LOOK BOTH WAYS by Jason Reynolds

5I only got into Jason Reynolds’ work this year, when I picked up Miles Morales: Spider-Man, a superhero story that has less to do with flashy superpowers and more with the everyday heroism of a brown kid living in Modern America.⠀

I liked it enough to learn more about the guy, looking up speeches and talks. What started out as a bookish crush (Reynolds is an effortless, stylish speaker) quickly turned into a deep admiration as I learned more about the message he is trying to convey with his books, the service he wants to provide with his writing. ⠀

That’s all I think about when I’m writing these books. I’m the lead talker. That’s my job. My responsibility is to look out in the crowd and say, “Where y’all from? What’s your crew? What’s your name?” And to put those names, those neighborhoods, those feelings in a book.⠀

We don’t value how important it is for young people just to see themselves.

Jason Reynolds: 2018 National Book Festival


His stories are all about being seen.⠀

And I think I’ve seen enough of Jason Reynolds to say that he is one of the most empathic writers working today.⠀

It’s a trait that’s on full display in Look Both Ways, his latest release. A collection of ten stories about different groups of kids on their walk home from school, and everything that happens to them during the way. ⠀

That walk, Reynolds believes, is one of the few experiences kids have where they can feel some sense of autonomy over themselves. Where they can tell and shape stories in their own way, on their own terms. ⠀

One of the things I admire about Reynolds is his ability to effortlessly slip into different — often conflicting — points of view. The characters are as compelling as they are numerous, their stories distinct, each carrying their own flavor and texture. They still interconnect, however, as the lives of these kids weave in and out of each other’s in their own chaotic, impactful fashion.⠀

The amount of topics covered in these ten short stories is truly staggering, and could be overwhelming were it not for the fact that Reynolds has one of the most casual, welcoming narrative voices in literature right now. A voice that can talk about boogers and bullying in the same breath and sincerity. But the one theme all the stories ultimately go back to is about being seen.

Every character we meet fits more or less into an archetype: the shy girl, the loner kid, the jock, the nerd, the knuckleheads and the bullies. And Reynolds will tell you their stories. He will tell you why that girl is so shy. He will tell you what that bully’s home life is like. He will tell you how that jock got that black eye. ⠀

He will not tell you everything, though. He won’t fully explain or excuse their actions. But he will tell you just enough for you to be able to look past the label and start seeing them as people.⠀

All he wants to do is make sure somebody else bears witness to his story. That’s all. I can’t do anything for him in that moment. He just wants me to know that this story is his, and that it’s true, and that somebody out of his space can hear it and can take it back into the world.

Shut up and Write with Author Jason Reynolds


Because seeing is important. But it’s only ever the first step towards understanding someone else’s story. To do so you must, of course, look both ways, and then cross the threshold.

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