Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds – Book Review


Look Both Ways recounts the myriad stories of a cast of characters and their walks home from school. Through their ten tales, Jason Reynolds offers a brief glimpse into the trials and tribulations students face in their lives outside of school. From dealing with chronic illness to fighting off bullies to coping with the loss of a loved one to a parent with cancer, the novel portrays the range of conflicts in young people’s lives that often remain unknown. In doing so, it provides a powerful statement about kids and the daily burdens they carry. It brings attention to the big problems that exist in their private lives and – therefore – exist at school too, even if they are not always explicitly known.

Aspects of Look Both Ways that could be considered its weaknesses – lack of in-depth character and conflict development, short stories loosely connected, shortage of deep thematic exploration – are secretly its strengths. The short stories serve as an appetizer for a bigger story that challenges the reader to fill with their own imagination. The approach prompts the reader to consider the lives of the students after they reach home. It also asks the reader to consider the lives of individuals passed daily that may go otherwise unnoticed, such as fellow riders on a subway, those passed at work, or those they stand next to in line at the store. All those individuals have deep, private stories worth consideration as well, just the same as all the kids sitting in every classroom every day.

The move to push the reader to engage in thoughtful reflection about daily interactions demonstrates Reynolds’ skillful writing abilities. He composes vivid, powerful short stories that gently show how lives can easily be connected, if one is willing to take the time to contemplate them. His craft inspires empathy and perspective and Look Both Ways begs for discussion about each, a conversation that can benefit young people and adults alike.

Classroom Applications

  • Literature Circles – Use novel for small groups or choice reading with a variety of Jason Reynolds’ books.
  • Writing – Use the novel as a way to teach a unit about short stories or vignettes.

Nonfiction Connections: The list below outlines topics that will enrich your students’ understanding of the novel.

  • Science of First Impressions
  • Snap Judgments and Stereotypes
  • Empathy

Book Companions: The following are great books to pair with Look Both Ways. In parenthesis are the specific aspects students could explore when synthesizing across the texts.

  • Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (Themes, Character Connections)
  • The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake (Themes, Character Connections)
  • Any of Jason Reynolds’ Novels


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