BookPage Children's Top Pick, May 2016
Genie Harris’ parents are “having problems” and are heading to Jamaica to figure things out. In the meantime, 11-year-old Genie and his older brother, Ernie, are to spend a month with their grandparents in North Hill, Virginia. Most of Genie’s story revolves around his blind Grandpop—his conflict with Genie’s father, his regrets over Genie’s Uncle Wood, his lonely seclusion in a room surrounded by caged birds, his intention to go through with a ritual to make Ernie a man on his 14th birthday, and the mystery of the yellow house out back, with a tree growing right through it and swarms of birds ever present.
Jason Reynolds’ middle-grade debut demonstrates the love of story apparent in all of his novels. With a palpable affection for his characters and their slowly unfolding stories, Reynolds writes with subtle humor and an ear for the apt simile (blind Grandpop’s eyes are “like fogged-up windows”) as he crafts one memorable scene after another. And if it’s Grandpop Harris who is blind, it’s Genie who learns to see and come to understand that even his “white-toothed crazyman” of a grandfather is brave. Though his family history includes suicide, a death in war, parents with problems and a grandfather with fears and regrets, Genie’s penchant for asking questions and observing those around him serves him well as he learns empathy and sees—in each of his family members and himself—the possibility of change and of making amends for the past.