Look Both Ways

A Tale Told in Ten Blocks

Illustrated by Alexander Nabaum

About The Book

A National Book Award Finalist!

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2019!

From National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds comes a novel told in ten blocks, showing all the different directions a walk home can take.

This story was going to begin like all the best stories. With a school bus falling from the sky. But no one saw it happen. They were all too busy—

Talking about boogers.
Stealing pocket change.
Skateboarding.
Wiping out.
Braving up.
Executing complicated handshakes.
Planning an escape.
Making jokes.
Lotioning up.
Finding comfort.
But mostly, too busy walking home.

Jason Reynolds conjures ten tales (one per block) about what happens after the dismissal bell rings, and brilliantly weaves them into one wickedly funny, piercingly poignant look at the detours we face on the walk home, and in life.

Excerpt

Water Booger Bears WATER BOOGER BEARS
THIS STORY was going to begin like all the best stories. With a school bus falling from the sky.

But no one saw it happen. No one heard anything. So instead, this story will begin like all the… good ones.

With boogers.

“If you don’t get all them nasty, half-baked goblins out your nose, I promise I’m not walking home with you. I’m not playin’.” Jasmine Jordan said this like she said most things—with her whole body. Like the words weren’t just coming out of her mouth but were also rolling down her spine. She said it like she meant it. Said it with the same don’t play with me tone her mother used whenever she was trying to talk to Jasmine about something important for her “real life,” and Jasmine turned the music up in her ears real loud to drown her mother out, and scroll on, scroll on. If you don’t take them earbugs… earbuds… airphones, or whatever they called out of your coconut head it’s gon’ be me turning up the volume and the bass, and I ain’t talking about no music.

That tone.

Jasmine’s booger-removal warning was aimed at her stuffy-nosed best friend, Terrence Jumper. TJ. Well, Jasmine called him her “best friend who’s a boy,” but she didn’t have best friends who were girls, so TJ was her best friend best friend. And she was his. Been like that for a long time. Since he moved onto Marston Street, three houses down from her. Since the only way their mothers would let them be walkers was if they walked together because they were the only kids who lived on their block. Since six years, so since forever.

The bell rang, and Jasmine and TJ had just left their last class for the day, the only class they had together. Life science with Mr. Fantana.

“You been back to school for two days and you already starting with me?” TJ spun the black lock dial confidently, like he could feel the difference in the grooves and would know when he landed on the right numbers.

“How could I not? Look at them things. Honestly, TJ, I’on’t even know how you breathing right now,” Jasmine continued. Their lockers were right next to each other, luckily, because Jasmine, unlike TJ, turned her lock with an intense concentration, glaring at it as if the combination could up and change at any second, or as if her fingers might stop working at any moment. And if for some strange reason either of those things happened, at least she knew TJ was right there to help.

TJ shrugged, tossing his science book onto the floor of the metal closet, the smell of feet wafting up from it like a cloud of dust, unsettled. And unsettling. The floor of his locker was littered with empty snack bags that Jasmine had slid through the door vent between classes over the last two days. Trash… yes. But Jasmine and TJ called them “friendship flags.” The litter of love. And because Jasmine had been gone for a while, they were basically notes that said I’ve missed you. In Cheeto dust. Then, finally, with the hardened snot like tiny stones rolled in front of the entrances of his nose, TJ turned the bottom of his shirt up and mopped it. A streak of slime smeared across his lip as he swiped and pinched and dug just enough for it to count as a dig, but not enough for it to count as diggin’.

TJ tilted his face upward so Jasmine could get a clear line of sight into his nostrils. “Better?” he asked, half sincere, half hoping there was one more booger left and that it was somehow making a mean face at Jasmine.

