Skip to Main Content

Kirkus Award Finalist

Schneider Family Book Award Winner

Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book

In this “pitch-perfect contemporary novel” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), Coretta Scott King – John Steptoe Award-winning author Jason Reynolds explores multigenerational ideas about family love and bravery in the story of two brothers, their blind grandfather, and a dangerous rite of passage.

Genie’s summer is full of surprises. The first is that he and his big brother, Ernie, are leaving Brooklyn for the very first time to spend the summer with their grandparents all the way in Virginia—in the COUNTRY! The second surprise comes when Genie figures out that their grandfather is blind. Thunderstruck and—being a curious kid—Genie peppers Grandpop with questions about how he covers it so well (besides wearing way cool Ray-Bans).

How does he match his clothes? Know where to walk? Cook with a gas stove? Pour a glass of sweet tea without spilling it? Genie thinks Grandpop must be the bravest guy he’s ever known, but he starts to notice that his grandfather never leaves the house—as in NEVER. And when he finds the secret room that Grandpop is always disappearing into—a room so full of songbirds and plants that it’s almost as if it’s been pulled inside-out—he begins to wonder if his grandfather is really so brave after all.

Then Ernie lets him down in the bravery department. It’s his fourteenth birthday, and, Grandpop says to become a man, you have to learn how to shoot a gun. Genie thinks that is AWESOME until he realizes Ernie has no interest in learning how to shoot. None. Nada. Dumbfounded by Ernie’s reluctance, Genie is left to wonder—is bravery and becoming a man only about proving something, or is it just as important to own up to what you won’t do?

A Reading Group Guide to

As Brave As You

By Jason Reynolds

About the Book

Eleven-year-old Genie loves to ask questions; he keeps a notebook filled with them. When his parents decide they need a summer alone to try to save their marriage, he and his older brother Ernie are sent to rural Virginia to stay with grandparents they hardly know. Compared with Brooklyn, Virginia is completely strange, and it’s not long before Genie discovers a whole new set of questions for his notebook: Why is Grandpop afraid to go outside? What’s the story behind the weird yellow house in the woods? What secret is Grandpop hiding?

When Grandpop tells the boys that he’s going to teach Ernie how to shoot a gun on his fourteenth birthday, Genie has to ask the hardest questions of his life. He learns that real courage has nothing to do with shooting a gun, and everything to do with facing your fears and admitting the truth when you’ve made a mistake.

Discussion Questions

1. Describe the similarities and differences between Ernie and Genie. How can you tell that Genie looks up to his older brother? How do you think Ernie feels about Genie?

2. Why are Ernie and Genie staying with their grandparents for the summer? How do the boys feel about spending a summer in the country? Why hasn’t Genie met his grandfather before now?

3. Genie refers to a game he calls Pete and Repeat. Based on context clues, how do you think you play the game?

4. How is life in the country different from life in the city for Genie and Ernie? What do the boys like about the country? What do they dislike about it? Have you ever spent time in a place that is totally different from your own home, like a camp or a relative’s house in a different town? What was the best thing about your experience? What was the worst thing?

5. Why didn’t Genie’s family tell him that his grandfather was blind? Do you understand Grandpop’s reasoning for keeping his blindness a secret?

6. How does Genie react when he sees his grandfather’s gun? Why is the gun so important to Grandpop?

7. Describe the development of Genie’s relationship with his grandfather. What do you think draws the two of them together?

8. Describe Grandpop’s special “outside” room. Why do you think he created this room? How is it similar to the old yellow house? What does Genie think the tree and the birds might represent?

9. Examine how guilt impacts the relationships in the novel. For example, Genie is consumed by his guilt over the death of Michael Jackson and breaking Wood’s model. Do you think either of the accidents were Genie’s fault? Why does he try to hide his mistakes from others? Who else struggles with guilt?

10. Throughout the novel, Genie demonstrates empathy for others. Find an example of a time when Genie is empathetic. Why is empathy important?

11. What is a flea market? Have you ever been to one? Based on the description of the one Genie and Ernie attend with their grandmother, how is a flea market different from a regular store? What is the most interesting thing that happens at the flea market?

12. Who is Tess? How does she show that she is a good friend to Ernie?

13. Who is Crab? How does he know Genie’s grandparents? Do you think he is a good friend? Explain your answer using evidence from the text.

14. Many of the characters in the novel struggle with fear: Genie, Ernie, Grandpop, Uncle Wood, Tess’s mother. What frightens each of these characters? How do they respond to their fear?

15. As Ernie’s fourteenth birthday approaches, what tradition does Grandpop plan to continue? Who started the tradition, and why did they feel that it was important? Why does Grandpop need Crab’s help to carry on the tradition?

16. Compare Ernie and Genie’s initial responses to the birthday tradition. Why is Genie surprised by his brother’s response? What ends up happening when Ernie tries to shoot Grandpop’s gun? How does this experience change Ernie, Genie, and Grandpop?

17. Have you ever tried to hide a mistake? What happened? Paraphrase the story Grandpop tells Genie about his father and Barnabas Saint. What does this story have to do with the themes of guilt and learning to admit to your mistakes?

18. At the end of the novel, how have the characters changed? Which character has changed the most?

19. Summarize the different response each of the characters in the book has to guns. Which character’s response is the most similar to your own?

20. After you’ve finished the book, look back at the book cover and explain what is happening in this scene. Who are the characters in the image? How can you tell? What is significant about the house on the cover? Why are there so many birds? Some of the birds in the picture resemble white doves: What do you think these birds might represent?

Extension Activities

1. Throughout the novel, Genie keeps a running list of questions to research later. Make your own version of Genie’s question notebook and list all the questions that you have over the course of a day (or week). Using a search engine like Google, choose several of the questions to research and answer and present your findings to your classmates.

2. When Grandpop tells Genie about his family history, he mentions Jim Crow and the murder of Emmitt Till, but Genie doesn’t really understand this era of American history: “Genie had learned some of this in his social studies class—racism, slavery. Question for later: Who was Jim Crow?” Research the Jim Crow laws and the importance of Emmett Till. How does understanding this era help you understand the story of Genie’s great-grandfather and Barnabas Saint?

3. Tess sells art made from recycled art at the flea market, and when she meets Genie and Ernie, she shows them how to flatten bottle caps with a hammer and turn them into earrings. Create a piece of art from recycled materials and have a class flea market or art show displaying the creations. Pinterest can provide ideas to get you started.

4. Genie uses root words, prefixes, and suffixes to create new words like poopidity andkaratisizing. Research word etymology and learn how new words get created. How can word endings change a word’s classification as a part of speech (noun, adjective, adverb, verb)? Using a list of common prefixes and suffixes, create a class dictionary of “new words.” Define the meaning of each word, draw an illustration, and use each word in a sentence.

5. In the novel, Genie spends time with his grandfather, and he learns about his family history. Choose an elderly relative, neighbor, or family friend to interview about their life and document your interview in a report. If possible, get permission to record audio or video of the interview. The nonprofit organization Citylore has resources to help young people learn how to conduct an interview: http://tinyurl.com/j8m44bv

6. Write a short story about one of the characters in the novel that helps answer a question you have about them or further develops their character. For example, you might write a story that works as a flashback and explains why Ernie is afraid to shoot a gun or what caused Tess’s mother to become a hypochondriac. You might even choose to explore what happens to a character after the end of the novel.

7. Grandpop creates a secret space with his “outside room.”If you were able to build your own special secret space, what would it look like? Write a descriptive essay about your dream hideaway or secret room, or draw a detailed illustration. You can extend this activity by building a 3-D or virtual model of the room.

Guide written in 2016 by Amy Jurskis, English Department Chair at Oxbridge Academy.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
James J. Reddington

Jason Reynolds is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, a Newbery Award Honoree, a Printz Award Honoree, a two-time National Book Award finalist, a Kirkus Award winner, a two-time Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award Winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors. Reynolds is also the 2020–2021 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. His many books include When I Was the Greatest, The Boy in the Black Suit, All American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely), As Brave as You, For Every One, the Track series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and Lu), Look Both Ways, and Long Way Down, which received a Newbery Honor, a Printz Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Honor. He lives in Washington, DC. You can find his ramblings at JasonWritesBooks.com.

Eleven-year-old Brooklynite Genie has"worry issues," so when he and his older brother, Ernie, are sent toVirginia to spend a month with their estranged grandparents while their parents"try to figure it all out," he goes into overdrive.First, hediscovers that Grandpop is blind. Next, there's no Internet, so the questionshe keeps track of in his notebook (over 400 so far) will have to go un-Googled.Then, he breaks the model truck that's one of the only things Grandma still hasof his deceased uncle. And he and Ernie will have to do chores, like pickingpeas and scooping dog poop. What's behind the "nunya bidness door"?And is that a gun sticking out from Grandpop's waistband? Reynolds'middle-grade debut meanders like the best kind of summer vacation but neverloses sense of its throughline. The richly voiced third-person narrative,tightly focused through Genie's point of view, introduces both brothers andreaders to this rural African-American community and allows them to relax andexplore even as it delves into the many mysteries that so bedevil Genie,ranging from "Grits? What exactly are they?" to, heartbreakingly,"Why am I so stupid?" Reynolds gives his readers uncommonlywell-developed, complex characters, especially the completely believable Genieand Grandpop, whose stubborn self-sufficiency belies his vulnerability andwhose flawed love both Genie and readers will cherish.This pitch-perfectcontemporary novel gently explores the past's repercussions on the present.(Fiction. 9-12)

– Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW, 4/15/16

"This pitch-perfect contemporary novel gently explores the past's repercussions on the present." - Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Reynolds first foray into middle-grade fiction follows the path of other stellar writers like Christopher Paul Curtis and Rita Williams-Garcia, who have brought their young protagonists home to meet the family. Our narrator is 11-year-old Genie, a worrier from Brooklyn who’s headed, along with his older brother Ernie, to his grandparents’ home in backwoods Virginia. There’s culture shock aplenty (no internet, no TV), plus the more visceral earthquake of learning Grandpop is blind. And the aftershocks keep coming: Grandpop carries gun. Genie’s notebook of questions—a wonderful literary technique—opens wide this thoroughly realistic narrator’s world of concerns and brings readers closer to him. The story’s richness comes in part from its evocative descriptions of place, with every sense invited to the party. Readers don’t just see the dog poop that covers the yard, they feel the weight of it as the brothers shovel it into the woods and can smell it all over the boys. But it is the intricate lacing of relationships that makes this so remarkable. There are second, even third-generations problems being worked out between fathers and sons. A Jim Crow history has had a hand in shaping the issues, but there are also personal trials, hurt, and despair that hinder resolution. Yet through his inquisitive young protagonist, Reynolds movingly shows that while sometimes love hides, it still abides.

HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Reynolds comes off the one-two punch of the award-winners The Boy in the Black Suit and All American Boys as a newly branded kidlit superstar.

– Booklist *STARRED*, May 1, 2016

Reynolds (All American Boys) aims for a younger audiencewith the story of Genie and Ernie, two Brooklyn boys spending a month withtheir grandparents in North Hill, Va., while their parents try to mend a frayedmarriage. Eleven-year-old Genie is most concerned about the lack of Internetaccess: how will he look up answers to the questions that constantly come tohim? Ernie, nearly 14, is happy enough when he meets Tess, a neighbor who givesthem the lowdown on North Hill, but neither brother has any idea that theirstay will involve picking peas in the hot sun and, for Genie, keepingsecrets—both his and those of his blind grandfather. Genie's efforts to fix hismistakes (including accidentally killing one of his grandfather's belovedbirds), his realization that the Web doesn't have all the answers, andGrandpop's struggle with guilt and forgiveness after he pushes Ernie toparticipate in a dangerous family tradition create a multifaceted story thatskillfully blends light and dark elements while showing children and adultsinteracting believably and imperfectly. Ages 10–up

– Publishers Weekly, May 9, 2016

In his terrific middle-grade debut, Jason Reynolds (WhenI Was the Greatest; Boy in the Black Suit; All American Boyswith Brendan Kiely) tells the engaging story of two African American brotherswho spend a month with their grandparents while their parents work on theirstruggling marriage. This worries 11-year-old Genie Harris. Most things do.

It doesn't take long for Genie to see how different "the little house allalone on the top of a hill" is from Brooklyn: "No brownstones withthe cement stoops where you could watch the buses, ice cream trucks, and taxisride by. Nope. North Hill, Virginia, was country. Like countrycountry." There's new food, too, like grits, or, as Genie thinks,"movie prison food." And when Genie tells Grandpop wearing sunglassesinside "makes you look crazy," he learns that his grandfather isblind. This discovery worries him, too, especially when he sees a gun in hisGrandpop's back pocket. Genie has hundreds of questions, all of which he writesdown in a numbered list for future Google searches.

Unfolding family secrets and upsetting mishaps, major and minor, keep the pagesflying, and how obsessive Genie and his "cool, confident," muscledand girl-crazy older brother, Ernie, settle in with their grandparents makesfor a poignant, profound, often very funny story, told in an easy style assmooth as Grandma's banana pudding. New revelations abound: their uncle's deathin Desert Storm, masked fears, pea-picking, loud thunder, people who eatsquirrels, the ins and outs of Grandpop's mysterious six-shooter, sweet tea andmore. As Brave As You spills over with humor and heart.

Discover: Past and present collide in Jason Reynolds's middle-gradedebut about two African American brothers from Brooklyn visiting theirgrandparents in the country.

