A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
A reader learns about Tourette's syndrome and how one of the characters learns to cope with his condition.
Many aspects of social cohesion -- friendship, kinship, neighborliness, and simple affection -- are shown to be necessary to cope with the disintegrating pressures of poverty. The Brooks family care for one another, from youngest to oldest, and their caring not only keeps them together but gives them the foundation for helping neighbors and even strangers.
Positive Role Models
They're cliches for a reason -- they always come through. There's the mom who works two jobs and keeps an eagle's eye on her kids; the dad whose wanderings end when his son needs his help; and the old boxing coach who insists on discipline and commitment.
Violence & Scariness
Some punches are thrown at a party. Ali, the 15-year-old protagonist who gets his nickname from his boxing skills, wins the day but hurts his hand. A handgun is seen but not used. There's no bloodshed.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Allen, 15, meets an older girl at a party. They kiss and begin to fumble toward sex, which Allen finds frightening. Just when the girl produces a condom, they're interrupted by the sound of fighting in the next room.
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"S--t" appears a handful of times, often from the character who has Tourette's syndrome.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Booze and pot make a perfunctory appearance at a party. None of the main characters uses drugs.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that When I Was the Greatest shows in fine detail how Allen, a teen boy in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood, needs his father's help when some local thugs set out for revenge. Despite its slang and swagger -- "s--t" appears in the third paragraph -- the book minimizes sex, drugs, and violence and maximizes affection and dependability. When I Was the Greatest might appeal to a teen who knows, or wants to know, the pressures that shape the lives of the working poor. But, for all its social realism, the storytelling by this first-time author is clumsy. When the climax of this melodrama takes place offstage, the emotional charge fizzles.
Is It Any Good?
Although some young readers will be comfortable with the cartoonish characters, others may be disappointed when the story's climax takes place offstage and any chance for a big ending goes poof. This debut novel also rides high on the shoulders of cliche: the mom who works two jobs and reigns with tough love, the whip-smart little sis who gives everyone a cute nickname (the neighbor boys are Needles and Noodles). Details about life in tough central Brooklyn are well played, though.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.