His name is Castle, but he prefers to be called Ghost. He’s a fast runner. He learned to be the night his dad tried to shoot him and his mom. Now his dad is in prison and his mom works extra shifts at the hospital. Ghost spends a lot of time on his own, watching people.
One day he sees a track team practicing at the park. He thinks it’s kind of funny—running was never something he’s had to practice—so he checks out what’s going on.
There’s a cluster of moms cheering, a coach who looks like a chip-toothed turtle, and a couple dozen kids decked out in running gear and good sneakers. Turns out this is the Defenders, the best youth track team in the city.
Ghost watches for a while—warm ups, timed runs, races. There’s one sprinter, a kid the coach calls Lu, who seems to think he’s unbeatable. His mom is there jumping up and down, even for Lu’s warm ups, and the coach keeps saying things like, “Lu’s still the one to beat.” Lu is fast—Ghost is impressed watching him run—but all the fuss being made over him and the kid’s swagger rub Ghost the wrong way.
So next time Lu lines up to run, Ghost lines up too. Not on the track, but on the grass beside it. He rolls up his jeans and tucks his laces into his high tops. He’s ready to go.
The coach yells, “Kid, what are you doing? Tryouts were last week.” Lu looks him up and down and says, “Yeah, man, the track is for runners, not people who want to pretend like they runners.”
“Just blow the whistle,” Ghost says. The coach gives him one run.
Once the whistle blows, Ghost isn’t thinking. He’s just moving. Lu is a blur out the corner of his eye. Then the race is over. The rest of the team looks stunned. Lu wheezes out, “Who won? Who won, Coach?”
Genre: realistic fiction, sports
Anna’s take on it:
I’m just a few weeks in to my spring booktalk session, and I’m already seeing some clear favorites among the kids. Ghost is at the top of that list. Sixth grade boys really want to read it. (Girls too.)
When I do the booktalk, I read a short excerpt—the paragraph about the race between Ghost and Lu (page 18). I stop after “Who won, Coach?” and as soon as it’s clear I’m not saying anything more, somebody in the class has to ask, “But who won??” Recently I was booktalking all day at a big middle school. One of the girls from my first class in the morning stopped me at lunch time. “Who won the race??!” She was still thinking about it.