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When I Was the Greatest

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  360 ratings  ·  119 reviews
In Bed Stuy, New York, a small misunderstanding can escalate into having a price on your head—even if you’re totally clean. This gritty, triumphant debut captures the heart and the hardship of life for an urban teen.

A lot of the stuff that gives my neighborhood a bad name, I don’t really mess with. The guns and drugs and all that, not really my thing.

Nah, not his thing. Al
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published January 7th 2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
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Steph Sinclair
If you are looking for an audiobook that features a diverse group of characters and awesome narrator, this is it! When I Was the Greatest was a pleasant surprise for me. It was real and honest and made me remember my own childhood. It's always nice to be able to see yourself in literature, and since it doesn't happen that often for me, reading this book was like drinking a big cup ofnostalgia. I totally cracked the biggest grin when Ali mentioned that he had to have a fresh pair of kicks before ...more
Jason Reynolds just slays the voice in this book. Slays it. As I read the novel, I felt like I was sitting on the stoop right next to Ali as he told the story. The plot itself is nothing complicated. There are no tricks or twists. But the characters are so perfectly crafted, so authentically vivid, that the story grabs hold and never lets go.

There's a point early in the story where Ali is introducing the reader to Malloy, his boxing trainer. As he describes the man's history, his roots so deep
I had the very fortunate privilege of attending the Simon Teen Blogger Preview during BEA 2013. At the event, authors were interviewed on stage, but were actually asked interesting questions. We got cocktails and learned about awesome new books. At that event, one author left more of an impression on me and had me immediately rushing to start his book after the event. That author was Jason Reynolds. He is an author who interviews quite well and from the way he answered the questions, you could k ...more
I like this book because it is mostly about boys, their relationships, and friendships. It is not a romance. Ironically, even though men have such a large voice in the world they seem to have a small voice in teen books, especially when it is not a romance. It is also about black American teenagers, who don’t show up in teen publishing enough. Finally, these black American teen boys are fully actualized, have lots of components to their personalities (just like real teens) and are not one dimens ...more
Liza Wiemer
How can I even begin to explain how deeply this novel touched me? How much it made my heart ache? Unless, of course, you walk in my shoes, it's impossible to completely understand what this novel means to me. But I'll try . . .

First and foremost, this is a novel of LOVE. The love a mother has for her children. She's a mother's mother. A role model. She rules with such strength, crossing her would be like crossing G-d, yet she has a soft heart, a forgiving heart. Her children respect her. She's
Ali knows his neighborhood in Brooklyn has a bad rap, but he likes to stay above the fray. He's a kid who looks after his mom and his sister, and avoids the guns, drugs, and gangs that sometimes plague Bed Stuy.

One day, two boys Ali's age move in next door, and they immediately strike up a friendship. Noodles and Needles are brothers and Needles has Tourette's. Needles frequently has tics and shouts out inappropriate words, but Ali's mom has discovered a way to help calm his tics: knitting (thus
Audrey Laurey
I'm hesitant to say that this is one the best example of urban fiction I have read because I think that statement would be limiting. I would prefer to describe it as a great work of fiction that falls under the urban fiction genre. The character development is rich, multifaceted, and proves Reynolds to be an intuitive and remarkable storyteller.

