Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “When I Was the Greatest” as Want to Read:
When I Was the Greatest
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

When I Was the Greatest

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  4,508 ratings  ·  771 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
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about When I Was the Greatest, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Dee I just finished teaching this book in Lit. Circle to my 9th graders. They loved it!!! It's appropriate and an excellent discussion starter for 12 to…moreI just finished teaching this book in Lit. Circle to my 9th graders. They loved it!!! It's appropriate and an excellent discussion starter for 12 to 14 yr. olds. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.97  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,508 ratings  ·  771 reviews

More filters
Sort order
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 of nostalgia. I totally cracked the biggest grin when Ali mentioned that he had to have a fresh pair of kicks before ...more
Jan 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 first want to address the cover. I have read and heard teachers/reviewers mention that this cover is inappropriate for schools (and also that it is misleading); however, once you read the book, the cover is perfection. The cover isn't about violence. I think it is about finding a way to be above violence which is what Ali, Noodles, and Needles are trying to do.

When I Was the Greatest is about Ali. Ali lives in Bed Stuy, New York where violence and drugs run rampant; however, Ali's focus is hi
Hannah Greendale
Aug 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: young-adult
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

Jason Reynolds made his debut with this moving story of fifteen-year-old Ali Brooks, a boy on the cusp of being a man. Ali's voice is as authentic as they come. He's a character who radiates extreme likability. 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. When you one of Doris's kids, you learn early in life that sch
Brigid ✩
May 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Short Review:

I saw Jason Reynolds speak at Boston Book Festival and had never heard of him before, but I really liked what he had to say. Naturally, I decided I should pick up one of his books from the library and give it a try. And I'm glad I did, because I really enjoyed this one.

Some brief thoughts:

• The narration is great. I loved Ali's voice, it was very funny and authentic.

• I loved all the other characters, too. Every one of them, even the minor characters, had distinct personalities and
Apr 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: teen-reality
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
Jun 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Neil (or bleed)
Authentic and heartfelt. Jason Reynolds is the man!
J Beckett
Nov 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Amazing YA novel that takes you into the life, friendship, and commonly uncommon conflicts of being young in Brooklyn. Reynolds provides just enough detail for the reader to have a clear panoramic view of the entire community. His characters become friends or simply boys from the around the neighborhood; ultimately you know them, well. Haven't read many YA novels, but Reynolds has definitely changed all of that. A Spike Lee movie for teens!
Krista Regester
Oct 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Becky Shaknovich
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
Jay G
Mar 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Want to see more from me? Check out my youtube channel:

This follows 15 year old Ali who lives in New York where drugs and gang violence are common. He tries to focus on his family, boxing and hanging out with his neighbors, Noodles and Needles to keep out of trouble. Noodles has always been a bit of a hot head and Ali always seems to be trying to diffuse the situations he finds him in. But when one incident seems to much to handle, Ali has to decide wheth
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
Lauren Shaw
Dec 06, 2014 rated it liked it

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
Megan (ReadingRover)
Another phenomenal book by Jason Reynolds. Need I say more? I think not!
Jun 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is the second book of Jason Reynolds that I read, but the first one that told a fictional story, and I loved it. I loved Ali, and his story, the setting, his friends, and honestly just everything about this book. I think Mr. Reynolds really allowed the reader to learn so much from these characters and what they went through in here.
Mar 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Pacing the stage at the city library, the large, dreadlocked man dressed in black jeans and a black t-shirt exclaimed, “I wanted to show that the people in my neighborhood were just normal people.” Jason Reynolds went on to say that when he was growing up he could not find himself in books. His idol and mentor Walter Dean Myers would come a few years later, but in his formative years Reynolds could not get into books because the people he knew were not written into the books. In his Coretta Sco
Liza Wiemer
May 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Audrey Laurey
Jan 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Sarah Hough
Jan 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-books
It's a simple story about Ali and his friends Noodles and Needles who live in Brooklyn. They're sweet, good kids who try to stay out of trouble which is why halfway through, when it's obvious that trouble is coming, I almost gave up on the book because I didn't want to read anything bad happen to any of them. I'm glad I stuck with it to because it concludes with the enduring values of friendship, love and family. Jason Reynolds is very gifted with character development; even the characters with ...more
Lekeisha The Booknerd
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
I love reading Jason's books. I get all nostalgic and start thinking about my childhood and teenage years. Ali, Noodles and Needles could've been from my block. They were so relatable and just plain real. I only know one person with Tourette Syndrome, so it was easy to picture Needles' character, even though I'm sure that the syndrome is different for each individual. The cover makes so much more sense once you read this book. Not at all what I had in mind when I cracked it open. Jason Reynolds ...more
Leslie Bryan
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Oh man. I love the way Jason Reynolds writes. This was a super realistic story of a 15-year-old boy who lives in Brooklyn, NY. He and his two best friends mostly avoid trouble until trouble finds them. When I Was the Greatest looks at friendship, how we deal with differences, and family in such a real way. Love. Love. Love.
Nina Schneider
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was so good. If you enjoy stories about friendships and family and all that goes with that you would really enjoy this book. It had a good moral to the story where you can learn a lot from reading it, and it was a very easy read where I found myself finished with it in about a week. I highly recommend this to anyone who likes humor, sadness, fearfulness, and a strong friendship dynamic.
Rita Shaffer
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Ali is a kid from Brooklyn who knows his neighborhood, but is figuring out who he and his new friends want to be in this neighborhood.

