“Pure gold.” —School Library Journal (starred review) “The perfect anchor leg for a well-run literary relay.” —Kirkus Reviews
Lu must learn to leave his ego on the sidelines if he wants to finally connect with others in the climax to the New York Times bestselling and award-winning Track series from Jason Reynolds.
Lu was born to be cocaptain of the Defenders. Well, actually, he was born albino, but that’s got nothing to do with being a track star. Lu has swagger, plus the talent to back it up, and with all that—not to mention the gold chains and diamond earrings—no one’s gonna outshine him.
Lu knows he can lead Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and the team to victory at the championships, but it might not be as easy as it seems. Suddenly, there are hurdles in Lu’s way—literally and not-so-literally—and Lu needs to figure out, fast, what winning the gold really means.
Expect the unexpected in this final event in Jason Reynold’s award-winning and bestselling Track series.
The Lu. Lucky Lu. Or as I call myself, Lookie Lu. Or as my mom calls me, Lu the Lightning Bolt, because lightning so special it don’t never happen the same way or at the same place twice. That’s what she says. And I like the nickname, but I don’t believe that. Don’t believe lightning won’t hit the same tree, or the same house, or the same person more than once. I think Mom might’ve missed on that one. I swear, sometimes she just be talking to be talking. Plus, how would she even know that? I mean, she know a lot of stuff about stuff because she’s a mother and mothers gotta know stuff, but the people who went to school for that kind of thing, like weather people and meteorologists (who should be studying meteors and not weather), they don’t even be knowing (because they should be studying meteors and not weather). Talking about it’s a 50 percent chance it might rain. A little. A lot. Today. Or maybe tomorrow. I mean, come on. And I’m supposed to just believe lightning don’t never strike the same place twice? Ever? Right.
You know who really made me know my mother was wrong? Ghost. One time he told me about this guy—name start with a R—who holds the world record for getting struck by lightning, not once, not twice, not three times, not FOUR times, not FIVE TIMES, NOT SIX TIMES, but . . . SEVEN TIMES! If I was Ray or Ron or whatever his name is (or was, because he gotta be dead), I would’ve stayed in the house after the second one. I mean, what was he thinking? Knowing him (I don’t really know him, but I know people like him so that’s basically the same thing), he was probably listening to a meteorologist. Or my mother, who by the way, when she says the thing about lightning striking, don’t even be talking about real lightning. Like electric bolts in the sky? Nah. She just be talking about electric . . . moments . . . in life. And I, clearly, was the most electric-est moment in hers. One in seventeen thousand. Albino. Born with no melanin, which means born with no brown. And honestly, I wasn’t supposed to be born at all, because my mom wasn’t supposed to be able to have kids. So a two-time special once-in-a-lifetime thing.
It was Sunday dinner, which is the same as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday dinner except Mom always tries something new with the food. And this Sunday my dad, who normally works late, was there at the table with my mom to drop the new news on me.
“We’re having another baby.” They almost sang it out, like a song hook or something. Like they one-two-three’d it and everything.
“You for real?” That’s all I could really get out—let out—but inside my head was going, Yo you serious like really for real real talk no jokes stop playing it ain’t funny if you playing wait what nah can’t be you really really r e a l l y for real?, stretching my neck trying to see my mother’s stomach, even though she was sitting down. Dad was tucking his gold chains in his shirt—he always did that whenever he was eating—then popped me on the arm with the back of his hand. And when I looked at him, wondering what he did that for, he just shook his head real fast like he knew something I ain’t know. Like he knew something I ain’t want to find out. “Sorry,” I yelped. “It’s just . . . I can’t even tell!”
I pinched and pulled a piece of meat from the turkey wing on my plate, a recipe my mom said she got from Patty’s aunt. Tasted pretty good too, even though it seemed weird to just be eating turkey wings without the rest of the turkey. That’s what chicken wings are for.
