Mini-Reviews: Ghost and Patina by Jason Reynolds

I was so sure I’d done a review for Ghost already and all I’d have to do is a follow-up on Patina, but it looks like I only ever wrote a review for As Brave As You (completely unrelated to the Track series, but still my favourite MG book ever), so I’ve decided on two smaller reviews on both.     

“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 …” — [X]

Of course, it’s been so long since I’ve done a mini-review, I’m not sure I can do the “mini” or the “review” part. *ahem* Let’s see.

Jason Reynolds’ Track series is my go-to for the following customers at work:

  • anxious parent who wants kid to read because apparently reading is the only valid form of storytelling *shrug*
  • anxious parent who wants MG aged kid to read “up”, but nothing that has “inappropriate content”
  • kid who loves sports
  • kid who loves to read
  • kids who are too shy to speak to me (I am also shy and I panic and Patina is right there with her bright orange cover)
  • reluctant YA aged reader
  • reluctant MG aged reader
  • adults I can trick into buying from the kids’ section*.

Basically, this series is the perfect MG-YA crossover book. The team’s story begins with Castle AKA Ghost, who is running away from a lot of things–including the trauma of having his father point a gun at him and his mother and fire. Ghost and his mother got away alright, but Ghost has been running ever since.

Getting on the Defenders’** track team helps Ghost in some ways, but complicates his life in a lot of other ways. Ghost struggles to keep his home/school/sports life in balance and he struggles to articulate why he struggles. The book is not a long read (or listen), but it packs so much heart and growth in it that it feels like a 300 page brick of feelings. (I think that’s the Jason Reynolds special: dealing with hard topics without hardening either the reader or the character to humanity. It’s difficult to accomplish without being heavy-handed and Reynolds seems to do it with ease.)

In the second book, Patina, Reynolds proves again that he can write character growth like no one else in the kidlit game. I’m not kidding. I’ve read 8-book-long series and have resigned myself to measuring growth under a microscope, even though that is definitely not how children grow. Adults, yes, are infuriatingly stagnant, but not so in the case of kids.

Patina, a team-member of Ghost’s, a new member of the women’s relay group, has her own problems to deal with. She lives with her aunt, uncle, and sister because ever since her mother lost her legs to diabetes, she hasn’t been able to provide the kind of care Pati and her sister need. They still see each other often, but it’s definitely not the ideal family situation Pati wants (misses, even) and it’s certainly not the family everyone on her team and in her new school thinks she has. It’s something that gnaws on Pati every time it’s brought up.

Like Ghost, Pati doesn’t just run.

Pati runs because she can.

She runs because her mother can’t.

And Pati runs to win.

Like with the first book in the series, Reynolds blends humour and heartbreak to create the stunning portrait of a girl who has too much on her shoulders, but wants to run like nothing is holding her down.

Do note, it isn’t necessary to read Ghost and Patina in order or even to read them both, but Reynolds does this (very rude) thing where he ends the book just as the eponymous character is a few seconds away from the finish line. So, Patina opened with Ghost running his first big race. And Patina ends with, you guessed it: me in tears***.

Every book that Reynolds has written is wonderful, but with the Track series, I feel like he’s created some truly memorable characters–characters that I hope people will come to know as fondly as they know Alice, or Peter, or Harriet.

Highly recommended.

*has not happened yet, but I cannot be stopped from trying, sorry

**somebody tell me if I got the name wrong; the downside to audiobooks, I can’t easily refer back to details–that said, I hope this is the name, it sounds like a superhero team and Ghost and Lou already have the personalities for it

***not fun when you are walking in -15C weather