Life is tough in Allen “Ali” Brooks’ Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. His mother works two jobs just to make ends meet. His father, who’s served time in prison, hustles on the streets and lives in his car, but ultimately wants to take care of his children. And Ali can’t always rely on his best friend, Noodles, a secret comic book geek with an anger management problem.
Nicknamed for the former champion heavyweight boxer, 15-year-old Ali fights the tempting violence and risky opportunities around him by throwing practice punches in the shower and in the neighborhood ring. He tries to stay out of trouble, but how can he and Noodles resist an invitation to one of Brooklyn’s most exclusive parties? When a misunderstanding involving Noodles’ older brother, who has Tourette syndrome, leads to an altercation, Ali jumps in, swinging real punches. In Ali’s biggest battle yet, many lives are at risk, and he begins to question his friendship with Noodles.
Despite his gritty surroundings, Ali’s humor lends an endearing vulnerability and hopefulness that can’t help but touch the rest of the neighborhood. Although he doesn’t seek the spotlight like his namesake, Ali fights to uphold his beliefs. As his world expands, he notices just how hard his family and friends are fighting, too. Jason Reynolds’ debut effort is indeed great, and readers should expect more greatness from this stunning new author.