Look both ways by Jason Reynolds

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In a series of anecdotal stories, we are given a glimpse inside the lives of classmates and school attendees in a USA Middle School. Each story focuses on a separate child, and their stories are loosely linked. But this is a funny collection of insights into the joys and dramas of being a pre-teen. From friends who discuss boogers (bogies); an eclectic group of kids who ‘shake coin’ from others, but whose hearts have been softened and yet scarred because of difficult family circumstances; a skater who prefers to skate out of school and avoid human contact; to the child of the school crossing supervisor who is battling anxiety – all of these anecdotes have humour woven through them. There are some serious issues that are touched on, but the naive humanity of the young participants shines through.

This is a book set within a community of Afro-American students with limited financial resources and their voices reflect the vernacular and dialect permutations and grammar of this community. This may confuse some Australian readers, but  exposure to USA television should have prepared them for some of these language oddities. But for some Australian readers in the pre-Secondary years this may create confusion, but it is interesting to see how language becomes distorted in different environments. The stories are easy to read and each one follows a different route from school to home and reveals the personal struggles and joys for each of the characters. I can recommend this book for readers aged 10-13 who  enjoy short stories that make them think (a little), but never too much, and who like to laugh at kids their own age. For those who have enjoyed Diary of a Wimpy Kid this is a short story collection with more text, but a light-hearted touch to some quite difficult personal circumstances.

Recommended  (for those who can cope with the non-Aussie setting and language use).

Themes: School - USA, Friendship, Family, Short stories.

Carolyn Hull