Monday, October 19, 2015

All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kelly

Recent events in our country have shown that despite the election of the country's first African-American President, the spectre of race still has not disappeared. The police are an important and necessary public institution but perhaps some of the methods used to police poor and minority communities need to be reexamined. One wonders also how many instances of police brutality would go unpunished if there were no such thing as camera phones. It is no wonder that police departments nationwide are adopting body cameras.

 All-American Boys is co-written by two authors, one African-American, one White and I think this lends some authenticity to the narrative. Cover images are so very important in attracting readers and this book does a good job in that regard with the novel's title in red and blue and a young man standing with his hands raised.

Told from two viewpoints, the young African-American youth Rashad is for all intents and purposes an All-American teen. He is active in sports, is gregarious and is enrolled in ROTC. His dad was both a former soldier and police officer and firmly believes in both institutions. The young white teen Quinn could also be described as an All-American kid as he also plays sports (on the same team as Rashad), is a dutiful older brother to his pesky brother Will and is a good son to his widowed mom.  Those similarities are the only things they have in common however.

In many senses this is a coming of age story because Rashad is forever changed (physically and mentally) and Quinn's relationship with his own friends and with Rashad is altered dramatically. The authors give a very accurate portrayal of the inner torment both characters experience as they begin to change their world view and alter their beliefs.

Some of the language and situations described are a tad graphic and for this reason I would recommend this novel for ages 13+. Some read alikes are How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon and Tyrell by Coe Booth. One quote from the novel resonated very deeply with me "If you are neutral in times of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." Very true indeed.

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