About the Author
Jason Reynolds is crazy. About stories. He is a New York Times bestselling author, a National Book Award Honoree, a Kirkus Award winner, a Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award Winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors. His debut novel was When I Was the Greatest and was followed by Boy in the Black Suit and All American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely); As Brave As You; Jump Anyway; and the first two books in the Track series, Ghost and Patina. You can find his ramblings at JasonWritesBooks.com.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
As Brave As You ONE
#460: Poop. Poop is stupid. Stupid poop. Stupid. Poopid. Poopidity. Is poopidity a word?
Genie stood a few feet away from Samantha’s shabby old doghouse, scribbling a mess of words in his notebook. His older brother, Ernie, was luring the mutt to a cleaner spot in the yard with a big pot of leftover chicken, bacon, grits, greens, and whatever else was for doggy breakfast.
“Okay, that should keep her busy for a few minutes,” Ernie said, successful. He walked over to the side of Grandma and Grandpop’s house, grabbed a rusty shovel, then came back to Genie and started scooping up crusty piles of dog poop.
“What I wanna know is what you ’bout to do with that mess?” Genie asked, pinching and pulling his shorts out of his butt. Ma must not have noticed how much he had grown since the year before when she packed all his old summer clothes.
“If you put that notebook down, you’ll see,” Ernie said, holding the shovel out and walking toward the back of the house where all the trees were. When he got close enough to the wood line, he looked over his shoulder. Genie shoved the small notebook into his back pocket. “You watchin’?” Ernie called out, making sure all eyes were on him.
Genie hustled over. “Yeah.” Ernie flashed a sly grin, one that worked perfectly with his dark shades. Then, without giving any kind of warning, he cocked the shovel back and flung it forward. The poop flew into the air and out into the woods, slapping against the trees and exploding.
“Ooh yeah!” Ernie cheered, holding his shovel up as if he had just scored a touchdown.
Genie gaped, his mouth falling open as Ernie came back to scoop up more dog crud. “You just gon’ stand there, or you gon’ get in on this?” Ernie asked, chin-pointing to the other shovel leaning against the side of the house.
No way was Genie going to miss out on slinging poop. On poopidity? No. Way. How often does anybody get to catapult doo-doo into a forest? Never. Genie ran and grabbed the other shovel.
“Get this one,” Ernie said, stabbing at a gross mound, still stinky.
Genie grimaced, but he slid the shovel under the poop, grimaced again at the scratchy sound of metal on dirt, then lifted it and followed Ernie back to the tree line.
“Go for it,” Ernie said, nodding.
Genie put one foot forward, holding the shovel as if it were a baseball bat and he was about to attempt the worst bunt in history. He whipped the shovel forward, but not nearly hard enough. The poop plopped down only about a foot away. It was a pretty sad throw, and it was way too close to being a situation where poop was splattered all over Genie’s Converses. Yeah, they were already covered in dust, but dust is one thing, even mud he could handle, but dog poop? There’s no coming back from that.
“You gotta fling it, Genie. Fling it.” Ernie demonstrated with a few ghost flings. “You see that tree over there?”
Genie looked out at all the trees in front of them and wondered which one Ernie was talking about. It was pretty much . . . a forest. Trees were everywhere. And Ernie wasn’t really pointing at any one in particular. He just said that tree over there as if one of the trees had been marked with a sign that said THIS TREE, DUMMY. But Ernie was always on him about asking too many questions, so Genie just nodded.
“Watch and learn, young grasshoppa.” Ernie held the shovel low, letting it hang behind him before hurling its contents into the woods. It splat against a tree. Perfect shot. It must’ve been the one Ernie was aiming for, because he threw his hands up in celebration again. “Bang, bang! Got it!” he howled. “Now, try again.”
Genie picked up another clump, questions flying all over the place like those flies on the . . . poopidity. Why was there so much of it in the first place? Did nobody else care that there was mess all over the yard? When was the last time the yard had been poop-scooped? Genie tried to mimic Ernie’s every move. He held the shovel low and let it drop back behind him a little so that he could get some good momentum. We’re talking technique here. Sophisticated stuff.
“Aim for that old house back there,” Ernie said, pointing into the woods. Genie focused and counted off. One, two, and on three, he swung his whole body, a kind of broke-down golf swing, the mess whipping from the shovel head. Genie definitely got some air on it this time! But he hadn’t quite figured out how to aim it—Ernie left that part out. The poop zipped off behind him, slamming into a window in the back of the house. The wrong house. His grandparents’ house.
“Genie!” Ernie shouted, his eyes bugging. And right after that came Grandma.
“Genie!” she called out. “Ernie! What in Sam Hill are y’all doin’?”