Jasmine stared into TJ’s nose like she was peering through a brown microscope of flesh, and she did this totally unfazed by the fact that TJ had just used his T-shirt—the one he was wearing—as a tissue. And why would she be bothered? Not that it wasn’t disgusting (it was), but she’d known him a long time. Had seen him do things that made boogers on the bottom of a T-shirt seem like nothing more than added decoration. Booger bedazzle. A little flavor for his fashion. Had seen him use his fingers to pick gum off the bottom of his sneakers (and hers), and of course nothing would ever beat the time he clapped a mosquito dead right when it had bitten him, then licked the fly slime off his arm. That one Jasmine had dared him to do. Paid him a dollar for it. Worth it, for both of them.

“Y’know, I can see straight through to your brain,” Jasmine said, pretending to still be examining. “And it turns out, there’s a whole lot of it missing.” She plucked TJ’s nose. “Sike, sike, sike, sike. Nah, you good. I guess I can be seen with you now.”

“Whatever.” Locker slam. “I mean, we all boogers anyway.”

You might be a booger.” Locker slam. “But me, I ain’t no booger.”

“That’s what you think,” TJ went on as they swapped backpacks. His was light. Jasmine’s was packed with every class’s textbook and all the world’s notebooks. Makeup work. She could’ve carried it herself, but TJ was concerned about her back, about her muscles, because she was still recovering from the attack.

They headed down the crowded corridor, noisy with sneaker squeaks and thick with end-of-day funk. “See, I’ve been thinking about this. Boogers ain’t nothing but water mixed with, like, dust and particles in the air and stuff like that—”

“How you know?” Jasmine interrupted. Knowing TJ, he could’ve heard this anywhere, like from Cynthia Sower—everybody called her Say-So—who jokes 99.99999 percent of the time.

“Looked it up online once,” TJ explained. “Was trying to figure out why they so salty.”

“Wait.” Jasmine thrust a hand up, as if walling off the rest of TJ’s words. “You eat them?”

“Come on, Jasmine. It ain’t fair to hold my past against me. Dang.” TJ shook his head. “Now, if you done interrupting, let me continue with my hypothesis.” He broke “hypothesis” down into four fragmented words to put some spice on it. High-Poth-Uh-Sis. “So, boogers are basically water and dust.” He put a finger in the air. “And human beings are mostly water, right? Ain’t that what Fantana said at the beginning of the year?”

“Right.”

“Okay, follow me. Every Sunday when we be at church, they always be talking about how God made us out of dust, right?” TJ and Jasmine went to the same church, where they sang in the youth choir together. TJ always asked Mrs. Bronson, the choir director, to let him sing solos even though his voice was all over the place. A set of wind chimes in a hurricane. And Jasmine’s singing wasn’t much better. Only difference was she knew it and would never think to ask for a solo. She loved to wear the “graduation” robes and harmonize and sway and clap, snuggling her voice into the others like drawer into dresser. Her mother always told her, Holding a note is talent enough.

Even though TJ couldn’t hold a note—that definitely wasn’t his talent—he could hold a conversation. So he continued. “God making man from dust and blowing breath into his nostrils and all that, right?”

“I… guess.”

“You think God breath stank?”

“What?”

“Never mind. Probably not.” TJ got himself back on track. “So, if God made man from dust, and now, for some reason, man—”

“And woman,” Jasmine tacked on.

“Yeah, and woman… consist of mostly water, then basically, we water and dust, right?” TJ was waving his hands around like he was drawing some grand equation on an invisible board. Jasmine didn’t say nothing, and she didn’t need to for TJ to bring his theory home. “Which means… ,” TJ concluded, and Jasmine could practically see the drumroll behind his eyes, “we all basically… boogers.”

TJ wore satisfaction on his face like good lotion, and Jasmine wore confusion on hers like she’d been slapped with a gluey palm.

“Wrong,” she clapped back.

“You ain’t gotta believe me,” TJ said, holding the door for Jasmine as they finally made it out of the building.

“Oh, I don’t.”

“You don’t have to,” TJ repeated. “But that don’t mean it ain’t true. See, no matter what you think I be doing in school, I really be learning. And seriously, I need to start teaching because while all these so-called scientists and teachers like Mr. Fantana be busy trying to figure out if aliens are real, I’ve already figured out that boogers are like… the babiest form of babies!”

