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?
Jason Reynolds is an American author of novels and poetry for young adult and middle-grade audience. After earning a BA in English from The University of Maryland, College Park, Jason Reynolds 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 gets home.
This is a generalization, but in my experience librarians really enjoy reading within their comfort zones. They’ll travel outside of them from time to time but always they return to the books that they like the most. Children’s librarians are just the same. The fantasy readers stick to fantasy. The realism fans go with realism. Graphic novel readers with comics. When I served on a yearly committee of librarians in New York I’d notice that some books were difficult to get anyone to read. Horse books, for example, just sat on our shelves untouched. Nonfiction could take some prodding. And as for sports books . . . forget about it. Nobody ever got near them. Still, you can’t give up on them. Mike Lupica and Tim Green may rule the field but that doesn’t mean other people don’t make a lot out of athletics. If our Newbery winning The Crossover by Kwame Alexander taught us anything, it was that. Now Jason Reynolds, a young adult author until this year, has produced a middle grade novel centered on that must unlikely of sports: track. It skirts the clichés. It dodges the usual pitfalls. It makes you care about a kid who keeps messing up over and over and over again. It’ll make you like sports books, even if you can’t generally stand them. And now we’ve got to find a way to get a lot of it into the hands of kids. Stat.
Call him Ghost. You can call him Castle Crenshaw if you want to (that’s technically his name) but he’s been calling himself Ghost ever since the night his dad got drunk and threatened Castle and his mom with a gun. Ghost learned to run that night and you might say he’s been running ever since. He’s got a load of anger inside that he doesn’t know how to deal with so he tends to take it out on others at school. Then one day he spots a track warm-up and takes an instant dislike to the albino kid in the expensive tracksuit. Without thinking about it twice Ghost beats the guy on the track, running on the outside, which gets the attention of the coach. Coach begs Ghost to join and Ghost reluctantly agrees but it isn’t what he expected. The other kids there all have their own lives, few of them easy. The running is much harder than anything Ghost has ever experienced before. And then there’s the fact that no matter how fast he is, Ghost can’t run away from trouble. It follows him and if he’s not careful it’s going to follow him right onto the track.
Baseball. Basketball. Even football. These are the sports of fiction. I doubt anyone has ever run any statistics on it, but if you were to gather together all the children’s sports books and group them by type, the baseball books would undoubtedly outweigh all the others 2:1. That’s because baseball is a game with a natural rise and fall to its action. Basketball has speed and football has brute force, all good things when writing a story. Track? In track you run and then you stop. At least that’s how I always looked at it. For Jason Reynolds, though, it’s different. He didn't write this book with track as a single focus. He looks at what the sport boils down to. Basically, this is a book about running. Running from mistakes (forgive the cliché), from very real threats, for your life, and for your team. Why you run and where you run and how you run. And if that's where you're coming from, then track is a very good choice of a sport indeed.
On paper, this book looks like it’s the sort of story that’s all been done before. That’s where Reynolds’ writing comes in to play. First off, it’s worth noticing that Mr. Reynolds is blessed with a keen sense of humor. This comes to play not just in the text but also in little in-jokes here and there. Like the fact that one of the runners (that, I should mention, gets cut later in the book because his grades are slipping) is named Chris Myers. Christopher Myers is the son of Walter Dean Myers, and a friend to Jason Reynolds. I love Jason's descriptions too. Mr. Charles at the corner store, “looks just like James Brown if James Brown were white. . .” Or Ghost saying later, “… for something to make you feel tough, you gotta be a little bit scared of it at first.” There are some pretty fantastic callbacks hidden in the story as well. Right at the start, almost like it’s some kind of superhero origin story, we hear how Ghost heard the gun go off that night he ran away from his home with his mom and “I felt like the loud shot made my legs move even faster.” That ties in beautifully with the starter pistol that goes off at the very very end of the book.
But maybe what I like the most about Jason Reynolds’ books is that he applies this keen sense of the complexity to his characters. I don’t think the man could write a straight one-dimensional villain to save his soul. Even his worst characters have these brief moments of humanity to them. In this case, Ghost’s dad is the worst character. You don’t get much worse than shooting at your wife and kid after all. Yet for all that, Ghost still can't help but love the guy and eats sunflower seeds in his memory. Each character in the book has layers that you can peel away as the story progresses. Even Ghost, ESPECIALLY Ghost, who makes you want to yell and him and cheer for him, sometimes at the same time.