Grandma was the one who put Ernie and Genie on poop patrol in the first place, in case you were wondering. Neither one of them had ever had to shovel poop out of anybody’s yard before, because first of all, in Brooklyn, most people don’t have yards. And secondly, most Brooklyn folks just pick it up with plastic Baggies whenever a dog does his doo on the sidewalk. Not everybody, but the majority. But there were no sidewalks here in North Hill, Virginia. No brownstones with the cement stoops where you could watch the buses, ice cream trucks, and taxis ride by. Nope. North Hill, Virginia, was country. Like country country. And Genie and Ernie were staying there in a small white house on the top of a hill. Grandma and Grandpop’s house. For a month. Like thirty whole days.
The boys had arrived two nights earlier after a long, cramped ride in the back of their dad’s old Honda. Cramped at least for Genie, because Ernie, in a cheeseburger coma, had stretched out on the backseat as if it were his own personal couch, forcing Genie to be smushed against the window for most of the trip. Genie had thought about playing Pete and Repeat by mimicking Ernie’s nasty snores, but then he realized it wouldn’t matter because Ernie wasn’t awake to get annoyed by it anyway. And that was the whole point of that game. So to take his mind off the discomfort of being trapped under Ernie’s leg, stewing in the thick silence between his folks, who had managed to not talk to each other for the past four hours, Genie flipped through pages of his notebook—where he kept his best questions. Some had already been answered, and some were still mysteries. He landed on one that he had totally forgotten about—#389: Do honey badgers eat honey?—then tried telling his parents about how he’d read on the Internet that honey badgers actually do eat honey and how many of them have been stung to death by bees because they wanted honey from the hive so bad. The toughest, craziest animal ever.
“They’re like weasels or somethin’. But tougher, know what I’m sayin’? Like, they’re small, but they ain’t scared to get busy, even on lions,” Genie had rambled. The fact that his parents had neither asked him about honey badgers, or even knew why he cared about them in the first place, never stopped him from offering up random info at random times. That was sort of his thing. He was different from Ernie in that way. Genie was the kind of kid who kept a small jacked-up notebook and pen in his pocket just so that he could jot down interesting things whenever they came. The point was to keep a list—a numbered list—of all the things he needed to Google, because to Genie, the more questions you had, the more answers you could find. And the more answers you found, the more you knew. And the more you knew, the less you made mistakes. Genie wasn’t about mistakes.
Ernie, on the other hand, was the kind of kid who wore sunglasses 24/7 just to make sure everybody knew he was cool, and to him, the biggest mistake anyone could make was not to be. That, and not being able to defend yourself. As a matter of fact, one of the only times Ernie didn’t wear his shades was whenever he was doing karate, which he had been learning since he was seven. He was a brown belt, or as he put it, a “junior black belt.” Genie loved to watch Ernie’s matches and tournaments, but not quite as much as he loved to watch Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. Ernie, on the other hand, liked to watch girls. Genie liked to build model cars. Ernie . . . liked to watch girls.
“Boy, if you don’t go to sleep, I’m a honey your badger,” Ma had droned from the front seat after Genie finished telling her about the video he’d seen of a honey badger actually taking on a lion. She was staring out the window, and had been the entire time they’d been on the road. Genie sucked his teeth. That was when Dad adjusted the rearview mirror so that he could see Genie.
“Son, tell me something.” He darted his exhausted-looking eyes from the rearview back to the road. “How much you know about sloths?”
“Sloths?” Genie thought for a moment. “Well, I know they’re lazy, and they sleep all the time,” he answered reluctantly, feeling the setup coming.
“Uh-huh,” Dad said, flat. He glanced back in the mirror. “See where I’m goin’ with this?”
Genie sucked his teeth again. He knew exactly where Dad was going with it. Straight to Genie please be quiet and go to sleep town.
But Genie didn’t go straight to sleep, even though that was what his parents wanted. Instead, he stared out the window, like Ma, for about an hour, peering into the darkness, thinking about his girlfriend, Shelly, and his best friend, Aaron. He wondered if they were going to do all the things they always did in the summer, like play in the hydrant and buy rocket pops from the ice cream man, without him. If they were going to miss his rants and all his knowledge about random animals and insects, and if Shelly would be able to spot a bedbug like he had taught her. He wondered if Aaron would try to impress Shelly with his backflips (girls love dudes who can do backflips) and if she’d eventually fold to his flippin’ charm and kiss him. Of course, if she did, it would be a loaner kiss, Genie decided. A kiss to make up for the fact that he wasn’t there. Nothing real. Genie sat there thinking about all these things, annoyed by his brother’s snoring, listening to his parents not say a word, totally unsure about what was going to happen when they finally got to Virginia. The only thing he did know for sure was why they were going to the country in the first place, why he and Ernie had to spend a whole month away from Brooklyn for the first time ever.
