2016 National Book Award Finalist, Young People's Literature
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers /
Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)
National Book Foundation: Who did you write this book for?
Jason Reynolds: I wrote Ghost for all the young people who feel like they're suffocating, who feel like they're gasping for breath, exhausted from running for their lives, and sometimes FROM their lives. It's for both the traumatized and the triumphant.
In Ghost, Jason Reynolds flawlessly delivers eloquent moments of terror, anticipation and fun—clear to the finish line—without an extra word to spare. We are immersed in the backdrop of believable characters from the night Ghost Crenshaw runs for his life, to his struggle to silence the "scream inside him." Ghost will stay with you.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.
Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.
Ghost has a crazy natural talent, but no formal training. If he can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all starting with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who blew his own shot at success by using drugs, and who is determined to keep other kids from blowing their shots at life.
About the Author
Jason Reynolds is the author of the award winning young adult novel, The Boy in the Black Suit, and the co-author ofAll American Boys, both of which he won Coretta Scott King honors for, as well as the critically acclaimed middle grade novels, As Brave As You, and Ghost, both released in 2016.
Reynolds has been reviewed and profiled by The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, Kirkus Reviews, The Horn Book, School Library Journal, and a host of other media outlets. But what excites him more than anything is speaking to young people around the country, not only about the power of reading, but also about the importance of telling their own stories.
He currently lives in Washington, DC.
- TWITTER: @JasonReynolds83
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Interview by Ibi Zoboi
Jason Reynolds’ Ghost is not a horror story, really. But it is filled with trauma, fear, and hopes of survival. The term “ghost” in this sense is a colloquialism and metaphor for running so fast, no one can no longer see you. Another term I remember from my own childhood is ‘Swayze,’ as in the star of the movie Ghost. It was a pleasure to see familiar playful slang featured in this manner. This speaks to the unapologetic authenticity and honesty in Ghost. Eleven year-old Castle “Ghost” Crenshaw lives in the hearts of all readers dealing with the realities of adults who don’t live up to, well, adulthood. Ghost reminds us that we all are already armed with the skills needed to overcome our pasts. We simply have to take the first step to either run from our former selves or run toward our dreams.
Ibi Zoboi: Ghost’s voice is laced with both keen observation and wit. Did you have to tap into your own boyhood perspectives on the world?
Jason Reynolds: That’s a good one! I have a theory about middle grade realistic fiction… It’s meant to outline first experience questions that lead to the firsts in YA novels. The questions come before the act. This is a sweet spot for young readers where their curiosity is at a fever pitch. The voice comes from this curiosity. There is a confidence in wanting to know and knowing that you don’t know. It’s also the voice of little black boys. Everything is hilarious. When you’re eleven or twelve everything is through the lens of humor, even when you’re dealing with trauma. You’re viewing the world differently and are guarded.
IZ: Track & field is not usually a sport represented in middle grade fiction, much less in middle schools. Why did you decide on track as opposed to any other sport?
JR: Well, that’s the reason. We know kids of color love basketball. Track is a fascinating sport and I wanted to unpack the idea of being black and running. Running makes you uncomfortable and leaves you with the feeling of suffocation. I wanted to explore the fact that kids have grown up with this discomfort and are almost suffocating. Trauma is real. And Ghost already knows how to run. He’s running from his past, his family, and trauma. Boys in the inner city already know how to play these sports, they know how to run. The trick is to learn the discipline of track, to learn how to breathe through the pain. My hope with Ghost is to figure out how to steer the narrative—of how to run from and run to the things in our lives.
IZ: Ghost eats a lot of sunflower seeds. Like track and running, are the seeds and the art of eating them a metaphor for Ghost and his story?
JR: Of course! Everything is intentional. Ghosts says, “I’ve learned to crack a shell open.” Ghost and his affinity for seeds represents the discipline and concentration needed to eat a sunflower seed. The reward is not in the actual eating, but in the process—the process of being able to do something right. It’s a feeling of completion and it’s all happening in his mouth. No one else sees this. He already possesses this skill set.
IZ: What are some of your thoughts on how to go about presenting violence and trauma to young readers in a middle grade novel?
JR: It’s my responsibility to honor young people with honesty, even if their parents are uncomfortable. They are human beings with feelings. They also have the internet, and they come with their own set of trauma. Why should I be disrespectful to the young reader by shielding them from what they already know? The story of Castle Crenshaw is a true story. It happened in real life to my best friend who at five or six years old was with his mother when his father chased them with gun in a 7/11. Young people know these things happen, and it has happened to them or their friends.
IZ: Bullying is one of the themes in Ghost. However, what are your thoughts on the difference between what we all know as bullying and the African American tradition of snapping, signifying, or the Dozens?
JR: Great question! Snapping and signifying comes from pain. The way we crack jokes come from trauma. We laugh to keep from crying. We couldn’t snap on the white man during slavery and let out all that anger and frustration. So we did it to our brother. Over time, its become what it is today, like roasting. It’s a form of camaraderie, and it’s not to crush your spirit. When kids do it, it’s not malicious. You gotta be able to snap back like being on the court or slap boxing. We do it to get out aggression in a safe space. Snapping and the Dozens are both familial and familiar.
IZ: What’s next for you?
JR: Petina comes next in the Track series. She’s eleven and is running her whole family. I knew little girls like that growing up. They would hold their whole family down, cooking and taking care of the house. This is Petina’s story. It comes out in fall 2017. Long Way Down also comes out in the fall and it’s about gang retaliation. It’s a novel in verse and the whole book takes place in about a minute on an elevator.
Ibi Zoboi holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her writing has been published in Haiti Noir, the Caribbean Writer, The New York Times Book Review, the Horn Book Magazine, and The Rumpus, among others. Her debut YA novel American Street (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins) is due out in February 2017.