– Shelf Awareness, STARRED REVIEW, 5/17/16

Reynolds (The Boy in the Black Suit, rev. 3/15; with Brendan Kiely, All American Boys, rev. 11/15) delivers an emotionally resonant middle-grade story of an African American family working to overcome its tumultuous past in hopes of a better future. Not-quite-teenager Genie Harris has a notebook full of questions, ranging from the superficial (“Why are swallows called swallows? did people used to eat them?”) to the introspective (“Why am I so stupid?”). But there is no question as to why he and his older brother Ernie find themselves far from their Brooklyn home with their Grandma and Grandpop in rural Virginia: their parents are “maybe/possibly/probably divorcing” and are “figuring it out” in Jamaica. Warmly told in the third person, the novel follows Genie through a series of tragicomic blunders (breaking a family heirloom; the inadvertent poisoning of Grandpop’s pet bird); minor triumphs (finding a neighbor with internet access!); and many heartfelt discussions with Grandpop, who is blind and fiercely independent, that often lead to startling familial revelations (his great-grandfather’s suicide; his uncle Wood’s untimely death during Desert Storm). Long-standing feelings of guilt, anger, and resentment reach a boiling point—and history appears to repeat itself—when Grandpop forces Ernie to shoot a gun, with misfortunate results. Genie musters up enough courage to ask his grandfather if he will ever let go of his tragic history; Grandpop’s response of “maybe” feels like a victory. A novel in the tradition of Curtis’s The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 (rev. 3/96), with deft dialogue, Northern/Southern roots, and affecting depth.

– Horn Book Magazine *Starred Review*, July/August 2016

While their parents figure out the future of their marriage, Brooklynite brothers Genie and Ernie will be spending the summer with their paternal grandparents in Virginia. There’s some bad blood between Dad and Grandpop, which has kept them apart for years, but Genie and Ernie don’t see the problem—Grandpop seems pretty great. In fact, older bro Ernie, who wears sunglasses for cool affect, is pleased to see Grandpop sports the same gear, and younger bro Genie is surprised to find that Grandpop, alone among the adults he knows, is actually willing to answer Genie’s endless questions. It turns out Grandpop isn’t being cool; glaucoma is close to totally claiming his vision. He’s mostly confined to home, but now his newly established rapport with Genie gives him incentive to tackle the outdoors. Unfortunately, false confidence outstrips ability and good sense as Grandpop insists on carrying out a coming-of-age tradition—teaching Ernie how to shoot—with disastrous results. There’s much here to remind readers of Curtis’s The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 (BCCB 1/96) with the city kids’ humorous adjustment to rural life, underpinned with a serious subplot that steadily rises in importance. Ernie and Genie actually get along well, and although Ernie is certainly striding into his teens in a way that baffles Genie, he’s a levelheaded kid whose summer romance with a neighbor is solid and sweet. Genie’s blundering helpfulness leads to a string of adventures and provides plenty of entertainment, and the mending of rifts in this African-American family delivers the warm and proper ending the cast has richly earned. -EB

– BCCB, June 2016

Reynolds’s engaging middle grade debut stars 11-year-old African American Genie Harris, an inveterate worrywart who considers Google his best friend, and his older brother Ernie, who is well on his way to being a cool dude (sunglasses and all). The born and bred Brooklynites are to spend a month with their grandparents in rural Virginia while their parents take a long overdue vacation and work out their marital problems. It is only after the boys are left in their grandfather’s care that they realize that he is blind. They are also surprised to learn that they are expected to do chores and follow their grandmother’s strict rules—and that it is possible to exist (sort of) without the Internet. While Ernie crushes on the girl who lives at the base of the hill, Genie writes down his many burning questions so he doesn’t forget them and gets to know his proud and fiercely independent grandfather. Genie barrages Grandpop with questions about his past and present abilities and about the quirky aspects of the household, especially his “nunya bidness” room, his harmonica playing, and how Grandpop might not be able to see but still packs a pistol. As the languid days unfold, the boys learn about country life and the devastating loss of the elder Harrises’ son during Desert Storm and their estrangement from their living son, the boys’ father. Grandpop Harris is a complicated, irascible character, full of contradictions and vulnerabilities, the least of which is his lack of vision. Reynolds captures the bond that Grandpop and Genie form in a tender, believable, and entertaining way, delivered through smart and funny prose and sparkling dialogue. VERDICT A richly realized story about life and loss, courage and grace, and what it takes to be a man. Although a tad lengthy, it is easy reading and will be appreciated by a broad audience.

– School Library Journal *STARRED*, May 1, 2016

  • ALA Notable Children's Books
  • Bank Street Best Books of the Year
  • William Allen White Children's Book Award Reading List (KS)
  • ALA Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book
  • Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best
  • Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Book Award (IL)
  • ALA Schneider Family Book Award
  • ALA Notable Children's Recording
  • Wisconsin State Reading Association's Reading List
  • Center for the Study of Multicultural Children's Literature Best Multicultural Books List
  • New York Public Library Best Books for Kids
  • Kirkus Prize Winner
  • USBBY Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities Award List

More books from this author: Jason Reynolds