It all had to do with Jamaica. Well, really it all had to do with his parents “not saying a word.” They were “having problems,” which Genie knew was just parent-talk for maybe/possibly/probably divorcing. They said they needed some time to try to figure it all out. When his mother first told him about the “problems,” all Genie could think about was what his friend Marshé Brown told him when her parents got divorced, and how she never saw her father again. When he asked his mother about whether he was going to have to choose which parent he wanted to live with, or if he and Ernie were going to have to split up too, all she said was, “No matter what, me and your daddy love you both. Always.” But that didn’t really answer the question, which made it clear in Genie’s mind that “figuring it out”—which, by the way, was supposed to happen in Jamaica, the first vacation his parents were taking without him and Ernie—really meant figuring out which parent got which kid, which, of course, meant this would probably also be the last vacation his parents would be taking without them. And it got Genie thinking about who he’d want to live with, Ma or Dad, which led to him scribbling a list in the dark. Really, two lists.
Living with Dad
Pro: I’d be safe from fires and thieves.
Con: Dad works all the time and is never home.
Con: So I probably wouldn’t be safe from fires and thieves.
Pro: I could watch scary movies.
Con: Dad can’t cook.
Con: Dad stinks almost all the time, because of work.
Living with Ma
Pro: She can cook, real good.
Pro: She never ever stinks.
Con: She won’t let me watch scary movies.
Con: I don’t know if she can protect me from fire and thieves.
Con: Which means I’d have to protect her, and I don’t know karate!
Eventually, after going back and forth in his mind about who he’d want to live with, and messily jotting his thoughts in the notebook, the smooth, dark road hypnotized Genie, finally coaxing him to sleep. He hadn’t even realized he had drifted off until he was awakened by the sound of tree limbs scraping the sides of the car. The Honda was bumping its way up a hill, and the limbs looked like long fingers on big stick hands trying to get in and grab him. It was still dark, Dad had his window cracked, letting some air in, and he had changed the music from slow jams to nineties hip-hop.
“We here?” Genie muttered, wiping sleep from his eyes. He looked out the window but couldn’t see anything except branches. The car dipped and bucked every few seconds as Dad kept slamming on the brakes to avoid potholes.
“Jesus! This road is a mess,” he fumed, turning the radio off so he could concentrate. Genie quickly patted the space beside him on the seat, searching for his pen. Once he found it, he flipped to the next page of his notebook. #440: Does turning the radio off help you drive better? he scrawled as Ma turned to him and flashed a sleepy smile.
“Yes, honey, we’re here.” The skin on her face looked heavy, and Genie wondered if she had slept at all during the ride. Actually, the skin on her face had been looking heavy for a few months. Since her and Dad had the big blowup where she screamed, like screamed screamed, and told him that all his time went to work and the boys, but he could never seem to make time for her. Ernie and Genie had been outside having a snowball fight, and Down the Street Donnie, known for being a jerk, had covered a quarter in snow and zinged it at Genie. Zapped him straight in the eye. Ernie had run over to check on him and when he saw the coin, most of the snow knocked off, he commenced to karatisizing Down the Street Donnie, all the way . . . down the street. Meanwhile, Genie had run inside, his palm to his eye, and stepped right into Ma and Dad’s crossfire over how she was feeling neglected. The swelling around Genie’s eye eventually went away. But the heavy on Ma’s face never did.
Anyway, the point was, Genie hoped Ma had gotten some sleep on the way to Virginia, because the one thing he thought he knew about Virginia, he was right about. It was far. Way too far to be awake the whole time.
Ernie, on the other hand, had slept the entire trip—was still asleep, his mouth hanging wide open in that way that made the bottom half of his face look like it was melting, his sunglasses lopsided, only covering one eye. Genie pushed Ernie’s leg off him, but it snapped right back up to its place on Genie’s lap as if it were spring-loaded.
“Ern, wake up,” Genie said, jamming his fingers into Ernie’s thigh. “We here.” Ernie didn’t budge. “Ern!” Genie cried out, loud enough for Ma to hear. She turned around and slapped Ernie’s leg. He snapped awake, confused, fixing his shades and wiping spit off his chin with the bottom of his T-shirt.
As the car approached the top of the hill, the sound of a dog barking came out of nowhere. Genie pressed his face against the window. Was that Grandma and Grandpop’s dog? What was it doing outside? Did they know it had gotten loose? Was Grandpop up this time of the night walking it?
“Ernie, you remember Samantha?” Dad...
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