Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds: A School Bus Falls from the Sky but More Interesting/Important Things are Going On

Look Both Ways

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks

by Jason Reynolds

Hardcover, 188 pg.
Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2019

Read: October 31, 2019

A school bus is many things.

A school bus is a substitute for a limousine. More class. A school bus is a classroom with a substitute teacher. A school bus is the students’ version of a teachers’ lounge. A school bus is the principal’s desk. A school bus is the nurse’s cot. A school bus is an office with all the phones ringing. A school bus is a command center. A school bus is a pillow fort that rolls. A school bus is a tank reshaped—hot dogs and baloney are the same meat. A school bus is a science lab—hot dogs and baloney are the same meat. A school bus is a safe zone. A school bus is a war zone. A school bus is a concert hall. A school bus is a food court. A school bus is a court of law, all judges, all jury.

This is a novel—sort of. It’s a short story collection—sort of. It’s a hybrid of the two like Winesburg, Ohio was. I can’t tell you how often I thought about Sherwood Anderson’s book while I read this.

A lot happens right after school lets out for the day—particularly on the way home. The last gasp of socialization for many before the reality of home, chores, family, homework, game systems, etc. take over. Jason Reynolds gives us the stories of ten individuals/friend-groups on the way between school and home (some take interesting detours, too). There’s drama, comedy, romance, tension, action, and . . . some things that defy explanation.

There’s no overarching theme or plot, just these ten stories, so it’s hard to encapsulate this much. I can’t even say some characters stand out more than others because they all do.

This is one of those YA books that I wish didn’t have that tag, because too many non-young adults are going to ignore this because of that label. Yes, the book is written for the YA crowd, but non-YA readers will appreciate this just as much (if they let themselves read it).

No two stories/chapters are the same in tone, voice, or character. Some are pretty straightforward, some get a bit more unconventional in structure. But through it all, they’re well-written stories. While none of the chapters will affect the way things go in others, there are layers of interconnectedness (leading to some chapters giving some nuance or new understanding to things you’ve already read).

While I enjoyed some of the chapters more than others, there wasn’t a dud in the bunch—and it’s not often I say that about short story collections. All of them tapped into something that you can probably relate to today—if you can’t, you certainly could have when you were a young adolescent. It’s a truly impressive collection.

I don’t know what else to say at this point, so I’ll stop—bring this one home, get your teens to read it, too. It’s funny, it’s poignant, it’s touching, it’s inspiring—and it’s a fun read during it all.


3.5 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge

6 thoughts on “Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds: A School Bus Falls from the Sky but More Interesting/Important Things are Going On

  1. An interesting recommendation, I have placed a hold on this book, which is in the Children’s, not the YA section of our library. I’ll let you know what I think. (The last recommended YA book I read was “The Hunger Games” before it took off, so I’m ready to like this one!)

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  2. I didn’t like this book quite as much as you did. Here’s my Amazon review

    3.0 out of 5 stars
    A broad but shallow look at the lives of some urban middle-schoolers
    November 23, 2019
    Format: Hardcover
    This is one of those new-style books where a collection of short stories is loosely linked by location and time, with the main character of one story re-appearing in the background of the next. “Olive Kitteridge” has a lot to answer for.

    The stories follow ten middle-schoolers on their way home from school. Middle school/junior high is about the most fraught period of life for US kids, with puberty hitting hard, but not all at once or in the same way for each kid. Add this to the ordinary and extraordinary problems of urban tweens – bullying, crushes, critically ill parents, incarcerated brothers, dead siblings, and there is a lot going on here.

    I confess – I am a fan of books that go deep, not broad. I like to know a lot about a character, rather than being introduced to him/her as a caricature. Jason Reynolds does a very good job of making each of the ten episodes distinct and each protagonist distinctive. All together you get a good snapshot of a day in the life – but I’d rather have an in-depth documentary.

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