When I Was The Greatest
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Ali, a keen boxer, lives in a troubled neighbourhood in New York and doesn’t really have any local friends, apart from his sassy little sister Jazz, until Noodles and his brother Needles move in next door. Needles has Tourette’s which can make his behaviour challenging, and Noodles is a bit of a character. However, even though Ali ends up taking the flak for Noodles sometimes, he thinks that’s just what you do for a friend.
Yet, when Ali ends up fighting some young men at a party in defence of Needles, he sets something in motion that’s difficult to stop. Despite all his hard work staying away from the gangs and violence in his neighbourhood – and the guidance of his strict mum, Doris - will Ali end up where he shouldn’t be?
Gorgeously illustrated with black and white whole pages in a lovingly realistic style by Akhran Girmay, When I Was the Greatest was actually Reynolds’ debut novel, only now published in the UK. A teen coming of age tale, this will particularly speak to boys juggling toxic masculinity and peer pressure and finding their place in the world. As with his stories, Reynolds’ conversational style and ability to create fully realised characters means that you’re invested with Ali, Jazz, Noodles and Needles from the start in this highly readable novel.
This novel does contain swearing.