My Kids Lit Book Club met on Saturday, August 19th, the weekend of the Charlottesville white supremacist riots, feeling dejected. We had just finished reading an assortment of Dear America books, focusing on what young girl’s lives were like as America was coming of age. We felt dissatisfied with these books written by white men about women of color which didn’t feel authentic, and we felt like we were trapped in a world where white men were being domineering and controlling in an inappropriate way. We were over it. In response, we selected a social justice focused novel for September: All-American Boys.
Rashad is absent again today.
All-American Boys is co-written by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiley, a black author and white author, respectively. They were on tour together for two separate books when the George Zimmerman trial results were released. They both were conflicted, upset, and frustrated at the lack of community for them to talk with to share these feelings immediately. Instead, they ended up talking with each other and slowly developed not only a friendship but the idea for this novel.
The novel is told from the perspective of Rashad, a black Junior ROTC member, and Quinn a white basketball player, who both attend the same high school, but don’t really know each other. They both choose to go to a local corner store Friday night. Rashad is wrongly accused of shoplifting at the store, taken outside by a police officer, and beaten so badly he is hospitalized. Quinn sees the whole thing. Noting that the police officer is a close family friend and father-figure, he just wants it to go away.
Because racism was alive and real as shit. It was everywhere and all mixed-up in exerything, 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 p[eople. Stop lying. Stop denying. That’s why we’re marching. Nothing was going to change unless we did something about it. We! White people!
This story is painful because it’s all too familiar. But it’s also fascinating because it gives the reader an eye-opening perspective about police brutality and racial injustice. The alternating chapters follow both the story of the victim and a bystander where neither wants the attention thrust upon them by being in this situation. Both Rashad and Quinn just want the spotlight to go away. However, the course of the story allows them both to understand the importance of what they went through and how their involvement in the dialogue and the movement is critical to their own peace.
The writing in All-American Boys is simple and to the point. In providing two very different perspectives to a single incident, Reynolds and Kiely are giving an honesty and realness to this incident which is challenging to get by reading and watching the news. All-American Boys delves into complex issues such as race, community, perceptions, stereotypes, assumptions, and privilege. Both Quinn and Rashad’s voices are appropriate for their age. They struggle with a world which doesn’t make sense to them, wanting to change but not understanding how, and facing outside pressures from friends and family.
History can only teach its lesson if it is rememebered.
Personally, I was more interested in Rashad’s perspective. But, I wonder how much of that comes from my own experiences? I know Quinn’s mind. There are times it has been my own. Rashad’s viewpoints were different. Unique to him, certainly, but also newly formed for me. There is certainly a difference between someone explaining to you why they are acting or feeling a certain way and truly being in someone’s head. I also think that my familiarity with Quinn’s perspective left me wanting more. This makes me wonder– do my black friends want more from Rashad’s story? What depth is left unplumbed in an attempt to make this accessible to younger students?
This powerful social commentary is meant not to start a conversation, but to continue one. All-American Boys isn’t particularly complex in its construction, but it does cover complex issues. They present only two viewpoints in a much larger conversation, but I hope that by reading this book, you can more solidify your own viewpoint and add your voice to the dialogue.
Finally, I want to point out that All-American Boys is one of the most frequently challenged books of 2015. The other reason I post this review today is that it’s Banned Book Week! Spend some time this week spreading the word of literary freedom and check out the resources at the Banned Book Coalition and American Library Association websites.
Interested in seeing what other Banned Books are on my TBR? Check out my Top Ten Tuesday for this week.
What do you think?
- Have you read All-American Boys? What do you think of this book?
- What about this book intrigues you or leaves you wanting?
- What is your favorite social and/or racial justice book? Why?
- How do you feel about the process of challenging and banning books?