All-American Boys

September 28, 2017
All-American Boys Book Cover All-American Boys
Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Contemporary
Atheneum Books
September 29th, 2015
Hardcover
316
Library

Rashad is absent again today.

That’s the sidewalk graffiti that started it all…

Well, no, actually, a lady tripping over Rashad at the store, making him drop a bag of chips, was what started it all. Because it didn’t matter what Rashad said next—that it was an accident, that he wasn’t stealing—the cop just kept pounding him. Over and over, pummeling him into the pavement. So then Rashad, an ROTC kid with mad art skills, was absent again…and again…stuck in a hospital room. Why? Because it looked like he was stealing. And he was a black kid in baggy clothes. So he must have been stealing.

And that’s how it started.

And that’s what Quinn, a white kid, saw. He saw his best friend’s older brother beating the daylights out of a classmate. At first Quinn doesn’t tell a soul…He’s not even sure he understands it. And does it matter? The whole thing was caught on camera, anyway. But when the school—and nation—start to divide on what happens, blame spreads like wildfire fed by ugly words like “racism” and “police brutality.” Quinn realizes he’s got to understand it, because, bystander or not, he’s a part of history. He just has to figure out what side of history that will be.

Rashad and Quinn—one black, one white, both American—face the unspeakable truth that racism and prejudice didn’t die after the civil rights movement. There’s a future at stake, a future where no one else will have to be absent because of police brutality. They just have to risk everything to change the world.

Cuz that’s how it can end. 

(via Goodreads)

 

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?

40 Comments

  • Grab the Lapels September 28, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    I remember other bloggers reviewing this book and me being interested in the two authors a great deal. How they wrote the book, how they worked together, if they learned anything from the process. I’ll bet parents want this book banned thanks to the divisive subject (all lives vs black lives matter).

    • Jackie B September 29, 2017 at 10:10 am

      I couldn’t find any details around the challenge/banning itself for this book, but it’s listed as one of the top challenged/banned diverse books on the ALA website. I trust them a as source. I would agree with you; I bet it’s due to the divisive subject, but also due to the violence. You get to see Rashad brutalized by the cop from two perspectives. It’s not graphic, but it’s really hard to read.

      There are quite a few videos and interviews where Reynolds and Kiely describe what brought them together. It’s really interesting to hear their stories. I wish there were more details about their writing process, however. The whole idea of collaborative writing like this really intrigues me! I can’t even begin to think how you’d go about it.

      • Grab the Lapels September 29, 2017 at 10:52 am

        Me, either. If they alternate chapters, the voices would be janky.

        • Jackie B September 29, 2017 at 3:10 pm

          They do alternate chapters in this particular books, but that’s okay since each other writes from the perspective of a different character. When it comes to books like Good Omens I don’t get it! I can barely tell the difference between Pratchett and Gaiman…

          • Grab the Lapels September 29, 2017 at 7:15 pm
            • Jackie B October 3, 2017 at 2:35 pm

              This is super cool! I’d love to try that some day. I’m not much of a creative writer, but I think I might be able to make a story at least alternating sentences with someone. 🙂

              • Grab the Lapels October 3, 2017 at 3:06 pm

                It’s an exercise we often do in poetry classes. I can’t remember the name…something that sounded like corpse?

              • Jackie B October 8, 2017 at 9:35 am

                XD “something that sounded like corpse”. Too bad I can’t Google that! Either way, I will totally be trying that experiment with by other half. He’s a writer, and perhaps I can shake up his writing some. 😀

              • Grab the Lapels October 8, 2017 at 10:01 am

                I LITERALLY JUST REMEMBERED!!! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exquisite_corpse

              • Jackie B October 10, 2017 at 8:33 am

                This is even better! I totally understand why it’s called an exquisite corpse now. Origins aside, some of those surrealist drawings… 😉

                This is a really neat concept. These are the sorts of games we really all should be playing. I’ll see if I can get this going at my next party. I kid you not.

