“You can’t run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be.”CBR11 Reviews 31-34.

downloadCBR11 Bingo — And so it begins. I’ve desperately been trying to get my kids to read this summer. But in between camps, and summer classes, and the never-ending monster that is swim team, there just hasn’t been a lot of reading going on. So I’ve tried my best to make it easy for them, and to help them pick books that I just know they’ll respond to. Like I’m their personal book sommelier. And so far, we’ve had pretty good results.

I picked up all four of Jason Reynolds’ Track Books for my son, who love all things sports. He’s almost done with the third, and so far he’s been pretty enthusiastic, so I’m calling this a win.

The first book in the series is Ghost. From Amazon:

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.

Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all started 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 sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him?

All Ghost wanted was to be able to play basketball at the courts in his neighborhood, and to be able to hold his own out there against the local kids. But it turned out that track was his sport, even if he didn’t know it. He accidentally found himself part of the team after challenging another runner (Lu) to a race after a bit of mouthing off from the sidelines while he was waiting for his bus. Once Coach saw how fast Ghost could go, there was no way he was going to let him walk away without getting him on the team. But Coach – and the other new kids on the team – didn’t understand what makes Ghost run as fast as he does. They didn’t know that when he runs, he’s reliving the night that his father tried to kill him.

Ghost spends a lot of time thinking about that night. Thinking about him and his mom hiding from his father and his gun in the storeroom down at the corner store where Ghost buys his daily bag of sunflower seeds. Thinking about how hard his mother works to keep him dressed and fed – even if Ghost doesn’t appreciate WHAT she keeps him dressed in. Thinking about what’s right and what’s wrong, and sometimes doing the wrong thing even when he knows its wrong.

But even though Ghost does something he knows he shouldn’t, he’s surrounded by a great group of people who make him realize that he’s a better person than his actions might lead him to believe, and that his tragic past has made him stronger. His new track friends, his coach, his mom – they all make him realize that we can’t run away from our problems:

“Trouble is, you can’t run away from yourself.” Coach snatched the towel from his shoulder, folded into a perfect square, and set it in the space between us. “Unfortunately,” he said, “ain’t nobody that fast.”

And that when you have people in  your life that want to help you, not hurt you, you can do whatever you set your mind to.

The second book in the series is Patina:

A newbie to the track team, Patina must learn to rely on her teammates as she tries to outrun her personal demons in this follow-up to the National Book Award finalist Ghost by New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds.

Patina, or Patty, runs like a flash. She runs for many reasons—to escape the taunts from the kids at the fancy-schmancy new school she’s been sent to ever since she and her little sister had to stop living with their mom. She runs from the reason WHY she’s not able to live with her “real” mom any more: her mom has The Sugar, and Patty is terrified that the disease that took her mom’s legs will one day take her away forever. And so Patty’s also running for her mom, who can’t. But can you ever really run away from any of this? As the stress builds, it’s building up a pretty bad attitude as well. Coach won’t tolerate bad attitude. No day, no way. And now he wants Patty to run relay…where you have to depend on other people? How’s she going to do THAT?

God. If we thought Ghost had it rough, being chased after by his gun-wielding father, just wait until you read about Patina.

Patty lives with her uncle and aunt (who is white, and Patty hears a lot of commentary about that), goes to a fancy private school where she and her little sister are more or less the only non-white students, and spends Sundays with her mom at church. Patty’s dad, who was a baker, died suddenly, and to deal with her grief, her mom let her diabetes overcome her. She ate cake and cookies and cupcakes, didn’t take care of herself, and had her legs amputated a few years ago. The whole thing was pretty traumatic.

Meanwhile, at the track, Patty is trying her hardest to fit in with the kids who have been on the team together for years. Making things even more difficult is the fact that Coach wants Patty to be part of a relay with three other girls. Why would they trust Patty to run with them as a team when they don’t even know her?

And then, to top it all off, there is an accident. Patty cannot handle any more loss on her own. But now, thanks to track, she isn’t alone anymore. She has a family of runners just like her that she can rely on and trust.