This made Jasmine spit air. See, even though TJ was ridiculous and annoying and sometimes gross, she appreciated the fact that he always made her laugh whether she wanted to or not. Whether he was trying to or not. He was always there to chip some of the hard off. Tear at the toughness Jasmine had built up over the school year.

It had been a rough one for her.

It started with her parents separating and her father moving out. There was no drama around it. No fighting. Nothing ugly. Nothing like the movies. At least not that she knew of. Just a really uncomfortable conversation at the kitchen table with her folks looking at her like she was an exotic fish in a sandwich bag, darting back and forth, while she squirmed in her seat as if her skin were too tight for her body.

“We love you very much.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“Sometimes relationships change.”

“Sometimes people are better apart.”

“None of this is your fault.”

“Your father and I love you very much.”

“Your mother and I love you very much.”

Actually, that part was just like the movies. Especially the ones about girls her age. The kitchen-table conference. The follow-up knock-knock on the bedroom door. The kid cussing at the dad. The mom saying, “Language!” The weekend visits. The awkwardness of both parents asking if everything is all right,

over and over and over and over and over and over again.

And that was just the first quarter. That was before she had her worst attack. And not an attack by someone else. She ain’t get jumped or nothing. Instead her body attacked itself. Jasmine had a blood disease since birth—sickle cell anemia—which can affect almost every part of the body. Organs, joints, even vision. But for the most part it hadn’t given Jasmine any real problems. A little pain sometimes, but nothing too bad until this year when she went into full-on crisis and her body became a blaze. At least that’s what it felt like. Her hands and feet swelled like plastic gloves full of water, heavy and tight, ready to burst. Her muscles felt like they’d become wood and she imagined her bones were splintering and growing bones of their own.

Jasmine was out sick for a month. Her locker unopened. The lock, unturned.

Her mom and dad, together and apart, weirdly hovering over her hospital bed like aliens from movies even cornier than teenage family dramas. Her parents’ coldness thawed by the one and only TJ, who would show up, crack some jokes, break some ice, and leave some empty potato chip bags next to Jasmine’s bed to add to the thirty he’d left in her locker. Friendship flags.

And when Jasmine finally returned to Latimer Middle School two days ago, after being jumped with questions from classmates who’d almost never spoken to her before she got sick—people who looked at her sideways for being so close to TJ because “boys and girls can’t just be friends”—Jasmine (and the guidance counselor, Ms. Lane) had to figure out how she was going to catch up on her work. Couldn’t do it while she was laid up because she could barely move. It hurt to hold a pen. Hurt to turn a page. Which was how she knew she wasn’t a booger. Couldn’t have been a booger. She wasn’t gooey enough.

Maybe all boys are boogers. Always acting like rocks when really y’all just blobs of dusty water,” Jasmine joked as she and TJ crossed at the light, the crosswalk like a bridge leading them over the tar-water, from school to neighborhood. They turned down Portal Avenue, a route they’d taken hundreds of times. A route TJ had been forced to take alone for the last month. And even though Jasmine had been at school yesterday, her mother had been too nervous to let her walk on her first day back. So this was their first day walking home together again. “But not me,” she continued. “I mean, come on, boogers get wiped away, get blown out.”

“Okay, so if you ain’t no booger, then what are you?” TJ asked.

Jasmine shrugged. “Um… a girl? I’m me.”

“Come on, Jasmine. Work with me here.” Now TJ was spreading his arms. Talked with his body like an old street hustler trying to convince people that stolen goods are a steal. “If you ain’t no booger, but you had to be something else, what would you be?”

Jasmine thought about it as they turned left down Marston, a street lined with houses that her mother always said had been around for a long time. An old neighborhood, she’d ramble whenever they drove through newer, seemingly nicer communities, where every house looked like the last house, like a choir of homes dressed in the same robes, turned the same way, singing the same melody in the same key, which makes for a boring, boring song. But Marston Street was lined with a little bit of everything, from small brick to fancy vinyl. From bay windows to Colonial style. From ramblers all on one level to three stories. A fence here and there, a gate there and here. Grass. Gravel. Blacktop. Pavement. Everything old enough to look lived in. To look tried on. Old enough to be warm and worn by a generation or two. Maybe even three.

