PATINA by Jason Reynolds

patina-by-jason-reynoldsAnother pickup from this past weekend. I had read Ghost, the first entry in the Track series by personal fave Jason Reynolds a couple of years ago, and it more or less blew me away. So it’s nothing but a shame that it took me so long to get to its follow-up, Patina, because I ended up loving and appreciating this story even more.

Ghost is an explosive story, literally beginning and ending with shots going off. Patina, in comparison, is a much quieter story, dealing as it does with the many routines and responsibilities of its title character. It’s a subdued tone that belies deeper, heavier themes, though. Still waters run deep, etcetera.

Reynolds’ dedication reads, “For those who’ve been passed the baton too young.” Patina is the story of a young Black girl forced to grow up entirely too soon. After the sudden death of her father, and after her mother’s increasingly degenerating diabetes takes away her legs, Patina “Patty” Jones, all of twelve, feels it’s up to her to pick up the pieces of their upended life. So she assumes responsibilities of the household, making sure her mother is taken care of and especially looking after her baby sister, Maddy. Unable to suitably take care of her daughters, the girl’s mother arranges for them to move in with her doting brother-in-law and his wife, which eases the burden some, but Patina remains convinced that the load is hers to carry alone. It’s a weight that is slowly but surely suffocating our protagonist. And so, like Castle Crenshaw before her, she uses running as an outlet and escape.

That’s kinda what running was to me. A way to shut people up. A way to… I guess, sometimes even shut myself up. Just turn it all off. Leave everything, all the hurting stuff, the unregular stuff that seemed so regular to me, in the dust.

This is only the second entry in this series, but it’s clear that one of the central themes in the Track books is about recognizing and dealing with trauma, using the act of running as a metaphor (the act of which, as Reynolds has previously stated, is your body dealing with physical trauma). It’s a symbolism that in Reynolds’ clever and poetic hands goes the distance. (The novel’s main conflict has to do with Patina’s reluctance to share her responsibilities and accept help from other people… while at the same time training for a relay race, which is all about relying and trusting your fellow runners.)

Ultimately what makes this story so compelling is that we’ve all had a Patina (or multiple Patinas) in our lives. They are our mothers and our sisters; our partners and our friends. Practical women who find themselves carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. Women who, far too often, go uncelebrated and unrecognized. Patina recognizes, and it celebrates.

Compassionate and wonderful. Jason Reynolds never fails to impress.

BLACK BOY JOY by Various

black-boy-joy-by-variousRead this over the weekend and it was, as the cover promises, an absolute joy. A wonderful collection of stories celebrating Black boyhood written by some of today’s most captivating authors. Some I was already familiar with — my main dude Jason Reynolds; fantasy darling P. Djèlí Clark — for most, though, this was my first experience with their work, but I will definitely be checking out more of their stuff from now on.

Honestly, most of the stories delivered, but some standouts:

  • “There’s Going to Be a Fight In the Cafeteria on Friday and You Better Not Bring Batman” by Lamar Giles, which read exactly like an episode of Craig of the Creek and was just one of the most wholesome things I’ve ever read. (Also for having the absolute best title in the collection.)
  • “The Legendary Lawrence Cobbler” by Julian Winters, for some lovely bit of queer representation.
  • “First-Day Fly” by Jason Reynolds, for having the collection’s perhaps most simplistic story (a kid getting ready for his first day back to school) be also its most playful in terms of style (it’s written in the second person).
  • “Coping” by Tochi Onyebuchi, for being the skateboarding story of my dreams. Also one of the first effective pieces of fiction I’ve read that deals with the pandemic.
  • “The Gender Reveal” by George M. Johnson, for bringing the nonbinary rep and also the tears.⠀
  • “Our Dill” by Justin A. Reynolds, for being the funniest of the lot.⠀
  • “Percival and the Jab” by P. Djèlí Clark, for bringing Jumbies back into my life and leaving me wanting more.⠀

These stories are framed by vignettes written by Kwame Mbalia, the collection’s editor. They follow a griot (a West African storyteller and musician, here presented as a sort of wizard, because that’s what artists are) and his young apprentice as they travel through worlds collecting joy, which they store in a massive jar, to be used for later. They succeed, needless to say. Black Boy Joy is a beautiful collection.

INTO THE DARK by Claudia Gray

Publisher’s summary: Padawan Reath Silas is being sent from the cosmopolitan galactic capital of Coruscant to the undeveloped frontier—and he couldn’t be less happy about it. He’d rather stay at the Jedi Temple, studying the archives. But when the ship he’s traveling on is knocked out of hyperspace in a galactic-wide disaster, Reath finds himself at the center of the action. The Jedi and their traveling companions find refuge on what appears to be an abandoned space station. But then strange things start happening, leading the Jedi to investigate the truth behind the mysterious station, a truth that could end in tragedy….

Claudia Gray is my absolute favorite Star Wars writer. From Lost Stars to her Leia books to Master and Apprentice, I have enjoyed her forays into this galaxy far, far away.

Which only makes it more of a shame that I really couldn’t get invested in Into the Dark, her first entry into the High Republic era. 

Don’t get me wrong: Gray continues to be an excellent Star Wars author. She’s included here a bunch of characters that I loved (bookish Padawan! space Matthew McConaughey! a sentient rock!). And Gray continues to write about the Force better than any other author — I highlighted a great many lines from this novel. 

But still, the story felt a little lacking.

It’s a by-product of being part of a multi-platform storytelling project, I suppose. The main story of Star Wars: The High Republic is being told through a trilogy of books, while a slew of stories told through audiobooks, comics, YA and middle grade novels acting more or less as support and supplementary material. And it’s this extra content that seems often to get bogged down by too much continuity noise and baggage that spins out of the primary plot line.

And it’s also because this novel just largely lacked Gray’s opposing outlook angle that is present in most of her works: Lost Stars (literal star-crossed lovers, one of whom is a Rebel, the other an Imperial); Bloodline (Leia, the rebel senator, begrudgingly teaming up with someone who holds an entirely different ideology); Master and Apprentice (Qui-Gon’s mystical approach to the Force at odds with his Padawan’s more pragmatic, traditional take). We find it even in her non-Star Wars work, such as in Defy the Stars (two people on opposing sides of a war fall in love). It’s a technique that Gray particularly excels at, allowing her as it does to better explore the gamut of the tensions and conflicts that make up a proper pulp narrative, making for a more involved and compelling read.

We get hints of that in Into the Dark — Jedi Masters feeling conflicted towards the Order’s austere methods; a Padawan questioning the path laid out by their Master — but it’s not the engine that drives the plot, and I found myself thinking it would be a richer, more substantial story if that were the case.

Regardless, Gray has only been adding great things to Star Wars’ already significant lore, and I hope she gets to do so for a long time. I’ll still be there reading every step along the way.