“We’re very for real.” Mom smiled. “We’re just about at three months, and they’re saying on December sixth you gon’ have a little brother or sister.” I swear her face was glowing like there were lightbulbs in her cheeks. “That’s why I’ve been more tired than usual, and why I’m sometimes late picking you up at practice. Been a little sick during the day.”
“Yeah, nothing serious. Normal pregnancy stuff. But that part should be almost over.” She crossed her fingers. “Oh, and . . . well . . . thank you for not being able to tell by looking at me. Trust me, I’ll be poking out soon enough. Y’know, it took a while for you to make your presence known too.”
“And the boy ain’t stopped since,” my dad threw in.
“Ain’t that the truth.” Mom pressed her shirt against her stomach just enough to show a bump no bigger than the kind you get after a Thanksgiving meal. Only difference is it wasn’t Thanksgiving, even though . . . turkey. “Anyway, we’re telling you now because tomorrow we have a doctor’s appointment.”
“I mean . . . well, we thought about it, but it’s your championship week, you know?” She set her fork down. Folded her arms on the table. “You wanna go? Or would you rather go to practice?”
Tricky. I definitely wanted to go to the doctor to see what was going on with the baby, but not if they did what I thought they were going to do there.
“Depends. They going to do that thing with the . . .” I balled up my fist and slowly moved it over my stomach to demonstrate how they pull out that machine-thing that turns the baby into a blob of virtual reality with the heartbeat and all that. “And then the baby’ll show up on the screen looking like old footage of the moon landing?” A blob of virtual reality or old-school TV, when TV was basically just radio with a screen.
Dad choked on his drink.
“A sonogram.” My mother put a name to my brilliant description. “And when have you ever seen footage of the moon landing?”
“Ghost showed me.” Well, really Ghost asked Patty to pull it up on her phone because he was trying to convince us that it never happened. He heard these dudes at the bus stop saying it was all fake. Patty said she got a friend whose dad is a rocket scientist (I ain’t even know that was a real job!) and that she could prove the moon landing was real. And Sunny, well, he said he already knew it was real—the moon landing (and the moonwalk)—because he had been up there. To the moon. That’s what he said. Too bad his discus ain’t never go to the moon. Sunny couldn’t get that thing to go far enough to land any place other than last place. A few weeks ago, at the first meet he ever threw at, he stepped over the line on the first two tries. Me, Patty, and Ghost started cheering for him. Like, just trying to make sure he ain’t feel bad because he was looking pretty rough out there. Even his pops joined in with the encouragement. And then everybody started clapping and screaming Go Sunny, and Come on, Sunny, and You can do it, and all that kind of stuff. Even some people from the other teams. Sunny dropped back in his throwing position and started winding up. His face looked more intense than I’d ever seen it. Like a stone. He wound and wound and wound, then whipped into a spin, and right when he flung the discus, he let out a sound like . . . I don’t even know. Like a . . . wail. Like a whale. It was wild. And the discus went maybe . . . ten feet? Maybe. I mean, the thing went nowhere. But he got it off without a foul. And was cheesing from ear to ear. We all were. He threw his hands up in the air, broke out in some kind of weird dance move and everything. Last place. But there were only three people competing, so good thing for him, last place was still . . . third place.
“So, yeah. They gon’ sonogram the baby?” I went on.
“Yep, to make sure everything is beating and growing.” My mother wiggled her fingers in the air, and even though I couldn’t see her feet, I knew she was wiggling her toes, too.
“And you gon’ find out if it’s a boy?”
“Or . . . a girl,” she corrected me.
“Right. Or a girl.”
Mom looked at Dad. Then back at me. Nodded, smiling. That was a yes.
“Well, then I’m going to practice.”
“Why?” My mother looked shocked, like I said I was going to the moon or something.
“So that y’all can come home and surprise me!”
I love surprises. Always have. My folks used to give me surprise birthday parties every year when I was younger, and even though I was never really surprised—because they did it every year—I was still happy they did it, until I asked them to just start surprising me with sneakers for my birthday, so then I could surprise the world. My father be surprising my mom all the time with flowers and husband-wife stuff, and my mother surprises us with stuff like turkey wings. I mean, for real for real, this pregnancy was a surprise. Maybe the biggest one ever! Like BOOM! LU, YOU HAVING A LITTLE BROTHER! Or . . . sister. SURPRISE!
