All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
My own copy
A 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor book, and recipient of the Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature.
In this New York Times bestselling novel, 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?
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 four-starred reviewed tour de force shares the alternating perspectives of Rashad and Quinn as the complications from that single violent moment, the type taken directly from today’s headlines, unfold and reverberate to highlight an unwelcome truth.
All American Boys is a YA novel with beautiful depth and emotive themes. The authors have cleverly crafted the novel; so that you are given the opportunity to understand both the narratives of Rashad and Quinn. Rashad and Quinn come from entirely different backgrounds, upbringings and circumstances.
But can they be united by their common belief in humanity?
The novel opens with Rashad and his backstory is slowly expanded upon. We learn that he is being pressured into a military career by his father. Rashad’s father has served as both a former soldier and former cop. When Rashad becomes the victim of police brutality that is largely based upon his race; it shakes the family to its very foundations.
Rashad attends Springfield Central High School, he also regularly attends junior reserve officer training corps (ROTC) to please his father. Upon leaving ROTC he enters Jerry’s a local shop that is known to him. There is an innocent accident, then accusations are thrown and before anyone can attempt to open a dialogue.
Rashad finds himself cuffed and being beaten.
‘I just wanted him to stop beating me. I just wanted to live’ – Rashad
The police officer in question maintains that a HANDCUFFED teenage was ‘resisting’. But it is only later, when we discover the full extent of Rashad’s injuries, we learn this was a violent assault on an innocent teen.
‘My brain exploded into a million thoughts and only one thought at the same time –
kill me’ – Rashad
Quinn is then introduced into the novel. He is a young man living with his widowed mother Mia and brother Willy. His father died in Afghan, due to an IED attack. What we learn from Quinn’s internal thoughts is that Quinn was present that day at Jerry’s, he witnessed the brutal assault and fled.
Will he now have the courage to stand up for what is right?
The dilemma within the novel, is that Quinn is good friends with the police officer that delivered the violent beating. To Quinn he is a father figure, and this forces Quinn to question everything he has ever known about Paul. Did Paul really assault Rashad due to his race? Was the assault racially motivated?
Rashad is slowly recovering in hospital. He must deal with a father that blames him for the assault and a brother hellbent on fighting the injustice. Then mobile phone footage of the assault is released online. Suddenly Rashad’s assault has gone viral and the world wants answers. . .
‘I didn’t deserve this. None of us did. None of us’ – Rashad
Soon there is a graffiti tag ‘Rashad is absent again today’ and #RashadIsAbsentAgainToday is trending. Kids begin to speak up about racial injustice and question their own internal prejudices. None more so than Quinn.
When Quinn attend the Galluzzo family BBQ, he over hears some comments that leave him emotionally troubled. Quinn fears exposure as a witness to the assault. He fears that others will know he witnessed an attack and fled. Is Quinn part of the problem?
The novel forces you to see the world through both boy’s eyes. Obviously, we build an emotional response to Rashad’s experience. But we also begin to question and speculate what Quinn will do. It is very cleverly structured, and I think perfect for young teens in education settings.
I can’t fully get across how I feel about this novel in text. But it made me think about what I teach my kids. That it is important to educate them not just on injustice, but HOW they should respond in certain situations. As a mother I really felt for Rashad’s situation, you desperately want to reach through the pages and help him. But realistically what Rashad needs, is to learn to come to terms with his experience in his own time.
Emotive, moving and intelligently written. 5* Genius