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6 march 2020

Patina is the second of Jason Reynolds' Track series, the longest, and the one where the male author takes the risk of writing in a middle-school girl's voice.

Patina runs the 800 for the Defenders, and in her novel, which conveys a good deal of training doctrine and race strategy, she is preparing to run a 4x800 relay with her teammates. In parallel, Patina prepares to give a school-project presentation on the artist Frida Kahlo. In each endeavor, she must negotiate personalities and shine as an individual while contributing to a team.

Like her teammate Ghost, Patina is growing up without a father. Ghost's checked out on his family by turning violently against them. Patina's, a literally sweet man who thrived on dreams of becoming a pastry chef, simply up and died one day. Her bereft mother gorged herself into diabetic disability, and Patina and her younger sister Maddie have fallen to the charge of Tony and "Momly," their godparents. Now at an exclusive school, the girls have to negotiate being the poor kids, being the black kids, and being the kids with the white mom who surprises the other kids. But Patina eventually learns that not all the girls at her new school are rich and forbidding, and that some will even appreciate her for more than her group-project-enhancing knowledge of Frida Kahlo.

A heavy burden of parental trauma descends on Patina and young Maddie, though. Already dealing with their father's death and their mother's disability, they then experience a car crash that temporarily disables their adoptive Momly. The girls themselves are OK (Patina wasn't in the car, and Maddie is unhurt), but life is always one accident away from going seriously sideways for these young women. Reynolds does a good job of showing the uncertainty of lives conducted not far above the threadbare American safety net.

Patina has a strong voice, though. Unlike Ghost, who conveys a lot of self-doubt and irony, Patina is brash to others and conducts a spirited internal dialogue with herself. She has anxieties, but few weaknesses, and she seems to will herself to win races.

Will her team win the big relay? In what becomes a Track-Series formula after a single repetition, we are left with a mid-race cliffhanger (as also in Ghost), and we'll have to turn to the next book, Sunny, to see how Patina fares in the anchor leg.

Reynolds, Jason. Patina. 2017 New York: Atheneum [Simon & Schuster], 2018.