Another thing that I really liked about this book is that it is YA fiction that was actually written for the YA audience, while still holding adult appe
May 15, 2014 Becky added it
This falls into the category of teen books that feels unrealistic because the characters get in big trouble -something terrible happens - as soon as they break the rules. In reality, teens can break major rules and push boundaries a number of times before their lives fall apart. What I did like about this book was the portrayal of the family. Often, the "good" families on the rough block are churchgoing folks. It's refreshing to see a hardworking single mom who doesn't focus her morality around ...more
Zoe Mark
I got this book from a giveaway. I was not expecting much from it, although the cover design made me curious. Now that I have read it, I understand the cover design (sort of) and find that this book was not what I expected. It was not a really good book, but it showed a really neat perspective that I have never read about before. It has to do with bullying, but not the typical type. In this book it dealt with the issue of bullying between brothers, when one of them had Tourette syndrome and woul ...more
Jane Drabkin
The compelling story of 15 year old Ali, his family, his best friend Noodles and his brother Needles, who has Tourette's Syndrome, living in a tough neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant learning how to negotiate the mean streets and life itself. A great storyteller Reynolds creates realistic relationships between Ali and his sister, Jazz, his mother, and semi-estranged father, John. Ali discovers what truly matters when Noodles and Needles go to an adult party that teaches them the true meaning of ...more
Jun 17, 2014 Helen marked it as to-read
Damn. That summery is pretty random.
Lexi Wright
"Sixteen-year-old Ali is a walking contradiction. He’s a lauded boxer-in-training who’s afraid of stepping into the ring; a straight-laced, head-down kind of kid on a bad block in Bed-Stuy, a neighborhood rife with drugs and violence. He’s a pillar whose family structure has fractured only to create infrangible bonds of his own with friends and a little sister who rely on him alone for stability. But, most notably, he’s a shockingly benevolent teenager who exudes ageless wit, charm, and grace am ...more
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
As ever with audio, I can’t really say whether I would have enjoyed the book as much in print. All I know for sure is that the audiobook was perfect. I listened to it in just two days, which speaks to its quality. J. B. Adkins does a completely brilliant job narrating as Ali, a fifteen year-old Brooklynite. He sounds friendly, approachable and intelligent. His voice even does a sort of squeaky thing sometimes that really sells the youth of the character. Adkins made the novel come alive in a ver ...more
Nycere Davis

When i was the greatest was one of the most interesting books i ever read. Its full of drama and entertaining moments. its about a boy named Allen he meets boys named noodles and needles. Needles is older than noodles but needles has a syndrome So noodles makes sure nobody messes with him. They all live in the slums of Brooklyn. They have lots of crazy adventures.

There are a lot of things i liked about this book. One thing i like is how needles get his nickname he gets it because Allen (Ali)
Fifteen-year-old Jason Reynolds enjoys hanging out with his neighbors, Noodles and Needles, in his Brooklyn neighborhood. Although the area is a bit sketchy, the teens manage to avoid trouble, partly because Jason's mother keeps him on the straight and narrow, but also because they make the right choices for the most part. Still, Jason is starting to question how Noodles treats Needles and how he tries to get over and avoid paying for what he owes. The book mainly revolves around the friends' pl ...more
Alijah Goodwin
When I Was The Greatest by Jason Reynolds is a realistic fiction novel about a teenage overcoming his fears. Ali, the main character lives in Brooklyn N.Y. Ali is a boxer and has been at it for quite some years. Ali have two close friends named Noodles and Needles. They are all good kids. Ali has never technically been in a boxing match because he's scared, until he stands for friend one night and all his fears go away. Although he faced his fears this causes some gangsters to come looking for h ...more
Yusuf Proctor
Nov 18, 2014 Yusuf Proctor marked it as to-read
my independent reading book was one of the best books i ever read. The reason was because i can relate to it. In a lot of different ways. Also I know people that it can relate to it also. it brings excitement in some parts and then it brings reality in others. I think this was a great book and i would recommend it to anybody.
My favorite character in the book is Ali the main character. I think he is a smart kid just like myself. the reason that he is my favorite character is because I can relate
Lola Fow
Ali is a kid growing up in Bed-Stuy with his strong Mom, Doris, and his younger sister, Jazz. His dad, a small time hustler sells stolen stuff out of his car (which he is living in), and the brownstone next door has disintegrated into a no-hope building for junkies and prostitutes after the long time owners have sold up and moved South (which happened a lot in Bed-Stuy in the mid 2000s when housing prices boomed, and owners who had gone through the hardest of times (Bed-Stuy = Murder City in the ...more
Joseph Grant
"When I was the Greatest" by Jason Reynolds is an realistic fiction novel about three friends Noodles, Needles, and Ali who find it in themselves that they are going to be a "Somebody." The friendship started when Noodles and Needles moved around the neighborhood, so Ali came up to them and introduced himself as a neighbor. After many days of just hanging out with each other they became very close friends and learned from each other. Noodles is the older brother of Needles and Ali is the second ...more
Ali hangs with his friend Noodles on the streets of Bed-Stuy, and with Noodles' older brother Needles, who is protected by everyone in the neighborhood because of his syndrome. The two brothers' nicknames were created by Ali's younger sister Jazz, and are hilarious stories in and of themselves. Fifteen years old, Ali stays out of trouble for the most part, largely because he is scared to death of the consequences of his mom discovering any shenanigans. But when he and Noodles and Needles wrangle ...more
A story about family and friends, that no matter how broken they seem, you do what you have to for them. Delivers a powerful punch. Unique characters including an African-American teen who knits to control his Tourette’s. Glimpses of urban life. A thoroughly fascinating YA novel.
Bruna Acioly
This book surprised me in a good way. I wasn’t sure what to expect coming into it, but I saw that it was free to read this week on PulseIt and I had seen some good reviews about this one and Reynolds’ new book: The Boy in The Black Suit. I also thought it would be a good idea to read this for the Dive Into Diversity challenge.

