Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book Review: Patina by Jason Reynolds (2017)

Patina is the second book of Jason Reynolds's Track series which began last year with Ghost. Patina, also known as Patty, is another member of the Defenders track team, and like Ghost, she has a complicated family situation. Her father died just after the birth of her younger sister, Maddy, and her mother, who has diabetes, has lost both of her legs to the disease, leaving her unable to care for the children on her own.  Patty and Maddy now live with their uncle and aunt, whom they call Momly, and visit with their mom on weekends. After facing so much loss in her own life, Patty really can't stand to lose on the track, nor does she always work well in situations where she has to rely on others. This aversion to teamwork becomes a challenge when she is assigned a group project in school and asked to run relays for the Defenders.

Like the previous book, this one also had a strong sense of voice, but I found it took me a while longer to warm up to Patty than to Ghost. I liked him right away; my affection for her grew more slowly over the course of several chapters. Whether this is intentional on the part of the author or not, I'm not sure, but it does seem consistent with Patty's personality that I would feel a certain amount of distance from her until I got to know what exactly motivates her and makes her tick. Overall, she is a well-developed and multi-layered character, as are her family members and other supporting characters, and I did grow to like her, even if I wasn't quite as in love with her character as I was with Ghost.

It's hard not to compare a book like this to works of Chris Crutcher, which also focus on overcoming hardship through sports, but whereas sometimes Crutcher's characters seem to have too many problems, that is never the case with Reynolds. Patty's life is not easy, but every single problem she faces is handled realistically, fairly, and with great sympathy. This book does not have much of a central conflict, which does make it feel weaker than the first one, but it handles the smaller, everyday problems of life very well, and I think middle school kids, especially, can relate to the various incidents that make up Patty's life, even if they haven't had the exact same experiences.

It appears that this entire series is going to work as a relay race. Patina picks up exactly where Ghost left off, and this book also has a very abrupt ending, which presumably will lead right into Sunny, which is due out in April 2018. I like the way the books slip in and out of each other, and I think the handing off of the narrative from one character to the next works very effectively, especially in the context of a track team. I look forward to seeing where Reynolds takes these characters on their next lap.

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