Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds, 208 pp, RL 4

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks 
illustrations by Alex Nabaum
Review Copy from Simon & Schuster

A finalist for the 2019 National Book Award, Young People's Literature category, Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks arose out of Jason Reynolds' interest young people's autonomy - those unsupervised moments when kids are on their own, thinking on their own and acting on their own - those fifteen minutes or so during the walk home from school. From that came an unforgettable, thrilling, heartbreaking, hilarious novel, a collection of ten short stories that you will read and reread, both for the engaging characters and for another glimpse at the threads that connect them as the school day ends and the sixth graders flow into the halls and out the doors of Latimer Middle School.

Reynolds hooks readers instantly with this opening,

This story was going to begin like all the best stories. With a school bus falling from the sky. 
   But no one saw it happen. No one heard anything. So instead, this story will begin like all the . . . good ones. 
      With boogers.

And he does mean boogers. As Jasmine and her best friend Terrence Jumper walk home, she scolds him about the "nasty, half-baked goblins" in his nose while he regales her with a hypothesis about human anatomy that encompasses dust, tardigrades and boogers. As they walk and talk, TJ carries Jasmine's backpack. She's missed a month of school after her worst attack ever. Jasmine has sickle cell anemia. The next chapter, titled "The Low Cuts Strike Again," focuses on four friends, all kids who qualify for free lunch and are known for their short haircuts and the fact that they will steal "anything that jingles." The four bonded over the fact that they all have parents who are cancer survivors and they all know that it has taken a hit on their families finances. Readers follow them as they count their change, solidify their plans, and check the clock, making a first stop at Ms. CeeCee's house. The "neighborhood candy lady" since their parents were kids, Ms. CeeCee is known for "making sure everybody got a fair shot at sweet treats because she knew not everybody could get to the corner store," the nearest one being five blocks away. After making some tough decisions, they take their purchases - Lifesavers and MaryJanes - divide and bag them up and head over to Placer Pool to sell the candy and turn a profit.

If you haven't read any of his other books, from the first page of Look Both Ways you know Reynolds is a gifted story teller. Reading each chapter, you are walking right next to the characters from each story, seeing what they see,  immersed in their community and learning things about them with every step. After the Low Cuts sell their candy, they rush off to make it in time to catch the ice cream truck. Running into the street to get it to stop, they buy four soft serve vanilla ice creams in cups, sprinkles on top, with a $1.00 tip for the ice cream man. Walking a few houses down, the four head into Bit's house and present his mother with all four cups of ice cream, not a "swirl licked." Bit's mom has relapsed, the cancer has come back, and she has started a new round of chemo. Surprise after surprise rewards readers as they tear through the ten blocks of stories that make up this book. Close readers will be rewarded, as threads from stories overlap or reappear. Every story has another story behind it, from the boy dressed in green with the broken skateboard sitting on a bench outside the doors to the school to the girl who puts on a stand-up comedy show after school every day, but not before collecting cigarette butts to take home to her grandfather who is suffering from dementia, to the boy who waits patiently, the top of a broom in his lap, for his mother, the crossing guard, to finish her shift in front of the school. While Reynolds titled his book Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, having read it from cover to cover, I feel like I have looked almost all the ways possible, definitely more than both, and walked much more than ten blocks, and in all kinds of different shoes. 




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