Allen “Ali” Brooks is a good kid who manages to avoid the street drama in his Brooklyn neighborhood, but the fifteen-year-old also doesn’t have many friends other than his younger sister, Jazz. When Needles and Noodles, a pair of brothers Ali’s age, move into the decrepit brownstone next door, Ali is willing to overlook their potentially troubling behavior to gain a couple of pals. Needles has Tourette syndrome, and his behavior is always a wild card in social situations. Noodles carries a load of resentment for how his brother’s syndrome drove their father away and, subsequently, the family into poverty, and his anger manifests in a tendency toward thuggishness and a willingness to play his friends. Ali lets himself get drawn into a what-could-go-wrong scheme to crash an over-eighteen party with the two brothers and something does indeed go wrong: when Noodles ticks off partygoers, Needles tries to defend him and accidentally stabs a man with the knitting needles he carries to control his tics. Noodles abandons his brother, Ali comes to the rescue, and by morning the word is on the street that Ali is targeted for a beat down, or worse. The scope of the boys’ misdemeanor and predicament is believable, as is the fallout to their friendship and the need for adult intervention to defuse the threat against Ali. That the drama results in the reunion of Ali’s separated parents is, perhaps, a bit of wishful thinking, but it serves as a reminder that adults, like their heedless kids, often need second chances, and that a neighborhood of flawed but kind grownups can pull in harness to keep kids on the right track.
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Reynolds, Jason. When I Was the Greatest. Atheneum, 2014. [240p]. ISBN 978-1-4424-5947-2 $17.99 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 5-9.
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