“O . . . kay.” My father caught eyes with my mother, and again, like they rehearsed it, they both shrugged. “Well, obviously neither of us will be able to get you from practice, and we figured you’d want to be there, so we’ve already made arrangements for, um”—he cleared his throat—“for Coach to bring you home.”
I nodded, nibbling on the knobby end of the turkey bone.
“But it’s exciting news, right?” My mother’s smile looked like it could split the whole bottom half of her face.
“Yeah.” I wiped grease from my mouth with the back of my hand. “But . . . it’s a little . . . I don’t know. It’s . . . I just thought—”
“I know.” My dad cut me off, put his fingertips on top of my mother’s fingertips. “We did too.”
What I was about to say was that I thought Mom couldn’t have no more kids. That’s what she always said. That’s what they always said. That’s what they said the doctors always said. According to them, I was a miracle. I wasn’t supposed to even be born. So another baby was almost impossible. A miracle with some extra miracle-ness sprinkled on it.
Like his nickname, Lu is as fast and unique as a lightning bolt. He knows how to be cool. Now Coach has him in a new race, and suddenly life seems to be throwing him all kinds of hurdles. A new baby is on the way, which means he’s going to go from being the one and only to being someone’s big brother. A bully from his past reappears. But when he learns a secret from his father’s past, well, that might be the biggest hurdle of all time.
1. In literature, a symbol is something that represents a bigger idea. In this book, nicknames are often used symbolically. Explain how the symbol of a lightning bolt applies to Lu. What characteristics do they share? How does the symbol of a wolf apply to Torrie Cunningham? If you were going to choose a symbol to represent yourself, what would you choose? Explain your answer. Think about other symbols in the book, like hurdles, light, and shields. How does Jason Reynolds use these symbols to express larger ideas or themes?
2. How can you tell that Lu has conflicting feelings about becoming a big brother? Can you describe his emotions after his parents’ surprise announcement? Have you ever been happy and upset about something at the same time? Do you think Lu is going to be a good big brother? Explain your answer.
3. Why is Lu hesitant to jump hurdles in practice? Has being nervous or afraid ever kept you from trying something?
4. Why do you think Coach points Lu toward Torrie Cunningham? What lesson does he hope Lu will take away from this interaction? Look at the way Reynolds describes Torrie. What do these descriptions tell you about how drugs have affected Torrie’s life?
5. Lu jokes that he is “‘the fine-o albino.’” What does it mean to be albino? What causes albinism? How rare is it in humans and other species? How does being albino affect Lu? Consider both physical and emotional effects.
6. In this novel, Lu and his teammates tease each other playfully, but several of the characters deal with the lingering effects of bullying. Is there a difference between talking trash, or roasting, and bullying? For example, do you think Patty bullies Shante Morris? Do you think Shante Morris is a bully? Do you think people who tease others understand the impact of their words?
7. How does Lu’s father know Coach Otis? How did Otis’s teasing affect Lu’s father when they were teenagers? Do you think Otis knew how hurtful his words were? Explain your answer.
8. What do you think it means to be cool? Do you think different people will have different answers to that question? What decisions did Lu’s father make when he was trying to be cool? How can you tell that he regrets these decisions?
9. One of the things Lu and his mother disagree on is their taste in music. What compromise do they work out? Do you know which musicians or songs your parents listened to when they were young? What do you think about their favorite music? What do they think about the music you like?
10. Who is Kelvin Jefferson? How did he influence Lu’s decision to start running track? Why is Lu scared when he sees him again? Why didn’t he tell anyone, including his friend Ghost, about being bullied? Do you think he should have? How might the situation have turned out differently if he had?
11. How would you define irony? Several situations in this book are good examples of irony. Identify one and explain why it can be considered ironic.