“I don’t know,” she said at last. “I mean, what was that thing Mr. Fantana was talking about in class today? The thing he pulled up the picture of? I mean, it kinda looked like a booger.”

“You talking about that ugly slug-looking thing? What he call it… a space bear?”

“Yeah,” she started, then stopped. “Hold up.… First of all, I ain’t no ugly thing. Just so we clear. But I’m that. A water bear.” Jasmine nodded.

“Yeah, water bear,” TJ said, chuckling. “That thing got like eight legs and it got them long nails like my old mother. And that weird mouth… like my old mother—” TJ poked his lips out, then pulled them in, then poked them out and pulled them in again as if he were chewing on a giant piece of bubble gum. “That thing would be super scary—like my old mother—if it wasn’t so teeny-tiny, which definitely ain’t like my old mother. At. All.”

“Ms. Macy not scary, boy.”

“Ms. Macy ain’t my old mother. She my new mother. And my mother mother I don’t really know like that.”

“Right… right.” Jasmine tried to keep all the mothers organized in her head. A different equation on a different invisible board.

“But my old mother…” TJ let the thought trail off, shuddering like something shot through his body. Just for a moment. A bad memory, maybe. “Anyway, why would you want to be that thing? The water bear or whatever. Can’t nobody even see it. At least we can see boogers.”

“Because of what Mr. Fantana was saying about how scientists tested that little water bear thingy, and they found out it might be the toughest living thing in the world. In the universe maybe. Said it could survive the hottest heat. And the coldest cold. And the pressurest pressure. I mean, they sent it into space—SPACE—and it came back just crawling around like ain’t nothing happen. Just crawling crawling. That’s me all day. With nails intact.” Jasmine huffed on her fingers and pretended to buff the purple-painted tips.

“Yeah, if you believe all that, I guess.”

“Well, if you can believe God made us out of dust—which I believe because you definitely the dustiest person I ever known—then I can believe Mr. Fantana about this water bear. Shoot, we probably be stepping on them every day and don’t even know it.”

TJ looked quick down at the ground, suddenly wondering what lived between the cracks in the concrete. Scratched his arms like maybe the water bears were crawling in the crevices of his dry skin and he didn’t know because he couldn’t see them. Jasmine watched him fidget. Huh. She’d never really witnessed him nervous. TJ wasn’t afraid of boogers, dog poop, eating bugs, or anything like that, but maybe that’s because he could see them. He could smash and smear and disappear them. But it dawned on her that he seemed freaked out dealing with the things that wouldn’t smash or smear. The things already invisible living all around him, and maybe even on him, and there was nothing he could do about it.

They got to TJ’s house. No gate, no fence. A patch of dry grass. The house was small and wooden like it had been built without machines. No bulldozers or anything like that. Just human hands and love and hammers and nails and more love. There was a hole in the screen door that had been there for years. TJ’s foot had done that. He said sometimes his feet get mad and do things like kick or stomp or run. Don’t blame him, he’d say. And Jasmine would laugh because his jokes were always funny even though she knew they were almost never jokes.

They sat on the steps out front, bumped shoulders, and talked more about water bears and boogers and decided that maybe they could be both.

“Water bear boogers?” Jasmine suggested while tying her shoes.

TJ offered a slight adjustment. “How about… water booger bears?”

“Ah, water booger bears.” Jasmine perked up, nodded. “I like that.”

The door opened behind them, the screen screeching a striking impression of TJ’s voice.

“I thought I heard something out here.” It was his (not-so) new mother. His mom of six years, Ms. Macy. She was dressed in her work uniform—navy pants, navy shirt with a name tag, offset by her fuzzy, dingy pink house slippers. She bent down and kissed both Jasmine and TJ on the tops of their heads, the remnants of her day now hovering around them like hard-work halos. “How was school?”

