All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely | Book Review

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:

Guys Lit Wire – “a passionate story of what happens when power, anger, and privilege intersect

Hungry For Good Books? – “timely, eloquent, realistic, funny, and profound

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.

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About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.

Comments

  1. Wow. By the summary alone you can expect a powerful book. I’m so glad it lived up to its summary. Great review! Thank you for putting this book on my radar!

  2. I love Jason Reynolds’ writing and I can’t wait to read this book. I’m currently reading his “When I Was Greatest” and loving it. Great review!
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  1. […] the most talked about young adult books of the year. Certainly, it deserves shelf space alongside All American Boys. Thomas’s debut also takes on the hotly debated topic of police brutality and Black Lives […]

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