12. Why do you think Lu is able to jump the hurdles when he is not wearing contacts? Are you ever tempted to focus on the obstacles ahead instead of your end goal? What lesson can you take from Reynolds’s book about facing and overcoming challenges?
13. When Lu delivers the fruit sculpture to Maria Gonzales at the Sword and the Stone, what does she tell him about the legend of King Arthur? What does thinking about this legend help Lu realize about himself?
14. How does Lu find out that his dad has Coach’s gold medal? What happens when he confronts his father about it? Have you ever had to confront an adult? What happened?
15. How did Lu’s father end up with the gold medal? Why do you think it takes him so long to return it? Lu witnesses the conversation between his father and Coach from a distance, but does not hear what each man says. What do you think they said to each other? Do you think they’re both at fault in this situation?
16. Why do you think Lu’s dad takes Lu with him when he confronts Wolf? Do you think this changes the way Lu views his father?
17. The word sympathy means the ability to feel another person’s feelings, but the word empathy is a bit different. Having empathy means you are able to understand why another person feels or acts the way they do. Though Lu does not agree with what his father or Kelvin Jefferson have done, he displays empathy toward them. Explain the series of realizations that help him develop this empathy. Studies have shown that reading fiction helps develop empathy. How has this book helped you to understand other people? Which character do you most identify with? Explain your answer.
18. Lu spends time reflecting on the word integrity. How do his actions at the end of the book demonstrate integrity? How important is integrity to you? Can you name a choice you’ve made that was influenced by your sense of integrity?
19. At the championship meet, what decision do the Defenders make as a team? Would you have made the same decision if you had been on this team? Explain your answer.
20. Have you read any of the other books in Reynolds’s Track series? If so, how did this book increase your understanding of the characters? If not, is there another member of the Defenders whom you would like to learn more about?
1. One of the novel’s themes is the importance of naming. Lu begins each chapter with a new name for something, which continues throughout the book as he names and renames things, including himself. The names we accept and the names we create have power. An important African-American writer named Ralph Ellison wrote, “We must learn to wear our names within all the noise and confusion in which we find ourselves. They must become our masks and our shields . . .” Can you relate this quote to Reynolds’s book? How do names function as both masks and shields in this novel? Are names important to you? Have you ever named someone or something, such as a pet? How did you choose the name? Create a list of new names for things or people, using the names Lu created as a guide. Explain why you’ve chosen these names.
2. When Lu’s parents tell him that he is going to have a little sister, his mother tells him that she is going to see herself in Lu. Who do you see yourself in? Who do you think sees themselves in you? Think about the letter that Whit writes to her brother telling him how much he means to her; write a letter to a close friend or family member telling them how important they are in your life.
3. Describe Lu’s mother’s successful small business, Picasso of Produce. Research the steps toward starting a small business. Based on the details in Reynolds’s book, what do you think Lu’s mother’s business plan might look like? If you were to start your own small business, what would your business be? Create a business plan and pitch your idea to your classmates.
4. Lu uses a mantra as a way to build his confidence. Write a mantra for yourself and try saying it in front of the mirror before you go to bed or when you get ready in the morning. How does it make you feel? Create a visual to go along with your mantra, like a collage or a sign.
5. Both Lu and his father have been affected by bullying. What can you do to help stop bullying in your school and community? Work with your classmates to develop a plan to teach others about what constitutes bullying, and the effects of being bullied. Use scenes from the book as examples of behavior.
6. Restorative justice is a rehabilitating system in which people who commit crimes work to right their wrongs with the victims of their crimes or the community at large. Lu’s father committed crimes as a younger man. How does he make amends with the people he hurt? How does he work to restore the damage to his community? Do you think restorative justice seems like a better idea than locking people away? Debate this topic as a class.
7. When Lu is at work with his father, he reads about the twelve-step programs for recovery. Examine each of the character traits mentioned in that section of the book. Choose one or more of these and write a reflective essay about what the trait means to you and why it is important.
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.
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 Suit, All American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely), As Brave as You, For Every One, the Track series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, 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.