I love the realness of Jason Reynolds writing - this family is not perfect (none are), but you can feel their love for each other and those around them.
Feb 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
I want to be as good at anything as Jason Reynolds is at writing.
Clare Lund
Jun 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jason Reynolds does it again - complex and wonderfully flawed characters who struggle and grow and make you proud. I always finish his books feeling more hopeful about the world. This one is more for 13+ audiences.
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
This started out with a decent concept and interesting characters, but then it didn't really go anywhere. I felt the ending was unsatisfying and by the end the writing style was starting to annoy me a little - too many metaphors and similes and paragraphs that felt inserted just to add setting specificity and "color".
Rebecca McPhedran
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Ali lives in a rough neighborhood in New York City. He spends some of his time learning to box from his neighbor down the street, and the rest of his time watching out for his younger sister. He meets two brothers who become fast friends. Noodles is hard and tough, always giving his younger brother a hard time. Needles is a great freestyle rapper, and has Tourettes Syndrome. Ali's mom teaches Needles how to knit, to help him control his tremors.
The trio find themselves somewhere they shouldn't
Kate Lee
Jan 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Amazing voice and amazing characters. Super enjoyable. (Also, look at that cover)


You go, Jason Reynolds, you go. It is completely original, absolutely addictive, and so believable. The story is never boring, because the voice truly seems to bring it to life. You know when someone is telling a story and you get so interested because the way they're telling it? That was this book. The book is a wonderfully written use of simple words to create big feelings. It really connected m
May 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Being from a white neighborhood with both parents around all the time, made it hard for me to relate to this book, which was not a bad thing. This book helped show me what it is like to live in a neighborhood in Brooklyn which is close to the opposite of Portland. I loved the character development in the story as well especially with Noodles. There are a lot of things I can still relate to in the story because I am a teenage boy. I often find myself very stressed and I look for things to calm me ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
book about life 1 2 Jan 11, 2018 08:29AM  
YA Ever After at ...: August 2017 Read: When I Was the Greatest 1 2 May 11, 2017 11:28AM  
Adventures in YA: First Quarter 2016: When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds 6 17 Mar 29, 2016 12:35PM  
Book review 2 7 Dec 16, 2015 07:11AM  
Coretta Scott Kin...: When I Was the Greatest 1 4 Aug 13, 2015 11:59AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • How It Went Down
  • X
  • Threatened (Ape Quartet #2)
  • The Scar Boys (The Scar Boys, #1)
  • The Gospel of Winter
  • Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices
  • Revenge of a Not-So-Pretty Girl
  • The Stars Beneath Our Feet
  • No Place
  • Jumped In
  • The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights
  • Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
  • Darius & Twig
  • Girls Like Us
  • Out of Nowhere
  • Bronxwood (Tyrell, #2)
  • Fake ID
  • When We Wuz Famous
See similar books…
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
“I felt good. I felt like, somehow, we were all winning.” 5 likes
“You love first, and that's always a good thing.” 1 likes
More quotes…