There’s been a monumental push for increased diversity in children’s literature in the last few years. Diversity can mean any number of things and it often focuses on race. In a weird way, increasing the number of racially diverse books on a given publisher’s release calendar isn’t hard if the publisher is dedicated to the notion. Far more difficult is figuring out how you increase the economic diversity. Middle grade characters are almost always middle class. If they’re working class then they tend to be historical. Contemporary lower income kids in realistic novels are almost unheard of. For example, how many books for children have you ever read with kids living in shelters? I’ve read just one, and I’m a children’s librarian. So I watched what Reynolds did here with great interest. Ghost isn’t destitute or anything but his single mom makes ends meet by working long hours at a hospital. Middle class kids are remarkably good at ignoring their own privilege while kids like Ghost become almost invisible. In the book, Ghost’s decision to initially race Lu isn’t solely based on how Lu struts around the track, thinking he’s the bee’s knees. It’s also on his clothes. “…Lu, was decked out in the flyest gear. Fresh Nike running shoes, and a full-body skintight suit . . . He wore a headband and a gold chain around his neck, and a diamond glinted in each ear.” Later Ghost makes a decision regarding a particularly fancy pair of running shoes. That’s an economic decision as well. Those are the most obvious examples, but the book is full of little mentions, peppered throughout, of where Ghost’s class comes in to things. It’s nice to see an author who gets that. We are often affected by forces outside our control, forces we don’t even necessarily notice, particularly when we’re children. If young readers see it, they’ll be reading between the lines, just like Reynolds wants them to.
Right at the beginning of the book, when Coach is trying to convince Ghost’s mom that he should be running, Ghost realizes that he’s in a situation that’s played out in loads of sports films. He thinks, “If this went like the movies, I was either going to score the game-winning touchdown (which is impossible in track) or . . . die.” Sometimes you can gauge how good a book is by how self-aware its characters are. But sometimes you just read a book, put it down, and think, “Man. That was good. That was really good.” This is a book that actually made me tear up, and there aren’t a lot of middle grade books that do that. I was rooting for Ghost hard, right until the end. I was caring about a sport that I’d never otherwise think about in a million years. And I was admiring it from start to finish for all that it accomplishes in its scant 180 pages. This is the book you hand to the kids who want something real and good and honest. There are a lot of Ghosts out there in the world. Hopefully some of them will discover themselves here. Run, don’t walk, to pick this book up.
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.
Ghost is a deeply moving book with several important messages for young readers.
Castle Crenshaw goes by the name Ghost, because he's a wicked fast runner. The first time he ran -- truly ran -- he was running for his life: running ain't nothing I ever had to practice. It's just something I knew how to do.
Now that he's older, Ghost puts his natural talent to work by running track. But he's not just running toward the finish line, he's running away from his past and the anger he's got buried inside.
"Trouble is, you can't run away from yourself." Coach snatched the towel from his shoulder, folded into a perfect square, and set it in the space between us. "Unfortunately," he said, "ain't nobody that fast."
Ghost must come to terms with what he's running from and decide where he's running to: "you can't run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be."
Jason Reynolds always manages to squeeze numerous topics into his books without making the narrative feel over crowded. Ghost touches on thievery, drug abuse, gun violence, bullying, honesty, family dynamics, friendship, and finding healthy ways to channel anger and hurt into positive action.
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.
Wish I would have had this book alongside all my Beverly Cleary books back in middle school. Like Cleary, Jason Reynolds clearly remembers what it was to be a kid — the private humiliations, the silliness, the outsized misconceptions, the way the tiniest bit of support can change a day.
I saw this on some award nomination list--I can't remember which one. And I don't really care which list it was--Ghost ought to win. It should win all the awards. It's a spectacular book with a perfect voice and exquisitely told story. I cried through the last 20% or so of the book. It's not sad--it's just beautiful enough to move a cracked chunk of concrete to tears. Despite the fact that the protagonist, Castle, is a dirt-poor black kid and I grew up in a middle-class white family, I could identify so strongly him--with his overpowering black and red emotions--that I was transported back my own sometimes challenging middle school years.
The first thing I did when I finished Ghost was to shove it into my wife's hands, babbling incoherently about how she just had to read it now, now, now, and order a copy for her library so her students could read it too. The second thing I did was to write this review. And it's going to be a short review, because I've got things to do. I'm going to get off of Goodreads and order literally every other book Jason Reynolds has published. If they're half as good as Ghost, I'm going to love them all.
Update (03/2021): I mean at this point do we expect me do give Mr. Reynolds anything less? Absolutely not. This book was just as good as I remembered and definitely one that needs to be in the hands in as many kids as possibly. As I've stated in my previous thoughts, Ghost (Castle) is such a complex character and it's through his complexity that readers are truly able to appreciate the story as a whole. Ghost definitely isn't always an easy read, but it's a necessary read. It's a book that will resonate with a lot readers and not just children, but adults as well. I have already put the second book on hold at my library. It's about time that I finish this series and figure out what happens with all of the other characters.
Jason Reynolds is such an amazing man. This is the second book that I've read by him and was not let down by a long shot. Ghost focuses on the challenges faced by a young boy who goes by the nickname of Ghost. Ghost is a complex character that deals with some pretty hefty issues. It is through these issues that he joins a track team and learns more about himself and others. This book was heartfelt and definitely teaches kids a great lesson about not letting certain situations define your character. If you're looking for a good place to start with Jason Reynolds I definitely recommend this book.
I read this after my middle daughter recommended. She's 12 and an athlete in her own right. The voice is realand perfectly depicts the challenges kid face on and off the field. It shows them how to face those challenges in an approachable way, and I love that it features characters who look like my kids and that they can directly relate to.
Well that was a great middle school novel about overcoming challenges and believing in yourself.
Ghost is an endearing character who is struggling to move past a traumatic event. Whilst people have particular perceptions of what kind of person he is, his own self worth and expectation that he will be let down are also a major theme in this book. I loved that he found a strong supportive role model in his coach and the determination of his mother to make her own success. I thoroughly recommend this for NZ Y6-9.
I was at the library looking for another book to read and I have seen this cover several times and I decided I wanted to read it. I haven't read about the track world, so I thought, let's learn about running.
Ghost is a great character. He is into the Guinness book of World records and he likes sunflower seeds. He has a great insight into life as well. He wants to be on the team and one day he decides to show up these fancy people on the track and show them he can run too. He runs so well that the coach takes an interest in him and convinces him to join the track team.
Ghost loves being on a team and he really gets into it. I love the bits about Usain Bolt. Great stuff. The one grip and it's a good grip is that the book leads up to the 1st track meet and he leaves us hanging. Seriously, the ending made me smile and I wanted to know more. How could he leave it hanging? He does. It's actually an ok ending.
I knew nothing of this and I hadn't heard of Jason Reynolds and this was a fantastic surprise. A great story that has great characters, so well written, easy to read and a fast read. I loved this book and I'm going to read more of the series. I'm so pleasantly surprised. Seriously.
I love it when you just happen upon a gem and you are so glad you found that book. Yes.
This was just a pitch perfect middle grade / youngish YA book that was a total delight from start to finish. I’ve been trying to read some boys marketed to boys to round out my librarian knowledge and this was a great start. I have to say that as someone who has very little interest in sports, I was surprised at how much I liked this story about a 13-year-old urban black kid Castle Crenshaw, aka “Ghost,” joining a track team. More than just a sports story, it was a sensitive, realistic look at a young person dealing with trauma and trying to avoid the crushing effects of racism, poverty, and abuse. But at the same time the novel was never preachy or heavy. It also didn’t provide easy answers, or present sports as a magical solution for black teen boys. Great in audiobook!
This book is the first of Jason Reynolds’s middle grade series about track, and what a beginning this is. Ghost, otherwise known as Castle Crenshaw, is a boy on the run, a kid who runs fast and doesn’t look back. But when he wanders onto a field where a track team is training, Ghost proves he has what it takes to run with the best of them. Quickly, Ghost realizes that being a part of a team is more than running faster than everyone else. The question is, will he run toward the challenge or away from it? This middle grade book, on the long list for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, is a must read for kids ages ten and beyond.
I am posting this review late because I read it earlier in the year for a postal bookswap, which was hush hush until everyone had seen all the titles.
I've always heard of Jason Reynolds in the context of being a good choice for what we in librarianship call "reluctant readers." I can definitely see the appeal here with sports, single parent, outsider, urban, black representation and more. I loved that Ghost isn't perfect but that the consequences take a while to show up (not as didactic as some middle readers can be.)
I've heard the author also does some superhero novelizations for young readers, so those are probably great too, but I love the "found family" element of this one best.
