GHOST by Jason Reynolds

ghost-by-jason-reynoldsCastle Crenshaw — who goes by Ghost — has been running for most of his life. At least ever since his father’s gun went off. It was pointed in the general direction of Ghost and his mother, and, like in all track races, the shot was a signal to start running. His father went to jail for it. They went back to a home that stopped feeling like home (they sleep in the living room, near the front door, just in case something else happens and they need to run again). And Ghost feels as if he never stopped. Only this restlessness he has felt inside has no real outlet, and it bubbles up, bursting outwards at times of stress and conflict. He lashes out, and gets in trouble for it often.⠀

And then one day, taking the usual long way back to his house, he stops to watch a group of kids his age during a track meet. He scoffs at the notion that people have to work at running, which comes so naturally to him. So he decides to show them up by beating their most promising and arrogant stars in an impromptu race. The coach is impressed and asks him to join, which Ghost, with some reluctance, eventually does.⠀

The feeling of running, Reynolds has said, is of your body going through trauma, as it fights against exhaustion and suffocation. Running is about feeling like you are about to die, and getting used to that sensation. And running is about breaking through, and overcoming that feeling.⠀

Running is also, in Reynolds’ hands, an exceedingly useful metaphor — not only for the particular issues that Ghost faces, but for life in general. Because what is life if not just a series of races you have to break through in order to breathe again? For Ghost, running is initially a means of escape, useful only when he wants to put as much distance between his problems and himself. He doesn’t find the act itself uncomfortable — his life is suffocating enough, after all, what is a little sprinting compared to the day to day? “Running ain’t nothing I ever had to practice,” he boasts at the beginning. “It’s just something I knew how to do.” It’s only after he joins the team and it becomes an increasingly important aspect of his life that he properly begins to feel this suffocation, as he starts to come to terms with the heavy things he’s been carrying inside — this scream, as he calls it — for most of his life.⠀

Ghost is about a lot of things, but it is mainly about dealing and living with trauma. There is a talk Jason Reynolds gave where he told the story about a childhood friend who, decades after the fact, recognized that he had been traumatized at a young age, and that he just went through life as if these feelings were normal, only to later realize that they were not supposed to be, and how surprised he was at this understanding. No one, you see, made him aware of the fact. It’s a particularly cruel problem, and one we can only address by paying attention to the people around us. This is what Reynolds’ work does for his audience — his books are all about being seen. In this novel, seeing one another is what Ghost’s teammates do, as they accept him as one of their own. It’s what his mother does, who, despite demanding job, studies at night in order to give them a better future. It’s what Mr. Charles, the elderly owner of the local store shop does every time Ghost pays his store a visit and they fall into an established, familiar — and familial — routine. And most importantly, it’s what his track coach does, seeing in Ghost some of the same struggles he faced growing up. The kind of struggles that makes you want to disappear, like a ghost, and run away, instead of being present, the burning in your chest a reminder that you are still alive and able to run free. Ghost may not entirely realize the full extent of his trauma, but he is smart enough to know when the people around him care for and want the best for him, which in turn, of course, makes him want to be better for them. “You can’t run away from who you are,” the Coach tells him at one point, “but what you can do is run toward who you want to be.”⠀

The novel ends with a different kind of shot that makes Ghost run. Only this time, instead of running away, you are certain and hopeful that he’s running free, breaking through the struggle, towards a better future.⠀

Jason Reynolds has written yet another lyrical and poetic book chockfull of meaning, and which helps us see these kids in a better and more understanding light. I loved reading it.

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