All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
A 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor book.
In an unforgettable new novel from award-winning authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.
A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galluzzo, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?
But there were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.
Written in tandem by two award-winning authors, this tour de force shares the alternating perspectives of Rashad and Quinn as the complications from that single violent moment, the type taken from the headlines, unfold and reverberate to highlight an unwelcome truth. Courtesy Simon and Schuster
This book is amazing. It is so well written and touches on issues of racism and violence in a way that kept me thinking. I really felt that the best way to respond to this book was through the Punctuation Prompt.
Every time Dad said it, it was always the same. Just like the army talk. But this one was even worse, because it had a rhythm to it, like a poem, or a chant. Never fight back. Never talk back. Keep your hands up Keep your mouth shut. Just do what they ask you to do, and you’ll be fine. (p. 50)
At this point in the novel, Rashad’s dad is giving him a lecture about looking like a “thug” or looking respectable. Rashad is spending a few moments reflecting on the different lectures his dad always gave him.
This part made me wonder if families give their sons and daughters these lectures. I thought to my own experiences and I know my parents never gave me this type of lecture. But, was I alone? Did my friends-white, black, Asian, rich, poor-get this lecture from their parents?
Even more though, why is our society such that parents would have to have this conversation with their daughters and sons? How can we fix this disparity? How can we eliminate racism and profiling? How can we treat each other with respect?
But here are words that kept ricocheting around me all day: Nobody says the words
anymore, but somehow the violence still remains. If I didn’t want the violence to remain, I had to do a hell of a lot more than just say the right things and not say the wrong things. (p. 218)
At this point in the story, Quinn has been thinking about the events of the past week and asking himself why they happened. Quinn is trying to discover what he can do to add positively to the dialogue.
This passage made me stop and think because it is just so true. People today do not come out and say that there is still racism in America. Yet, we see examples of it daily on the news and in our cities and towns. People are still treated unfairly because of their race, religion, or political beliefs. We need to all pause and say this word because it still exists.
I repeated it to myself like a mantra. I was marching. I kept saying it as I scanned the crowd for Jill, pumping myself up, because some people had told me racism was a thing of the past, they’d told me not to get involved. But that was nuts. They were nuts. And more to the point – they’d all been white people. Well, guess what? I’m white too – and that’s exactly why I was marching. I had to. Because racism was alive and real as shit. It was everywhere and all mixed up in everything, and the only people who said it wasn’t, and the only people who said, “Don’t talk about it” were white. Well, stop lying. That’s what I wanted to tell those people. Stop lying. Stop denying. That’s why I was marching. Nothing was going to change unless we did something about it. We! White people! We had to stand up and say something about it too, because otherwise it was just like what one of those poster in the crowd outside our school said: OUR SILENCE IS ANOTHER KIND OF VIOLENCE. (p 202)
This scene near the end of the book is one of the most powerful that I have read in modern literature. Here Quinn is attending the protest march. He is scanning the crowd, and thinking about all of the racial tension and issues that have led him to this point.
I reacted strongly to this part of the text because it is so true. We need to step up, no matter what our race, and say how unjust this is. Racism exists. When we do not say the words, when we ignore it, when we lie, we are also victimizing those who experience racism. Nothing says it better than this line:
OUR SILENCE IS ANOTHER KIND OF VIOLENCE.
I strongly suggest this novel for book discussion, for personal reflection, and for opening the conversation about racism in America today.