It's no secret that I love everything with Jason Reynolds's name on it, but GHOST was really something special. It follows an impoverished kid name Castle "Ghost" Cranshaw who accidentally joins a recreational track team after beating the team's fastest sprinter in an impromptu race. Castle's been through a major trauma, and as his self-given nickname--GHOST--suggests, he does his best to move through the world under the radar to avoid trouble.
Of course he fails. And that's what I loved about this book. You have this kid who does a number of "bad" things, but it's hard to get mad at him because his reasons, for the most part, are good. Jason Reynolds does an amazing job of getting this kid's heart onto the page, and even when you're like "Nooooo, Ghost! Don't do it!", you're rooting for him.
And then there's Coach. Who Ghost describes as having a head that makes him look like a turtle (LOL!). Coach stands in brilliant contract to Ghost's father (who is at the center of the trauma Ghost has suffered), and when HIS backstory is finally revealed, the story coheres into this perfect, multifaceted-diamond start to what is sure to be an incredible middle grade series. Can't wait for the next book!
I first became aware of this book while watching Public Broadcasting System’s Great American Read. It is a short middle grade novel about a black youth who joins a track team. Castle Cranshaw, nicknamed “Ghost,” is the narrator of his own story. Castle is a likeable character. Though he experiences family trauma, resulting in his father going to prison, and has committed a crime himself, the reader can tell he is sensitive and has a conscience. He wants to do the right thing but does not always succeed. The track coach becomes a positive role model and the track team bonds over shared experiences. It portrays how sports can become a motivational force in a young person’s life. It has a ring of authenticity. I listened to the audio book, read by Guy Lockard. He does an excellent job of making it seem that Castle is speaking directly to the listener. Recommended for ages twelve and up.
Jason Reynolds' dialogue and characters feel so real to me, and when the characters do things, even things I don't particularly like, as Ghost does at one point in this story, I follow along, knowing Reynolds will take me on an interesting journey. Ghost and his mother are not well off; his father attempted to shoot them one drunken night, and Ghost retains a certain amount of fear and desire to run from that traumatic night. His mother, meanwhile, is struggling financially, and is studying to become a nurse. One day, Ghost sees kids trying out for a track team, and races one of the boys. When he beats him, the Coach encourages Ghost to join the team. Ghost eventually does, with his mother's approval, becoming friends with three other newbies to the team. While the outcome of a big race that concludes the novel is left untold, Ghost learns self-discipline and responsibility from training with the team. And there are other books in this series, with stories told from the other newbies' perspectives, so I'm pretty excited.
BOOM! Third time reading this and it still pulls me straight through each time.
from a 5th grader today: "I loved how you feel like you're Ghost. You get mad at someone, then forgive them. It feels like your emotions are building up until Ghost takes the shoes. Then they break when his coach brings him back to the store." definitely reaching kids in Berkeley!
Our hero is a young boy who is braver than he knows. He is a natural runner. As a child he ran for his life and as a teen his gift is discovered by a track coach. The sport gives him purpose and helps him uncover his courage.
I just finished reading this book for my class, and I loved it. Jason, you did it again.
I loved Ghost, Patina, Lu, and Brandon. The writing in this novel made me feel like I was 10 again, and I was just a little kid who liked to read books about sports. And the characters were great. Ghost, Patina, Lu, and Otis (Coach), and Brandon had a lot of development. They all developed in their own unique ways, and it was amazing to see that. But I'll tell you right now. My favorite character had to be Mr. Charles because he was just the MVP in this book.
This novel was just so satisfying because Jason really introduced Ghost's struggles, and everyone else's, in a way that a younger child could understand. Y'all probably won't catch me reviewing another middle grade novel, but just know, this book was an exception for a reason.
A beautifully written middle grade that should be passed on to every kid in my opinion. Even though I slightly exceed the middle grade age (no like literally...) I adored what this book did. It kept me engaged and it was enthralling to read from the perspective of Ghost (Castle Cranshaw) , about his thoughts and choices made which were closely linked to his circumstances and past events.
I am definitely going to delve into more of Jason Reynolds' books if they are as good as Ghost!
A total delight from start to finish, Ghost is a deceptively simple story about 13-year-old urban black kid Castle Crenshaw, aka “Ghost.” One day while killing time in the park, he stumbles upon a track practice and ends up racing one of the fastest kids on the team—and winning. Impressed, the coach offers Ghost a spot on the team. Kind of against his better judgement—he’s always thought of himself as a basketball player even though he’s not on a team—Ghost joins up. He soon discovers that the other newbies on the team and his new coach are pretty cool, and that he’s actually really into running.
