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Patina (Track) Hardcover – August 29, 2017
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African-American track phenom Patina Jones takes the baton from Ghost (2016) in the second volume of Reynolds' Track series for middle graders.Reynolds tells readers almost all they need to know about Patty in two opening, contrasting scenes. In the first, Patty misjudges her competitors in an 800-meter race she's certain she should have won. Running well but second is not enough for the ferociously competitive Patty. In the other, she braids her little sister's hair before church, finishing off each of Maddy's 30 braids with three beads. She does this every Sunday because their white adoptive mother can't ("there ain't no rule book for white people to know how to work with black hair") and because their birth mother insists they look their best for church. Their father dead and their birth mother's legs lost to diabetes, the two girls live with their father's brother and his wife, seeing their mother once a week in an arrangement that's as imperfect as it is loving and necessary. Writing in Patty's voice, Reynolds creates a fully dimensional, conflicted character whose hard-earned pragmatism helps her bring her relay team together, negotiate the social dynamics of the all-girls, mostly white private school she attends, and make the best of her unusual family lot. When this last is threatened, readers will ache right alongside her. Another stellar lap—readers will be eager to see who's next. (Fiction. 8-12) (Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW 7/15/17)
About the Author
Jason Reynolds is crazy. About stories. He is a New York Times bestselling author, a National Book Award Honoree, a Kirkus Award winner, a Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award Winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors. His debut novel was When I Was the Greatest and was followed by Boy in the Black Suit and All American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely); As Brave As You; Jump Anyway; and the first two books in the Track series, Ghost and Patina. You can find his ramblings at JasonWritesBooks.com.
Top customer reviews
Patina has lost a race. Patina is not a good loser. Not good at all. If you knew Patina, this would probably be the first thing you knew about her. The thing is, Patina’s already lost a lot of things in her life. Her dad died when she was pretty young, and her mom nearly died of diabetes after that. She lives with her aunt and uncle, helps take care of her younger sister, and attends this hoity toity school that may be good for her future but is death on her friendships. At least there’s track, though, right? Only now Patina has lost a race and, stranger still, she and her fellow runners are going to be forming relay teams. Now the trick to any team is to synchronize yourself with the people around you. Patina, however, can’t afford to synchronize with anyone in her life. She’s a loner (isn’t she?). Someone who doesn’t need help (are you sure?). And she’s not easily surprised. Not easily, but when it happens then maybe a lot of other things in her life will start to change as well.
Before we go any further today I would like us to consider the case of The Mighty Miss Malone. Author Christopher Paul Curtis was at the top of his game. Sure he’d had the occasional misfire here and there (his YA never really hit the heights and his Mr. Chickee series wasn’t quite up to his usual standards) but when it came to historical fiction nobody could match him. Bud Not Buddy? The Watsons Go to Birmingham? Elijah of Buxton? The dude was on fire! Of course, there was one thing that ALL his books had in common. They all starred boys. This is, of course, a good thing. Curtis knows boys. Also, do you know how many middle grade novels for 9-12 year olds star African-American boys in a given year? You can usually count the number on your own two hands. So we needed those boys on our shelves. But as he is an artist, Mr. Curtis felt compared to push himself into new territory. So in 2012 he produced the book The Mighty Miss Malone. The hope was to fully flesh out a minor character from Bud Not Buddy. The result was disappointing. Deza, the heroine, is never allowed to save the day. Instead she’s a fairly passive character who watches as her troublemaking younger brother single-handedly rescues the family from despair. So it was with great trepidation that I picked up Patina. The similarities were already in place. Like Curtis, Mr. Reynolds is an award-winning African-American author who had done us the great good of providing us with a plethora of memorable, wonderful black boy characters. And like Mr. Curtis, Jason decided to write a book from a girl’s perspective. So the question I hand to you today is this: Did it work?
Let’s talk a little bit about why Mr. Reynolds wrote Patina in the first place. When Jason was initially approached by a publisher to write a sports book, he was offered "street ball". A different publisher offered him a series deal where he could pick the sport himself. Sold! So right from the start it was clear that there were four kids in these books that would go on personal journeys. Ghost kicks it off, and Patina makes it clear that Reynolds isn’t afraid to dive into his first female heroine right from the start. Along the way he makes some very specific choices. For example, while there are men and boys in the book, the bulk of the focus, as well as the characters themselves, is on girls. Patina is surrounding by a strong support network of women. She has a birth mother and an adopted mom. She has female track friends, female school friends (by the end), old female friends with whom she keeps in touch, and a sister. At the same time, her life isn’t what you’d necessarily call easy. Patina has to keep an eye on her younger sister, deal with her fancy school, and try not to worry too much about her mom. The author once said about this book (and here I'm paraphrasing), “Patina is about someone who deserves to be a little girl and can’t be.” He’s purposefully working to make Patina the hero of her own book, and happily there are moments in the story where she takes steps to be proactive and solve her own problems.
