Book Review: “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds

Ghost | Book by Jason Reynolds | Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster

Book Details:

Year of Publication: 2016

Genre: Realistic Fiction (Upper Middle Grade)

Format (How I Read It): Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis:

Running. That’s all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race — and wins — the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he is trying to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?

Trigger Warnings: Domestic violence. Gun violence. Drugs. Stealing.

Book Review

“…you can’t run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be.”

Themes: Identity. Perseverance. Learn from your mistakes. Find your people. Accept help/support.

Character Development: The character development in this book was great! You can’t help but love Ghost as you read his story (even though he makes many mistakes along the way). The way I felt about Ghost reminded me a lot about how I felt about Maverick Carter in Concrete Rose. He makes some poor decisions, but he has such a good heart that you can’t help but root for him no matter what. I also really loved his mom and his coach in this story. They were great, supportive adult characters that loved and helped Ghost in their own ways. We don’t get to know all of the minor characters very deeply, but I know there are other books in this series, so I’m sure some of the minor characters are further developed in these books. But even so, I really enjoyed the friends he made along they way, too. It was a great example of how important it is to find (and keep) good people in your life.

Plot/Pacing: The plot was engaging throughout and the pacing was just right. The chapters are short, which keeps the story moving. There’s also a lot going on throughout the story which keeps the reader entertained. And I appreciate that character development wasn’t sacrificed to service the plot; there was a great balance between character-driven and plot-driven moments!

Writing Style: As I mentioned before, the short chapters keep you hooked and wanting to keep reading. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the writing style was, in my opinion, the dialogue. The dialogue is fantastically written and really helps showcase and develop each of the characters as well as to showcase the setting (due to the dialogue showing different accents/dialects/slang/etc.). Also, it has a great sense of humor! The writing is very witty, which creates a great balance with some of the darker moments of the story.

“Bingeability”: Moderate-high. It’s a heavier story, so you wouldn’t necessarily want to read it in one sitting, but you definitely could!

Emotional Investment: High. You can’t help but care so much about Ghost as you read.

Windows and Mirrors: Economic/financial hardships. Trauma. Incarcerated father. Single mom. Track & field.

Overall Thoughts: This was such a great book. Normally, sports books don’t interest me all that much, but this one was special. First of all, it’s about track, which is not a sport that’s often featured in sports books! Also, there was so much more to this book than the sport. It was about teamwork, friendship, mentorship, family, and not giving up. Track just happened to be the perfect “conductor” for all of these themes. It brought everything together so naturally and seamlessly, and I really enjoyed it. I read a physical copy of this book, but I think the audiobook version would be fantastic (especially for kids, to really give them a feel for the characters without getting overwhelmed by reading the more complicated parts). The style of the dialogue does take some settling into, so I think the audiobook would be really helpful for kids (and adults!) who may struggle to read the dialogue.

Something else noteworthy about this book is that it introduced me to the concept of an “upper middle grade” book (rather than just “middle grade”). This book is not quite young adult, but with topics including domestic violence, drugs, and more, it’s also not your typical middle grade book that’s accessible to most elementary students. From what I’ve learned, upper middle grade books feature young characters but also feature more mature topics, though not with the depth/detail that you might see in a young adult book. It’s so important to have this kind of “in-between” genre because there are kids out there experiencing these difficult things, and they deserve to see these situations reflected in books that are accessible to them.

Recommendation: As I mentioned above, I think this would be great in an audiobook format. That being said, I would not do this as a read-aloud in my classroom. The dialogue is fantastic, but I wouldn’t be comfortable reading it aloud as a white woman. Anyone and everyone should read this book on their own, but read-alouds are like performances, and it wouldn’t be right for me to try to play that role. Also, some of the scenes and plot points are heavier, which may be difficult to navigate in a whole-group setting. I do think it could be used in the classroom though! I would say this book is for 5th grade and up, and it could be used as a novel study for more mature readers. In general, though, I’d recommend this for any person at the right maturity and reading level! Younger students still could read it, though, they would just need the support of an adult while reading or listening to it. It’s a fantastic book that everyone should read.

Thank you for reading my review! Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve read this one or have any questions about it, and keep an eye out for my next review!

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