Next up is Sunny, which was my favorite of the four:

Sunny tries to shine despite his troubled past in this third novel in the critically acclaimed Track series from National Book Award finalist Jason Reynolds.

Sunny is just that—sunny. Always ready with a goofy smile and something nice to say, Sunny is the chillest dude on the Defenders team. But his life hasn’t always been sun beamy-bright. You see, Sunny is a murderer. Or at least he thinks of himself that way. His mother died giving birth to him, and based on how Sunny’s dad treats him—ignoring him, making Sunny call him Darryl, never “Dad”—it’s no wonder Sunny thinks he’s to blame. It seems the only thing Sunny can do right in his dad’s eyes is win first place ribbons running the mile, just like his mom did. But Sunny doesn’t like running, never has. So he stops. Right in the middle of a race.

With his relationship with his dad now worse than ever, the last thing Sunny wants to do is leave the other newbies—his only friends—behind. But you can’t be on a track team and not run. So Coach asks Sunny what he wants to do. Sunny’s answer? Dance. Yes, dance. But you also can’t be on a track team and dance. Then, in a stroke of genius only Jason Reynolds can conceive, Sunny discovers a track event that encompasses the hard beats of hip-hop, the precision of ballet, and the showmanship of dance as a whole: the discus throw. But as he practices for this new event, can he let go of everything that’s been eating him up inside?

This book absolutely destroyed me. Poor Sunny, living in a house with a ghost for a mother, and a father who only sees the past instead of the future. When Sunny joins the track team, it’s the first time in his life that he’s had friends – other than his homeschool “teacher” and some of his grandfather’s patients at the hospital, Sunny doesn’t even get to meet a lot of people. He’s been isolated inside his beautiful mansion, with just Darryl (not dad) and his mother’s memory to keep him company. He runs only because she ran. But he doesn’t love running. He doesn’t even think he likes it.

And so, one day, in the middle of a race, he just stops.

His coach doesn’t understand at first, but soon, he and Sunny figure out what his place on the team will be without running.

Darryl, on the other hand, takes a lot longer to see why Sunny did what he did. But Sunny and Darryl are both smart enough to realize that while their wife/mother might be gone, they still have each other.

Sunny may be a bit of a weirdo, but he’s a compassionate, thoughtful, and kind weirdo. He’s just a little lost and alone.

Lastly, book four is about Lu:

Lu must learn to leave his ego on the sidelines if he wants to finally connect with others in the climax to the New York Times bestselling and award-winning Track series from Jason Reynolds. 

Lu was born to be cocaptain of the Defenders. Well, actually, he was born albino, but that’s got nothing to do with being a track star. Lu has swagger, plus the talent to back it up, and with all that—not to mention the gold chains and diamond earrings—no one’s gonna outshine him.

Lu knows he can lead Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and the team to victory at the championships, but it might not be as easy as it seems. Suddenly, there are hurdles in Lu’s way—literally and not-so-literally—and Lu needs to figure out, fast, what winning the gold really means.

Expect the unexpected in this final event in Jason Reynold’s award-winning and bestselling Track series.

Lu has a great life. He lives with his mom and dad in a nice house, he has a lot of friends, and he loves running track. Yes, he’s albino and has been the butt of a lot of jokes for years, but he’s cool and he – and everyone around him – knows it.

And now, his parents have told him he’s going to be a big brother, and that he can name the new baby. That’s a lot of pressure! He has to think of something cool and important, something with swagger that SHINES.

Lu’s relationship with his dad reminded me a lot of Starr and her Dad in The Hate U Give. Lu’s dad has a questionable past, and some of his actions back then have recently come to light. Lu cannot get past them, and he forces his dad to man up and make things right while he still can.

I’ll admit, I didn’t love the end of this one. I understand that this track team was really a family, but I didn’t agree with the decisions the kids made not to compete in the championships. I really don’t think that’s what Coach would have wanted.

Yes, these are books for middle grade kids. But they don’t shy away from VERY SERIOUS content. These kids have been through some dark stuff, and the way that they all help each other through running track together is really heartwarming. I wish there was a book about Coach, and how he sees these kids from his own perspective.


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