There was one aspect of the book that bothered me though, and you might well write it off entirely. Now as a character Patina has a dead daddy, a mom with diabetes, and loving stepparents. But as a children’s librarian I’m very used to these overused, very regular, very predictable middle grade tropes. So when I see a female character with a tricky home life going to a posh private school, I’m going to expect one thing: bullying. Reynolds has all the right pieces in place, but he doesn’t go in that direction. It made me pause and think. Bullying in children’s books is all about the mustache twirling (so to speak). But there are different levels in reality. In this book there is a kind of unspoken assumption that Patina is going to shoulder the bulk of the group project she's assigned. Sometimes the merest of assumptions are the most effective methods of keeping people under your control.
Which is all well and good but it doesn’t lead to a whole lot of conflict for Patina. In Ghost we had a boy trying to outrun his own demons (and failing). Patina, in contrast, isn’t running away from anything specifically. Cleverly, Reynolds changes the focus slightly so that her challenge is working well with others. When you’ve been micromanaging your life, you may have a hard time relinquishing power (or what you interpret to be power) to others around you. The struggle to trust is inherently less exciting than the struggle to maintain control over the self. As a result, Patina” is significantly less exciting than Ghost. In Ghost you had shoplifting, past trauma, bullies at school, fights, and showboating. In Patina there’s a car crash, but very little in the way of interpersonal problems. Patina is told from the start of the book to get a handle on her anger. Which she does. You might expect there’d be a scene where she goes off on someone, and there is one on the track. That moment is then resolved neatly and almost immediately with no long-term repercussions. Heck, her family is 100% supportive of her track running. Even the early chapter book Izzy Barr, Running Star by Claudia Mills made it so that Izzy has to compete for parental interest and attention. So Reynolds is very big on the learning and growing with this book. Not so much the immediate conflicts before that.
Not that it isn’t still a great book. You know that palpable sense of relief you feel as an adult when you’re reading through a title for kids and you come to a part where you realize the book is packed full of amazing writing? I got that here. Owing to its aversion to conflict Patina probably couldn’t be called Mr. Reynolds’s strongest work to date, but at the same time it’s enormously satisfying to read an author that works hard to give a female character a voice, impetus, smarts, and insecurities. In other words, he makes her a real person. A great book for kids that are into realistic fiction, as well as those kids that are willing to trek out of their comfort zones a little to look at a truly great read. A book with a kick.
For ages 9-12.
Patina Jones lives with “Momly” and Uncle Tony because her mother is too ill to take care of her and her sister, Maddy, and her father is dead. Patina also started Chester Academy, a high-end private school with, as Patty calls them “hair flippers.”
Patty’s got a lot to negotiate: she has to figure out what it means to be a black girl in a white school (“like a raisin in milk”) and what it means to be loved and cared for by a white adult while her biological mom watches on through constant texts and phone calls. Patty feels a responsibility in being a role model for her sister.
At the same time, Patty is learning how to be a member of a team -- both at school, where she is assigned to “the worst group project of all time in the history of life” an on the track, where she is learning how to run relays and rely on her teammates.
Fans of Ghost will love seeing Ghost through another character’s eyes and aspects of The Defenders track team will be appreciated by those who have read Ghost. However, it’s also easy for readers to jump right into to Patty’s story without knowing Ghost’s drama first.
This is totally a bittersweet book -- but, in keeping with middle grades, more sweet than bitter. Patty is such an easy character to fall in love with, especially when she describes her classmates “be having heart eyes” when they listen to a classmate “go on and on (and on and on and on.)”
Issues with comprehension:
Some of my readers, especially those who are highly literal, struggle with Jason Reynolds’s books. I can see why: while the book is short, he writes in long paragraphs, and his characters digress to make jokes or drop some crafty wordplay. In reading conferences, I encourage my students to hear the characters talk as they are reading. Some readers can do this comfortably and automatically if they can make a connection (“This person sounds like my brother!”) or (“This person doesn’t sound like anybody I know, but I like the way she talks.”) Some readers need to be taught to “hear” Patty.
(Speaking of which, Guy Lockard does a FABULOUS job with audiobooks for Jason’s books.)
Ghost was a mixed hit with my readers last year. I pushed it as an IR book and a book club option. Some kids adored it, some kids hated it (they mean they hated the ending), and most felt lukewarm about it. Again, my readers tend to be able to do a do a lot more with plot than they can with character voice. This year, I’ll probably encourage it mostly as a short-n-sweet book club option and also sell it for readers who want to diversify their reading life with Black authors and Black characters.