The Track: A Place of Self Discovery and Realization
February is Black History Month and to honour this month of recognition, I have been taking some time with the incredible book list of Jason Reynolds, a newer middle grade voice of African American literature. Luckily, both of the published books in his Track series came up in my library holds at the same time so I was able to enjoy both Ghost's and Patina's stories back to back. The writing in both of these stories is so powerful and compelling and leaves you rooting for all of the characters. Ghost is an angry kid from the rough side of town who one day stumbles upon a track practice. Always needing to prove himself, he races one of the team members and soon finds himself on the team, although he's just using track practice as a means to get onto the basketball court. Patina is a strong and powerful young lady who hates to lose. She also has a huge desire and need to be the caretaker of her younger sister, since her Mom can't be that person anymore. Then there is Lu, Sunny, Coach, and the vets, all making up the eclectic track team the Defenders. Everyone has their specialty and everyone has a back story, a reason they run. Reynolds so beautifully tells each story in a way in which you don't feel sorry for these characters, you root for them and want them to realize their motivation and become better because of it. One of the things I love most about the books is that they totally leave you hanging at the end, really forcing you to grab the next one in the series so you can discover the outcome. All of the characters in these novels come from different circumstances but are brought together because of sport, in this case running track. The track is the great equalizer. In sport, all that matters is what you put out on the track, field, ice, diamond, or court. Sport can be a great escape and a means of self discovery. Reynolds has used sport as the vehicle to tell the stories of these young black people.
Both Ghost and Patina are incredible window texts for me, allowing me a glimpse of the experiences of some young black people. A window text for me means they are incredible mirror texts for all the young African Americans who may feel angry, driven, and/or misunderstood. We all need to see ourselves reflected in the stories we hear and read. Too often the voices of the minority are not heard but I feel we are in an incredibly powerful literary time. I have been fortunate to read so many amazing middle grade books lately by First Nations authors, Indian authors, and African American authors. More and more books from different perspectives are being published in this time more so than any other and children are gaining better access to these stories through the incredible teachers, librarians, and teacher-librarians in their lives. I cannot wait to pick up the third book in the Track series, Sunny, available April 10th, 2018 to continue to learn more about Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and Lu.