Kid’s Book Review: When I Was the Greatest

Kid’s Book Review: When I Was the Greatest

About the Book, Author and Illustrator

When I Was the Greatest is a novel set in a troubled borough of Brooklyn, New York. The story is seen through the eyes of the main character, Ali who is an avid boxer. He lives with his sister Jazz and his mother Doris in a small apartment building. When he meets the brothers Noodles and Needles, nicknamed by his sister, they become his new best friends.

Noodles suffers from the condition Tourette’s which makes life difficult for Ali. This is particularly true when the trio attend a prestigious MoMo party in the neighbouring block and Needles gets badly beaten. His brother Noodles does not defend him but with a strong sense of loyalty, Ali uses his boxing skills to protect his friend.


When I was the Greatest
Jason Reynolds

Jason Reynolds is an American author who writes novels and poetry for young adult and middle-grade audiences, including Long Way Down 

Akhran Girmay is a Bristol based Illustrator and graduate of Falmouth University in Cornwall. He is enthralled by storytelling from ancient mythologies and enjoys himself the act of world building, using a mixture of fantasy and folktales to create areas for escapism. Through these processes he takes inspiration from both his own authored narratives as well as pre-existing texts. Often his stylistic objective is to produce textured and coarse illustrations through use of traditional media and with a focus on dynamic and bold characterisations. You can follow him on Instagram.


Book Review

What I really loved about this story was how Jason Reynolds developed his characters, so it felt like you were actually part of the rocky ride that the boys experienced.

What I really loved about this story was how Jason Reynolds developed his characters, so it felt like you were actually part of the rocky ride that the boys experienced. It’s a heart-felt journey that showcases the strength of family bonds and the importance of friendships within communities. The conversational dialogue enables you to empathise with the characters and at times is quite humorous.

The detailed full page black and white illustrations created by Akhran Girmay bring the words in the story to life in a powerful and realistic way. This further enables you to feel amongst the characters as the story progresses. [See a couple of examples below.]

The story also enabled me to gain a greater understanding of what life is like for someone with the condition Tourette’s Syndrome and how they would cope with the pressures of the outside world.

I would thoroughly recommend this book as it really captures the importance of family and friendships as well as helping you to understand what life is like for a teenage boy growing up in a deprived area of America.

Here is a link to my review of the illustrated edition of All American Boys that is written and illustrated by the same people and also published by Faber.

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Reviewer Profile

Reviewer Photo
  • Name: Jacob
  • Age: 14 years
  • Likes: sport, history and holidays
  • Dislikes: early mornings and onions
  • Favourite Book: Scythe By Neil Shusterman
  • Favourite Song: Feel Good Inc. by Gorrilaz
  • Favourite Film: Star Wars