“The Trouble is, you can’t run away from yourself.” – Coach
I was blown away by this middle grade fiction, it came on my radar thanks to PBS’s 100 Great American Reads. This novel did not disappoint it had levity and a realness that’s hard to define. I think it can be compared to Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give but for younger readers, where it balances real horrific events with humor and lightness that comes from the family and friends. This novel is not about race issues, it is about does the neighborhood you live in define your character. The first chapter in a incredible as it sets up the premise but also the comedy with the real structure.
The Plot: Castle Cranshaw also know as Ghost, has been obsessed with world record holders, since he got a Guinness World records book. Not any world record in particular, just he knows that one day he wants to be a world record holder. Ghost is runner not in a typical sense but always running from something his family life, and school life. If Ghost had to pick a sport he would say he was a basketballer, but one day on a stroll through the park he see’s a team of runners. Before this he didn’t even know running was a sport. He watches their practice thinking he can beat most of those guys, then the coach makes an open challenge to the team, if they can beat the fastest runner Lu who is sort of cocky, and Ghost having just been bullied at school for being poor and living on the bad side of town by a guy who thinks he’s better than him, goes on to the track. The coach says the challenge is for teammates only that try outs were last week, but ghost just tells him to blow the whistle, Lu jokingly goes along with it. Ghost thinks back to the last time he ran the fastest is when he and his mom were running for there life away from his drunk father with a gun. Ghost runs and the race is too close to call, the coach seeing something in Ghost, ask him where he trained but ghost has never ran before professionally. Ghost doesn’t really want to but eventually agrees to join the team but only if the coach can convince his mother. The mom agrees but he can’t get in trouble at school and has to get his grades up. Ghost has a lot to runaway from mostly himself, can he live up to the pressures that are now put on to him?
What I liked: Ghost be in the narrator, it made the story fun even when it dealt with real life struggles. This novel has a great message. The coach is a fantastic character, his Olympic medal story is so heartbreaking, I loved his and Ghost’s relationship and how it evolves after secrets are revealed. The bits in the story just about running are written well, and I found very interesting. The Chapter heading all have to do with world records. I enjoyed the dialogue, I thought it really captured how people talk.
What I disliked: I felt the mom character was strong, and I didn’t believe after what happened with the father that she would let her son remain broken, and not sleep in his room if if she herself was broken, but it’s minor and all I can really think about.
I will recommend this for teens and adults to read this story for empathy of the poor, for reasons to why some people steal. I think this is an important book and one that I would have clung to in my youth. I greatly understood the not asking for something that was expensive not because you might not get it but it might make your parent lesser because you do not have it, and maybe they will sacrifice for you to get it. This book did remind me of my favorite middle grade books, Hoops by Walter Dean Myers and The Contender by Robert Lipstye. I rated this book 4.8 out five stars highly recommended. This is the first of a four book series each following a member of the four new track teammates of the Defenders team, and I look forward to reading all of them.