The reason it surprised me is because it is a book about boys. And normally, when I read a book about boys I feel “excluded” somehow. Like I am not a part of the conversati
There’s a moment in this book where a woman sees some of the core characters on their front stoop and she notes that it looks like a Spike Lee movie. I felt similarly as I read When I Was The Greatest, like it was something along the lines of early Spike Lee, or if anyone remembers the short-lived TV series South Central. It’s slice of life storytelling from a neighborhood that books, TV, and movies too rarely visit.

This is a young adult novel, so there is some coming of age done by Ali, and his
I bought this book totally on a whim because the cover intrigued me. A gun with a knit cover on it! I enjoyed the characters and the tension builds in a satisfying pace.
fabulous, character-driven drama revolving around 15 year old Ali and his two friends who are brothers, Needles and Noodles. written with a level of complexity uncommon in a lot of Young Adult novels. Entertaining and engaging, with wit and insight yet still maintained the past-tense narrative voice of a teenager in reflection.

One thing I was disappointed by was the cover. Not that it depicts a gun, which I don't have a problem with in terms of YA book covers when warranted, but that I didn't se
Sally Kruger
This is the Brooklyn, New York most don't see. There are neighborhoods where the people struggle working two or three jobs trying to stay safe from the guns, the violence, and the drugs. It's not a friendly place to be a teen.

Ali's mother works non-stop to keep food on the table and expects him to take care of his younger sister Jazz and stay out of trouble. He remembers better days when his father still lived with them back before he went to jail.

There may be no extras and he may have chores a
Lauren Shaw

I wanted to love this book, but I felt like something was missing. It does it's best to capture the teen vernacular of urban African-American kids, but since it's a YA title it's pretty clean, which is completely inaccurate (I teach suburban white kids who curse and do much worse than the kids in this book, so to me it was a bit unrealistic).

The story is pretty straightforward and a bit anticlimactic, but I can still see why this is a good read for young adults.

The best parts are the care
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds taught me a lot about the relationship between family members. When I Was the Greatest is about a guy named Ali and him telling the story of his best friends, Noodles and Needles. Ali and Noodles are best friends and they like to hang out and look out for Needles. Needles has turrets syndrome and so he is treated differently sometimes. Noodles always likes to always make sure that Needles is treated normally, but he does not treat Needles normally. This ...more
Lesley-ann Brown
This book is a poignantly wrought tale about friendship and family in Bed Stuy. With the neighborhood's rapidly changing landscape as its background, Reynolds captures the realities of those who for generations have called these streets home and who find themselves amongst a rapidly changing environment. Honing in on two families joined together through the friendship of 3 young men: Ali, Needles and Noodles; When I Was the Greatest reminds us about the redemptive qualities of personal integrity ...more
Meghann (Becoming Books)
3.5/5 Stars

In 240 pages Jason Reynolds paints an urban coming-of-age tale told through the eyes of a 15-year-old male. When I Was the Greatest is reminiscent of Grapes of Wrath combined with a vanilla Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. The story is told in first person through Ali, Allen, an aspiring boxer who avoids fighting and captures the adventures of him and his neighbors, while exploring what family is over time.

The character building is a priority in this story with the overall plot taki
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Sno-Isle Mock Printz: This topic has been closed to new comments. When I Was the Greatest 1 9 May 28, 2014 03:15PM  
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After earning a BA in English from The University of Maryland, College Park, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where you can often find him walking the four blocks from the train to his apartment talking to himself. Well, not really talking to himself, but just repeating character names and plot lines he thought of on the train, over and over again, because he’s afraid he’ll forget it all before he ...more
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“I felt good. I felt like, somehow, we were all winning.” 1 likes
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