discover, we can all learn to “Look Both Ways.”

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