If I had a million dollars I would buy cases of this book. Anytime that someone begins a discussion on the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality in the United States, or the current American experience of race I’d hand them a copy. This is the most timely and deftly handled book (directed at teens), on the issues of the black and white American racial divide. The frightening thing is that it is set in current time.
“People had told me that racism was a thing of the past, they’d told me not to get involved. But that was nuts…Because racism was alive and real as shit. It was everywhere and all mixed up in everything…”
Part of the strength in the narrative of All American Boys comes from it’s dual narrative. Rashad is a high school aged black boy. He’s clean cut, in ROTC. He stops at a convenience store to buy a snack. he reaches in his bag to get his money, a police officer wrongly assumes that he is digging in his bag for a weapon and he is brutally beaten and arrested by the cop.
Quinn is a white boy on the basketball team. His father died as a soldier in the war in Afghanistan and is considered a hero. Quinn’s best friend is Guzzo, and his brother Paul is the police officer that attacked Rashad. Quinn witnesses the entire attack. He doesn’t know what happened in the store but feels like there is nothing that Rashad could have done that would make him deserve being brutally beaten.
Rashad’s sections are written by Jason Reynolds. Jason chooses direct and simple words but uses unpredictable cadences and inflections that give a kind of musicality to his writing. In a section when Rashad’s brother, Spoony, learns of his attack he uses the phrase “calm down” six times in two paragraphs. When read aloud it sounds like beat poetry. The layers of Rashad’s character are endearing. Reynolds includes unexpected yet yield producing quirks, like his love of the very white comic, Family Circus.
Quinn’s sections are written by Brendan Kiely. Kiely’s character reads both sympathetic and self important. He is an ultimately “good” person who has to sort through piles of confusing relationships and familial biases to decide what is right. His family is strongly influenced by their relationship with Paul Guzzo, and they blindly stand behind him believing that he did his best. They choose to trust his judgement but Quinn is conflicted because he knows what he has seen. Besides the actual scene of violence, Quinn’s sections are the most difficult to read as his pain and frustration are palatable and deep. As readers we cheer for him to choose to fight for others while seeing that it may cost him a role in his only social outlet, basketball.
The author duo mange to gesture to:
- Police brutality
- Hands up, Don’t shoot
- Racial profiling (“Were your pants sagging?)
- Media representation of racially charged news
- The intensity and difficulty of police work (Rashad’s dad was a cop/made mistakes)
- Community activism
- The presence of aggressive equipment at peaceful marches (paramilitary gear and vehicles)
This book begs, and deserves to read, shared, discussed and questioned. I hope that this title will be completely irrelevant in a few years. I’d love for kids to look at it and wonder if it was an exaggerated, apocalyptic fiction. If we ever honestly start a dialog in this country as intelligent and open as this book, maybe then All American Boys will cease to be one of the most important books published for teens.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Written by: Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Publication date: September 29, 2015
Page Count: 308
Publisher: Atheneum- S&S Children’s Publishing