From School Library Journal
Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw has been running for three years, ever since the night his father shot a gun at him and his mother. When he gets recruited by a local track coach for a championship team, they strike a deal: if Ghost can stop getting into fights at school, he can run for the Defenders, but one altercation and he’s gone. Despite Ghost's best intentions, everyone always has something to say about his raggedy shoes, homemade haircut, ratty clothes, or his neighborhood, and he doesn’t last 24 hours without a brawl. Will Coach and his mom give him another chance to be part of something bigger than himself, or is he simply destined to explode? With his second fantastic middle grade novel of the year (As Brave as You, 2016), the ferociously talented Reynolds perfectly captures both the pain and earnest longing of a young boy. The first in the four book Track series, this is raw and lyrical, and as funny as it is heartbreaking. It tackles issues such as theft, bullying, and domestic violence with candor and bravery while opening a door for empathy and discussion. An absolute must read for anyone who has ever wondered how fast you must be to run away from yourself.HIGH DEMAND BACKSTORY: Is anyone else putting out so many stellar books so quickly? The author of The Boy in the Black Suit and All American Boys (both 2015) keeps dashing along. — Becca Worthington
(Booklist, STARRED REVIEW 9/1/16)
Reynolds (As Brave As You) uses a light hand to delve into topics that include gun violence, class disparity, and bullying in this compelling series opener. Seventh grader Castle Cranshaw, nicknamed Ghost, knows nothing about track when a former Olympian recruits him as a sprinter for one of the city's youth teams. As far as Ghost is concerned, "whoever invented track got the whole gun means go thing right," something he learned firsthand when his father tried to shoot Ghost and his mother in their apartment three years prior. The trauma has had ripple effects on Ghost, including angry outbursts ("I was the boy.... with all the scream inside"), altercations at school, stealing, and lying. Joining the track team provides new friends, goals, and an opportunity for Ghost to move beyond his past. Ghost is a well meaning, personable narrator whose intense struggles are balanced by a love of world records, sunflower seeds, and his mother. Coach's relationship with Ghost develops into a surrogate father son scenario, adding substantial emotional resonance and humor to the mix. Ages 10–up. (Publishers Weekly *STARRED REVIEW* August 8, 2016)
Castle “Ghost” Crenshaw lives with his single mother; his father is serving time in prison after firing a gun at Ghost and his mom three years ago—and Ghost has been running ever since. While running one day, he stops to watch a track practice and decides to crash the race. Impressed, the coach offers him a position on the team. His mom reluctantly agrees to let him join as long as he can behave himself and stay out of trouble in school. This is a struggle for the impulsive Ghost, but with Coach’s help, he learns the advantages of diligent practice and teamwork. Reynolds paints a realistic picture of a boy who needs the support of his community to channel his talent and energy. Supporting adult characters, like shop owner Mr. Charles and Coach, are positive, nuanced, and well developed. The diverse team members are dealing with their own struggles, which will be explored in three future installments. The consequences for Ghost’s misbehavior are somewhat inconsistent, but the detailed and informative descriptions of running and training with an elite track team more than make up for this. VERDICT The focus on track athletics—a subject sorely lacking in the middle grade space—combined with the quality of Reynolds’s characters and prose, makes this an essential purchase. (School Library Journal *STARRED* September 2016)
Sometimes a whole life can change in one night. For seventh grader Castle Cranshaw, that night was three years ago when his father tried to shoot him and his mother, when "the liquor made him meaner than he'd ever been." That's when Castle started to call himself "Ghost," because Mr. Charles, who let the terrified pair take refuge in his all night store, "looked at us like he was looking at two ghosts." And that was the night he learned how to run... really run.
Jason Reynolds (As Brave as You) has a playful, intimate and conversational style, and in Ghost, a middle grade series debut, he tells the story of how an unforgettable flight of terror led to an African American boy's instinct to run fast. One day on his walk home, Ghost sees a track team practicing with their short bald coach who looks like "a turtle with a chipped tooth." Keenly observant Ghost becomes annoyed with one of the runners others perceive as unbeatable, and decides to "keep up with him, if not beat him" even though he "ain't ever had a running lesson." He stubbornly persists until the coach relents: "Listen, you get one run, you hear me?"
The story of Ghost's evolving relationships with his anger, with his ever worried mother, with Coach Brody and with running is a joy to read. For a boy who's "got a lot of scream inside," Ghost can riff entertainingly on topics from eating sunflower seeds to 100 meter sprints. Ghost is about kids who are, in both senses, running for their lives, and the generous souls who help them along the way.
Discover: In Jason Reynolds's excellent middle grade novel, a boy learns to run when his father shoots a gun at him and he never stops running.
(Shelf Awareness, STARRED REVIEW 9/6/16)
Castle Crenshaw discovered his fleet feet on the night his drunken father pulled a gun on his mother and him, and the pair took off running into the night. Now Dad is in jail, Mom is working too hard, but Castle’s getting by—or he would be if the likes of seventh grade bully Brandon would just leave him alone. Hanging out on the park bleachers one afternoon, Castle, who insists on the nickname “Ghost,” watches a track team at their season opening practice, unimpressed. When he swaggers up to the starting line and shows the team hotshot that he’s really not all that, Ghost’s obvious talent catches Coach’s eye; after a quick meeting with Mom, he finds himself joining the Defenders, a city track team. Despite his speed, he’s a rank novice in terms of team playing, and his off track conduct—fighting at school, stealing—isn’t all that great either, but Coach is merciful and doggedly insistent that Ghost can do better. A message heavy scene in which the newbies bond over Chinese food and shared family secrets might play on tropes but successfully tugs at heartstrings. The final pages have Ghost lined up beside none other than the hated Brandon, but an ambiguous ending confirms that this is less about Ghost’s track success than his journey to self worth. Readers (track stars or slowpokes) will find that the redemptive relationship among a supportive mom, a skillful coach who believes in second (and third) chances, and a determined young man comes through louder than the final “BOOM” of the starter gun. (Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books October 2016)
When it comes to providing mirrors for contemporary African American teens, Reynolds (When I Was the Greatest, rev. 1/14; The Boy in the Black Suit, rev. 3/15) has proven himself to be an emerging leader. His latest offering is the first in
a projected series about four middle school athletes and their efforts to better themselves, on and off the track. The first leg of this literary relay belongs to our title character. Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw is a young man with a taste for sunflower seeds, Guinness World Records, and people watching; he also has a proclivity for getting into trouble, fighting, and running, stemming from the night his father (now in prison) pulled a gun on him and his mother. When Ghost happens upon the citywide track team, the Defenders, at practice and impulsively bests its fastest sprinter, the coach sees potential in the seventh grader. Ghost’s path to seeing the same potential in himself is littered with stumbling blocks, including a pair of expensive silver running shoes Ghost can’t afford but is convinced will help
him run faster. Reynolds has created a wonderfully dynamic character in Ghost; his first person narrative is one with which young readers will readily identify. Conflicting emotions are presented honestly and without judgment—while Ghost works through the trauma of his father’s violent act, he is also able to hold on to positive memories. Reynolds’s introduction of the series characters—Ghost, Lu, Patina, and Sunny—will have readers rooting for the entire Defenders team. (Horn Book Magazine November/December 2016)