I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.All American Boys by Jason Reynolds, Brendan Kiely
Also by this author: The Boy in the Black Suit, The Gospel of Winter
Published by Simon and Schuster on September 29th 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Social Issues, Prejudice & Racism, Violence, Law & Crime
Buy on Amazon
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.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is a superb collaboration between two powerful young adult writers who are able to encapsulate sharp, incisive insight into contemporary issues with their solo books. This book melds that characteristic writing and takes it up to a new level, making the story even more hard hitting — and relevant in a world where the deaths of Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland happen, and people co-opt movements like #BlackLivesMatter instead saying #AllLivesMatter and miss the point. This is probably one of the more important young adult books to come out of 2015 and thus, I am about to PREACH about All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely because it is worth discussing and reading. You should all be reading this book.
“Rashad is absent again today.”
And so, this quote, is the beat that drives All American Boys. The story is narrated in alternating chapters by Rashad and Quinn. Rashad is a member of his school’s JROTC. More importantly, he is an artist and Black. Rashad is about to go to a party when he makes a stop at Jerry’s Corner Store to buy a bag of chips. Unfortunately, as he is reaching down to grab his cellphone out of his bag, a white woman trips over him. A cop who happens to be in the store sees this, assumes Rashad is stealing and then attacking the woman and he arrests Rashad, but in the process ends up beating him up.
That cop, by the way, is Quinn’s best friend’s brother. He happens to be a sort of father figure to Quinn. Quinn is a white guy who is on the basketball team. He happens to witness the whole incident. Yet, he hasn’t come out and said anything because A) he is lacking in courage, and B) he still is not quite sure what he saw. And so, Quinn’s portion in All American Boys is that he wrestles with coming forward with the truth and facing the censure of his teammates and his best friend, Guzzo.
Rashad has the characteristics of being an All American Boy – he participates in school activities, gets good grades, has a good family and has hobbies. Yet, due to his race, people look at him and likely think “thug.” This is something that is focused on in the book, as there is a part where a photograph of Rashad in his ROTC uniform is submitted to the news, rather than one of him flipping the camera off — so as to make the point that police brutality is not okay.
I found this to be quite poignant. As there is always that debate about whether the youths who have died via this brutality somehow deserved it because they were “thugs” etc. Anyways, Rashad’s chapters are all about him dealing with what has happened to him and how to move forward.
Quinn, the basketball player, is actually perceived as an All American Boy, given that he is on the basketball team and his dad was a war hero (who died via IED). So, with Quinn he wrestles with doing the right thing and with loyalties. I realize that maybe any of us would be like — oh hey he should totally come out with a statement of what he saw Paul the officer do to Rashad.
Yet, I think maybe we would be a little unrealistic – especially in not acknowledging the power our peers and family can have over us. Peer pressure is a powerful thing and when Quinn makes his decision – it is all the more impactful because of how tough it is.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is superbly written. This book pounds with a message against brutality and racism and for doing what is right – even when it is hard. It is well paced and not at all treacly or false. I really cannot recommend this book highly enough — as well as the individual works of the two authors.
Other Reviews of All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely:
Hungry For Good Books? – “timely, eloquent, realistic, funny, and profound”
Support Good Books & Good Wine: