When the school bell sets the kids free, what do they get up to on their daily walk home? In the Carnegie Medal winning Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds, we join a bunch of urban American schoolchildren in this precious liminal space. Old enough to walk unsupervised, and with the adult world and its accompanying complications looming on the horizon, this astute and empathetic book grants us a window into their dramas, comedies, and rich interior lives.
All ten stories stand alone while enjoying the common thread of the Latimer Middle School community. We encounter skateboarding kids, gamers, pavement-crack counters, and those who take great pleasure from extracting the ‘nasty, half-baked goblins’ of their own bogies.
But amongst the rambling chatter and lust for confectionery, there are bruises of many kinds, including those a mother turns her face to hide, and the name-calling variety.
‘Names that bite. Names that stick and mark. Names that catch fire and leave a burnt smell in the air.’
The usual clan of bullies and bigots stalk the school corridor, and Reynolds highlights the kids’ various challenges with empathy and insight.
The stand-out story for me was The Low Cuts Strike Again, The Low Cuts being a bunch of thieving kids, whose abiding rule is that they only ever steal loose change. No wallets, no jewellery, just coins.
From impoverished families, the Low Cuts all receive free school meals but a more striking connection is the fact that their parents are all cancer survivors. Their criminal motivations are revealed in an unexpected and moving after-school tale.
Of course, not all kids walk home. There’s always the infamous school bus, ‘A safe zone, a war zone…a bumblebee, buzzing around with a bunch of stingers on the inside of it.’ Reynolds’ poetic background is given free reign in this story of a young student’s mum being hit by the school bus.
A humorous, touching, and convincing prizewinning collection.
Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds is published by Knights of, 208 pages.