But it’s not that simple. Ghost has a lot of other stuff going on in his life that are obstacles to his success: the reason his dad’s in jail (for shooting at him and his mom), the fact that his mom’s overworked and they’re still poor, and a whole lot of anger. It turns out his nickname is pretty apt, given how haunted by the past he is. This is a sensitive, realistic look at a young person dealing with trauma and trying to avoid the crushing effects of racism, poverty, and abuse; but the novel is never preachy or heavy. It also doesn’t provide easy answers, or present sports as a magical solution for black teen boys, and it resists tropes associated with this kind of narrative. It shows how powerful the influence of supportive, understanding adults can have on so-called at-risk kids. The audiobook narrator Guy Lockard is superb, delivering authentic voices especially for Ghost and the coach. Ghost would be at home both in a middle grade and YA section, and thus is of interest to pre-teens and younger teens, especially ones who will see some aspect of their own lives reflected in Ghost’s.
Jason Reynolds is a master of voice and dialog; the audiobook narration was fantastic. I felt like Ghost was actually sitting with me and telling me the story. I would highly recommend the audio for this title!
Castle Crenshaw (or Ghost, as he wants to be called) knows he can run fast. He knows because when his dad came at him and his mother on one violent night, running was the only way to get away. Life hasn't been super kind to Ghost - the kids at school make fun of him because he's poor and he carries around the weight of his father's betrayal.
When Ghost stumbles onto a local track team and decides to show them a thing or two (they think they can run?!), Coach takes him into the fold. Suddenly, Ghost starts to know what it's like to be part of something bigger than yourself, to have a strong male role model who really cares about him, to work at something and get better and feel proud. But to stay on the track team, Ghost is going to have to steer clear of what his mom calls "altercations", which means keeping his temper when the other kids are giving him a hard time. Could Ghost's bad decisions take away his track star dreams forever?
What I have loved about all of Jason Reynolds's books is the strong, authentic voice. I would totally believe that Ghost is a real kid and he stopped by to tell me about his life. I think this is his best yet.
Of middle-grade education professionals and middle-grade novel enjoyers, I am definitely in the minority of this one. I had such high hopes for this book to be a companion read to The Crossover by Kwame Alexander with my 6th graders. My sixth graders are reluctant readers who like fast paced, realistic fiction with characters they can root for. Was this book fast paced? Not at all. Even though it is only 180 pages, I found myself absolutely bored and took about a month-long break after getting halfway through. Realistic fiction? Sort of. But, I couldn't help but think that all the characters were one-dimensional stereotypes. Characters you can root for? I can't say that I hated Ghost, but I also can't say that I liked him. His voice seemed like an adult trying to disguise his life lessons by making them come from a kid who uses hip vernacular. I took my month break after what should have been the impetus for major conflict because I just couldn't figure out how it was going to be the source of enough conflict to make me want to keep reading and to make me want to see Ghost come through on the other side.
I gave my 6th grade students a choice of books to read this term. Either Ghost coupled with The Crossover or a novel I have done in previous years, Peak by Roland Smith (which I am not totally enamored with, either). I did a book talk for each of the books and handed them copies of each to read the first couple of pages. Students were excited by The Crossover but not Ghost, and some were excited by Peak. Apathy toward Ghost was the deciding factor in leading us to choose Peak for this term. I still hope to work in The Crossover, but I'm still searching for an equally great companion book.
When I go out to the schools to booktalk, twelve books in tow, I occasionally get the question of which of the year's books is my personal favorite. I have a couple favorites this year (like most years), but this one is almost always the first I mention. Largely because it's the first of its kind.
Last year, the national Summer Reading Theme was sports. When preparing the district teen booklist, my coworker was in charge of including Running/Track books. And She Could Not Find a Single Young Adult Fiction Book about a male-identified person of African Descent who runs. In a world where men from countries in Africa have the world records in foot-speed, shouldn't we have teen fiction modeling that?
So yeah, here it is. By one of my heroes of Youth Lit. After one book, he's one of my favs.
And the book is FANTASTIC. It's real, it has a very strong voice and character (I'm actually sad that the rest of the books in the series are supposed to be about other characters), and it's about a sport/fitness activity that a lot of people can do easily: we need more lit about stuff like this.
Good cover, almost won the national book award, great for middle and high school. I gush.