"When I Was the Greatest" by Jason Reynolds, Chapters 1–3

In his debut novel, award-winning writer Jason Reynolds tells the story of Ali, a teenager who tries to stay out of trouble in his gritty Brooklyn neighborhood. But when one of his friends is attacked, Ali is drawn into a real fight – with real consequences.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1–3, Chapters 4–6, Chapters 7–9, Chapters 10–12, Chapters 13–16

Here are links to our lists for other books by Jason Reynolds: All American Boys, The Boy in the Black Suit, Long Way Down, Ghost, Patina
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definitions & notes only words
  1. queasy
    feeling nausea
    "But if I got bad breath, forever, then I might not ever be able to kiss the ladies. So, I guess I gotta go with licking the ground, man."
    Just saying it made me queasy.
  2. bodega
    small shop selling groceries, especially in a Hispanic area
    We got bodegas on both ends, which is cool, and a whole bunch of what my mom calls "interesting" folks who live in the middle.
  3. raspy
    unpleasantly harsh or grating in sound
    His voice was kind of raspy.
  4. gruff
    brusque and surly and forbidding
    "Ali, can you bring my bread inside!"—I totally forgot!—"And come on and eat before this food gets cold," she said in her usual gruff tone, but then turned toward Noodles, and said all nice and kind, "and you're welcome to come eat too, sweetheart."
  5. literally
    without exaggeration
    It was one of the scenes where Bruce was upset and was turning green and becoming the Hulk. Noodles had literally redrawn the whole thing perfectly, every muscle, every hair.
  6. pucker
    gather something into small wrinkles or folds
    She said Noodles looked so scared, and that his lips were poking out and puckered so tight that it looked like he was slurping spaghetti.
  7. syndrome
    a pattern of symptoms indicative of some disease
    She said the proper term for it is Tourette syndrome.
  8. blurt
    utter impulsively
    She said that what happens is he blurts out all kinds of words whenever his brain tells him to.
  9. paranoid
    suffering from delusions of persecution or grandeur
    Despite the head swipes, Noodles was super-protective over his brother, and paranoid that people were laughing at him.
  10. commotion
    a disorderly outburst or tumult
    It was a Sunday, and my mother was by the window and heard a bunch of commotion coming from outside.
  11. smirk
    a smile expressing smugness or scorn instead of pleasure
    You know when you have to smile but you don't want nobody to see you smile, but it almost hurts to hold it in, so it comes out like a weird smirk? Needles did that weird smirk.
  12. brainstorm
    a clear, often sudden understanding of a complex situation
    I threw out a few suggestions, like the hardware store, or the grocery store, but none of them were really making any sense. Then Noodles had a brainstorm.
  13. incense
    a substance that produces a fragrant odor when burned
    They even got a spot that sells TVs, Jamaican flags, leather jackets, and incense all in the same place.
  14. rant
    talk at length in a noisy, excited, or angry manner
    And even though he is always ranting about politics, he's still a cool dude, and everybody respects him because he has the cheapest cuts in town.
  15. chime in
    break into a conversation
    "Oh, Knit Wit, it's right over there. In the middle of the block," the older woman said. She pointed and smiled, and I just smiled back, a little embarrassed.
    "Not for us," Noodles chimed in. "For my brother."
  16. size up
    look at critically, searchingly, or in minute detail
    I watched as Noodles sized up the yarns to see which black was the best black for Needles.
  17. sorority
    a social club for female undergraduates
    I wondered if they were just a group of random women or if they were some sort of crew, like a sorority or something.
  18. suspicious
    arousing distrust
    He wasn't doing a great job at not being suspicious.
  19. blab
    speak (about unimportant matters) rapidly and incessantly
    It's like he felt tougher whenever he started blabbing about it, gassing his own head up, turning the story into a much bigger deal than it really was.
  20. stunt
    a difficult or unusual or dangerous feat
    Noodles tells a group of little kids playing in the hydrant about some stunt he pulled.
  21. reluctantly
    with a certain degree of unwillingness
    "Yes," I replied reluctantly, feeling like I was snitching on my dude, but my mom had a way of getting the truth out of me.
  22. bail
    secure the release of (someone) by providing security
    She told me she'd be kidding herself to think otherwise, and that she understood what it was like to be a loyal friend, and that she had bailed my father out time and time again the same way, until she just couldn't do it anymore.
  23. eventually
    after an unspecified period of time or a long delay
    Of course, the money ran out eventually, which meant rent couldn't get paid.
  24. draft
    engage somebody to enter the army
    He was drafted. He said back in those days wasn't no black kids just signing up to fight.
  25. discipline
    a system of rules of conduct or method of practice
    When I asked him what he learned from the army, he said he learned discipline, brotherhood, and most importantly, how to box.
  26. crusty
    having a hardened outer part as a covering
    The liquor on his breath was always there, just like the tears caked and crusty in the corners of his eyes.
  27. pathetic
    deserving or inciting pity
    He followed up with, "Now look at them. It's okay. That way the pathetic legless elephant can disappear, and we can get the hell on with it."
  28. spar
    box lightly
    It's just a big open space for sparring, and over on the side he's got a few dumbbells, a weight bench, a speed bag, and two punching bags, one hanging from the ceiling and one on a stand.
  29. jab
    a quick short straight punch
    Malloy barked as I threw my right jab at this kid, Jamaal Crowder.
  30. distract
    draw someone's attention away from something
    I guess the stupid yarn situation was still bugging me— distracting me.

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