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Eighth grader Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw, the title character of Jason Reynolds’ new middle grade novel GHOST, is fast. As an African-American teenager growing up in the projects with a single mother who works around the clock, his ability to run has come in handy in getting him out of some bad situations --- especially the time he had to run for his life when his father tried to shoot him and his mother in a drunken rage. He never thought his natural speed would be of any other use to him until he saw a track and field team practicing on a local track and couldn’t help but think he could outrun everybody he saw out there. Ghost crashes their practice and proves he can run neck and neck with their fastest guys, and their coach does everything he can to recruit Ghost to the team.

"GHOST is an excellent, fun and useful work that should be a top choice for any teacher or parent looking for the next book for their student or child."

The man Ghost simply calls “Coach” sees enormous potential in him, but soon realizes Ghost needs to work on a lot more than his running technique to be successful. Coach finds that Ghost has been fighting in school, stealing from stores and been close to getting in major trouble, so he takes Ghost under his wing and teaches him that before he can be a record-breaking runner he needs to learn how to walk like a man. Ghost has never had an adult believe in him so strongly or try so hard to help him, which creates detectable changes in the young man that the reader can follow over the course of GHOST.

Jason Reynolds has said that when he was growing up in Washington DC, he felt there was no literature available to young, urban African Americans that told their story in a voice that was relatable to them, so he and his friends used hip hop to serve that purpose. With GHOST, Reynolds is enormously successful at bringing the often harsh realities of impoverished living to life in a language and a format that is relatable to his young readers. Writing in the first-person voice of his young African American protagonist, Reynold employs a well-executed contemporary vernacular and avoids the old-fashioned language and other features of fiction that often discourage young readers from enjoying and connecting with literature. GHOST is the first book in what is to be the four-part Track series, but by subtitling the novel “Track 1,” it presents Ghost’s story as if it were the opening track on a musical album. Reynolds’ skillful melding of language and subject matter normally reserved for hip hop lyrics into a drama-filled, engaging middle grade novel is a unique accomplishment for the genre.

Written for ages 10 and up, GHOST is an outstanding book for any young reader. Whether the reader is male or female, from the city, suburbs or the country, a sports fanatic or completely uninterested in sports --- GHOST is an excellent, fun and useful work that should be a top choice for any teacher or parent looking for the next book for their student or child.

Reviewed by Rob Bentlyewski on August 18, 2016

by Jason Reynolds