In a word, Jason Reynolds is a genius. A true magician of words and ideas whose books never fail to fire the imaginations (and capture the hearts) of even the most reluctant readers, while also stimulating devoted bookworms.
Alongside garnering an enthusiastic following of young readers (from eight-year-olds right through to young adults), Reynolds’ rare talent has seen the Washington-born writer win a raft of prestigious awards, among them the Carnegie Medal for Look Both Ways. Jason has also won an incredible collection of top US awards. For example, his novel-in-verse Long Way Down was named a Newbery Honor book, a Printz Honor Book, and best young adult work by the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Awards. Ghost won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, the American Library Association's Best Fiction for Young Adults, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Work. We could go on (and on — these are just a few examples), and his latest novel, When I Was the Greatest, looks set to attract similar acclaim.
Whether writing for eight-year-olds, or young adults, in prose or in verse, Reynolds has a magic touch for creating authentic characters readers relate to, and believe in. Characters whose lives, experiences and actions make us think, “yeah, I get that. I understand what they’re going through, how they feel, why they did what they did”, even when they mess up. Maybe especially when they mess up — flawed characters we feel empathy for have the greatest impact. We relate to them all the more. We wince and holler at their mistakes, then feel all the more satisfied when they pull through and come good. Which is exactly how readers feel about Reynolds’ characters. They’re real. They’re relatable. They make you laugh, cry, gasp and think. Everything you’d hope for from a story, right?
Another of Jason’s remarkable talents is being able to write for such a broad range of age groups, and in such a diversity of styles, with each of his books perfectly-pitched for the intended age group. And no matter what age he’s writing for, Reynolds is always honest. He never talks down, never shirks from telling the truth, even when that truth isn’t always pretty. That said, his writing is always infused with compassion. His books nourish and support as they edify and entertain.
Here’s an overview of some of our favourite Jason Reynolds books. We’ve adored each and every one of them, so head here to explore them all.
Ghost - 9+ We said: “This first book in the four-part Run series is a world-class middle grade story with all the witty tenderness of Louis Sachar and a whole lot of heart, humour and edge-of-your-seat action…Ghost’s voice is endearingly authentic, honest and funny.”
Look Both Ways - 11+ We said: “Ten blocks, ten tales, and whole world of heartfelt humanity, Reynolds has done it again in these emotionally authentic interlinked stories about a set of kids making their way home from school… Bittersweet, hard-hitting and powerfully perceptive, these pitch-perfect reader-centric stories shine a light on oft-overlooked lives and ring with empathy and authenticity”.
The Boy in the Black Suit Young Adults We said: “Riveting, resonant and profound, this YA wonder explores the rawness of grief and the transformational power of solidarity”.
All American Boys - Young Adults We said: “An immensely powerful, timely novel about police brutality against young Black men. Shining a stark light on white privilege and the racism implicit in not speaking out, it’s a punch-packing wake-up call for us all to stand up and plant ourselves on the right side of history”.
Long Way Down - 13+, Young Adults (graphic novel version also available) We said: “A gripping, ground-breaking novel-in-verse about gun violence, grief and breaking cycles. The writing is crisp, clever and dazzlingly compact, and Chris Priestley’s raw and resonant illustrations are hauntingly powerful”.
And When I Was the Greatest, reviewed by Joy Court, our LoveReading4Schools Editorial Expert : "His books are highly accessible, with a relaxed vernacular style which is unmistakeably authentic and genuine. The black characters in his books come from a range of backgrounds and may face difficult issues, but are not defined by them. He writes thought provoking, important books but these are not in any sense "issue" books. He has said “I write to Black children, but I write for all children.” Without any doubt all children should be given the opportunity to read them."
Jason says: "Here's what I know: I know there are a lot - A LOT - of young people who hate reading. I know that many of these book haters are boys. I know that many of these book-hating boys, don't actually hate books, they hate boredom. So here's what I plan to do: NOT WRITE BORING BOOKS."
Find a selection of books from Jason Reynolds below.
Photo credit James L Reddington.