“Fine,” TJ said, smirking, sniffling, scratching.

“Pretty good,” Jasmine confirmed.

“That’s what I like to hear,” Ms. Macy said. They knew what was coming next. “So… what y’all learn today?” Even though Ms. Macy asked this question—the same question—every day, her voice was still so interested.

Jasmine looked at TJ. He looked back at her, a new booger resting in his left nostril. It seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, like boogers often do. He wiped it with the back of his hand and they both chimed in unison, like a Sunday choir.

“Nothing.”

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide to

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks

By Jason Reynolds

About the Book

Look Both Ways is composed of interconnected stories, each centering on different students at Latimer Middle School and set in one of the blocks surrounding the school. Through these ten stories, Jason Reynolds offers glimpses into the private struggles, strengths, and secrets of students who only know each other in passing. The book does not shy away from hard topics, and the characters deal with very real grief, fear, and loss with resiliency, compassion, and even humor. Realistic and moving, the book is fast-paced, funny, and empathetic, with a cast of characters that readers are sure to find relatable and likable. Look Both Ways reminds us to look at the world and the people around us more closely, and notice all the things that connect us to one another and our communities.

Discussion Questions:

1. Jasmine says if she has to be something else, she would choose to be a water bear. Water bear is the common name for an organism called a tardigrade. Research these organisms online. What makes them unique? Why do you think Jasmine would want to be one? Would you want to be a water bear too? Explain your answer.

2. Jason Reynolds writes poetry as well as prose, and he has incorporated poetic language into this novel. As you read, look for examples of figurative language. For example, list all the similes you can find in the first chapter. How does the use of poetic language impact you as a reader? Why do you think a writer might choose to use this type of language?

3. Choose one of the chapters in the book and identify specific details in the text that develop the relationship between the characters in that chapter. What details does Reynolds reveal directly? What does he reveal indirectly? Examine the way other characters respond and speak to one another, as well as their thoughts, actions, and/or appearances.

4. Why do you think the Low Cuts only steal loose change? Explain how they use the money they collect in chapter two. What do their actions reveal about their values? Did your perception of them change once you knew how they were using the money?

5. Reynolds describes the Low Cuts as a “braid of brilliance and bravado.” What does this description suggest about the group?

6. Why do you think Reynolds begins and ends the third chapter, “Bastion Street,” with a series of statements that begin with the word maybe? What do you think would have happened if Pia and Stevie talked with each other?

7. Reynolds describes Pia’s skateboard as her voice. What do you think he means by that? How are you most comfortable expressing yourself? Do you prefer to use words or some other outlet?

8. Reynolds explains that Ty knows “the anxiety of a kind of war.” What is the source of Ty’s anxiety and confusion? Why do you think Bryson defends him? Have you ever felt similarly? If so, how did you handle those feelings?

9. How would you answer Benni’s question if she asked you how you were going to change the world? What change would you like to see?

10. How does Simeon and Kenzi’s street differ from other neighborhoods in the book? Why do you think the boys call themselves brothers?

11. Explain why Satchmo is afraid of dogs. Have you ever had a bad experience that caused you to fear something? Satchmo makes an elaborate escape plan to deal with his fear. What have you found that helps you face your fear?

12. Why do you think Cynthia considers her mother her hero? How does laughter help her and her grandfather deal with grief and loss?

13. How do you think Sandra responds to Gregory after she smiles? Explain your answer.

14. The final chapter begins with a string of metaphors describing a school bus. Choose two or three metaphors that you find especially effective, and explain what you think each metaphor you selected means.

15. Which one of the chapters did you like the best? Which character did you most relate to? Explain your answers.

16. Several of the characters in the book are victims of bullying or harassment; think about Pia, Stevie, Bryson, and TJ. How do these characters respond when they are bullied or harassed? Which character do you think deals with the problem in the healthiest way? What advice would you give someone who was being bullied or harassed? What steps could you take in your community to try to prevent this kind of behavior?

