As Brave As You - Jason Reynolds

Genie’s summer is full of surprises. The first is that he and his big brother, Ernie, are leaving Brooklyn for the very first time to spend the summer with their grandparents all the way in Virginia—in the COUNTRY! The second surprise comes when Genie figures out that their grandfather is blind. Thunderstruck and—being a curious kid—Genie peppers Grandpop with questions about how he covers it so well (besides wearing way cool Ray-Bans).

How does he match his clothes? Know where to walk? Cook with a gas stove? Pour a glass of sweet tea without spilling it? Genie thinks Grandpop must be the bravest guy he’s ever known, but he starts to notice that his grandfather never leaves the house—as in NEVER. And when he finds the secret room that Grandpop is always disappearing into—a room so full of songbirds and plants that it’s almost as if it’s been pulled inside-out—he begins to wonder if his grandfather is really so brave after all.

Then Ernie lets him down in the bravery department. It’s his fourteenth birthday, and, Grandpop says to become a man, you have to learn how to shoot a gun. Genie thinks that is AWESOME until he realizes Ernie has no interest in learning how to shoot. None. Nada. Dumbfounded by Ernie’s reluctance, Genie is left to wonder—is bravery and becoming a man only about proving something, or is it just as important to own up to what you won’t do?

This book is fabulous, as anything I currently know from Jason Reynolds! As Brave As You is a quiet story, but one with a lot of substance and heart. Genie and Ernie spend their summer at their grandparents' house, cleaning up dog poop, harvesting sweet peas, and trying to grow as young men. Genie asks a lot of questions (a LOT of questions!), some of which are reasonable and some of which make the adults around him get on edge. While his brother is obsessed with girls, Genie is worried about the relationships in his life, between him and his brother, between his grandma and grandpop, and between his mother and father. He and his brother are also stuck in the middle of a lot of family tension (their grandfather and father don't have the best relationship, their uncle was killed in Desert Storm, and their parents are possibly getting a divorce) but their own relationship and their friendship with the girl next door, Tess, makes things a bit more bearable.

Genie becomes close with his grandfather, over time. Though his grandpa drinks and owns a gun and has some historical family baggage, he is trying to get things right between him and the rest of the family. Genie's grandma has a lot of expectations for their summer "vacation" including chores and rules about how far away from the house they can be, but she is still a very loving and important part of the narrative, often calling out her husband for his quirks (his gun, his birds, his indoor-outdoor space), but ultimately showing them all how much she loves them.

This is a powerful book that covers a lot of necessary ground about family, race, urban vs rural divides, marriage, friendship, and brotherly bonds. This book is definitely one that I Recommend for young readers, for parents, for school librarians, and for those working in classrooms that have their own libraries. Great work Jason Reynolds!!


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