Review: Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds.
Ten stories. Different children. They go to the same school at the same point in time. Other than that, what do they have in common?
They all walk home from school. More to the point they are all walking home from school on one particular afternoon when, or so they hear, a school bus falls from the sky. Children walking home from school in a crowd can appear alike, but Jason Reynolds proves how every person is unique and special by looking closely into the lives of ten main characters.
Just kids walking home. Buying sweets. Dreaming up escape routes. Kids apparently doing nothing interesting at all.
A collection of contemporary stories that celebrate the importance of everyday interactions.
There are very few short story collections for middle-grade readers. Even fewer contain stories of everyday life relatable to a middle-grade audience. Imagine how many, given that only 5% of novels contain a non-white main character, contain stories of everyday life relatable to a diverse middle-grade audience. Practically none until now. This does children a disservice. Young readers are fascinated with everyday places. Things that adults take for granted can be new and exciting to younger readers and everybody deserves to picture themselves and their home towns as part of the ‘ordinary’.
It is lucky then that this book from stellar writer Justin Reynolds is so brilliant.
Reynolds is a master at writing characters. Two pages into the first story and I felt as if I had known the characters all my life. There was overconfident, witty TJ, the kid who can’t drop a thing. And Jasmine. Reflective but angry. Not prepared to take any nonsense. The pictures in my mind felt like memories because I was so easily able to visualise them. Except Reynolds was better than that because the rest of the story developed those characters to an even deeper level until, by the end, I understood as a reader what was behind that swagger and that reflective silence.
These are also extraordinary stories for building empathy. The second story, for example, The Low Cuts Strike Again begins by introducing a gang of kids who thieve and then use the money to make even more by selling nostalgic sweets to men in pubs. Every young reader would tell you these kids are breaking rules, and yet, by the end of the story, the reader is forced to question their ideas about right and wrong. More importantly, the story asks whether we judge people too quickly.
It is important for readers to encounter stories about working-class lives that don’t assume a stance of pity or superiority. We are surrounded by these on a daily basis, from news broadcasters playing sad music over items about the working class, to charity television features that forget to address the root causes of poverty (such as poor support and political systems) as well as addressing needs (like foodbank useage). Understanding that working lives are valid and that we need working jobs to cover monthly outgoings have never been more important and stories like the ones in Look Both Ways will go a long way towards ensuring the next generation don’t typecast working-class people.
A collection of stories about life and the wonder of everyday interactions. This is a must-have for every library and book corner.
Thanks to Knights Of for my copy of Look Both Ways. Opinions my own.