17. The subtitle of Look Both Ways explains that it is a “tale told in ten blocks.” While each chapter in the book can be read as a stand-alone story, Reynolds uses repetitive images, settings, and characters to connect the stories. Identify one of these connecting devices and explain how it links the stories.

18. Although the characters in each story go to the same school and live in the same neighborhood, they don’t really know each other or understand the struggles that their classmates face. If you could orchestrate a friendship between two characters from different stories, which characters would you want to be friends? Explain your answer. Do these interactions make you think any differently about classmates or friends in your own life? Is there someone whom you’d like to get to know better?

19. “Canton smiled, knowing a school bus is many things. So is a walk home.” What do you think these last lines of the book mean? What does Canton realize after observing his classmates?

20. Why do you think Reynolds titled this book Look Both Ways? Can you think of different meanings for the title?

Extension Activities

1. Using details from the text, visualize the setting and create a map of the neighborhood around Latimer Middle School. Identify and label locations where key events in each chapter take place. How do you think the characters would react looking at your map and seeing how much goes on in the blocks surrounding their school? Think about what might go on unnoticed around your school, and discuss with your classmates.

2. Ms. Broome, the English teacher, gives a writing assignment: “[She] wanted each student to write about being something else. Not a person. A thing.” Complete this assignment, explaining what you would be and why you’ve chosen this object.

3. One of the themes running through Reynolds’s book is the value of empathy. Analyze the role that empathy plays in the novel. What effect does giving or receiving empathy have on the characters? List some of the occasions in which you see characters empathizing with one another.

4. Write your own short story using one or more characters and settings from Look Both Ways. You may want to develop the backstory of one of the characters, imagine a future incident, write from a different point of view, or have characters from different stories interact.

5. How well do you know the other kids in your school? Interview a classmate whom you don’t know very well, and then switch roles and let them interview you. What did you learn about each other? What were you most surprised to find out?

6. In the last chapter, Canton works on an assignment that requires him to “record human environmental interaction.” When he watches his schoolmates, what does he notice? Spend thirty minutes completing a similar assignment: record human environmental interaction in a place where people gather, such as a store, restaurant, school bus, sporting event, playground, or cafeteria. What do you notice about the way that people interact with each other? Is there anything you might apply to your own actions and behaviors?

Guide prepared 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.

About The Author

Ben Fractenberg

Jason Reynolds is a New York Times bestselling author, a Newbery Award Honoree, a Printz Award Honoree, National Book Award Honoree, 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. The American Booksellers Association’s 2017 and 2018 spokesperson for Indies First, his many books include When I Was the Greatest, Boy in the Black SuitAll American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely), As Brave as You, For Every One, the Track series (GhostPatinaSunny, and Lu), and Long Way Down, which received both a Newbery Honor and a Printz Honor. He lives in Washington, DC. You can find his ramblings at JasonWritesBooks.com.

Raves and Reviews

“One of the most exciting, constantly surprising voices in children’s literature…is back with another book that’s as innovative as it is emotionally arresting.” 

– EW.com, May 3, 2019

"Reynolds' gift for capturing the voices and humanity of urban teens is on full display....Brims with humor, pathos, and the heroic struggle to grow up."

– Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"This is storytelling at its finest, a true masterpiece."

– Booklist, starred review

*"Each story rings with emotional authenticity and empathy."

– Publishers Weekly, starred review

*Reynolds proves once again that he has a knack for marrying the emotionally gripping to the unabashedly silly in ways that read as both new and familiar....Charming."

– BCCB, starred review

*"The perfect book to hand to reluctant middle grade readers, who will relate to the hectic and uncertain lives of these characters."

– School Library Journal, starred review

*"Superb storytelling."

– BookPage, starred review

*"Filled with the heart and humor."

– Horn Book, starred review

"An unconventional, clever exploration of the secret trials and tribulations of middle schoolers."

– Shelf Awareness

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