              • Grab the Lapels October 10, 2017 at 9:38 am

                You go in a circle and all you can see is the single previous line. You add a line based on what you see and then fold the paper down so only your line can be seen for the next person. At the end, you read the whole thing to the group.

              • Jackie B October 13, 2017 at 10:47 am

                I am definitely playing this game at my next party. This will be AWESOME.

              • Grab the Lapels October 8, 2017 at 10:02 am

                Also, I’m so pumped you’re getting married. Weddings are so awesome.

              • Jackie B October 10, 2017 at 8:33 am

                This makes me so happy! Thank you. We’re only 5 months out and I’m starting to freak out a bit. Like, we’ll need some serious time off of work in order to get some things decided. *sigh* I need to have a stronger project plan.

              • Grab the Lapels October 10, 2017 at 9:38 am

                I can come and we can do it together 😀 Okay, maybe not, but it’s an idea!

              • Jackie B October 13, 2017 at 10:31 am

                I feel like you probably live fairly far from Madison, Wisconsin. But we do have a spare bedroom if you are ever in the area! 😀

              • Grab the Lapels October 13, 2017 at 1:08 pm

                I was in Wisconsin this summer to hang out in a cabin and write. It was fun! Lots of Culver’s restaurants there *whoa*

              • Jackie B October 15, 2017 at 3:24 pm

                Haha. Yes. Culver’s is more or less the only real chain you continuously see throughout all of Wisconsin. The first restaurant opened in 1984 in Sauk City, Wisconsin– about 45 minutes outside of Madison. almost all the Culvers farms are in Wisconsin, too. I hope you ate your fill of cheese curds! 😀

              • Grab the Lapels October 15, 2017 at 9:45 pm

                I DON’T KNOW WHAT A CHEESE CURD IS!

              • Jackie B October 17, 2017 at 5:47 pm

                Wait. What? Culver’s sells them by the BOAT LOAD. A cheese curd is the not whey part of curds and whey. It’s what you get in the process of pasteurizing milk. Then, they cook the curds to release more whey and BAM: squeeky fresh cheese. For example, cottage cheese is a variation of cheese curds.

                But when we’re talking about cheese curds in Wisconsin, we’re talking 1 cm or larger in size. They are either served fresh, where they squeek in your mouth as you chew, or breaded and deep fried, like a mozzarella stick. Only they are SO MUCH BETTEr than mozzarella sticks. So much.

                Come back. Eat cheese curds.

              • Grab the Lapels October 18, 2017 at 2:19 pm

                LoL! I will! 😀

  • Laila@BigReadingLife September 28, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    This sounds like one I’d be interested in reading, especially since I loved The Hate U Give so much. I hope these books are ending up in the hands of kids who need to read them (i.e., white kids who might need to experience a reality different from their own .)

    • Jackie B September 29, 2017 at 10:13 am

      I really want to read The Hate U Give, and it’s certainly on my TBR short list, but the library wait so SO long. Someday I’m sure I’ll get a copy. In fact, my book club wanted to read instead, but the library wait is what deterred us. So, instead, we read this book. and I’m so glad!

      Yes, I agree with you. We need to provide opportunities for kids to experience a reality different from their own. I’m so glad that diversity is becoming popular in YA/MG literature because of this. If we can expose them to alternative view points for current divisive issues we might actually see an improvement in overall societal tolerance! Or, well, that’s my hope.

      Can you think of any other books which help give kids a different perspective on life you would recommend?

  • KrystiYAandWine September 28, 2017 at 9:32 pm

    Oh, I’ve been wanting to read this! The book sounds fantastic, so I’m so glad to see you enjoyed it. I’ve watched a couple interviews on YouTube with the authors, and they seem like incredible people, which always gets me more excited about books.

    • Jackie B October 2, 2017 at 9:07 am

      I love how honest Reynolds and Kiely are in those interviews. It’s obvious the development of their friendship was a bit forced due to circumstances and they weren’t happy about it, but I’m so glad it worked out well for them in the end! I think you would really enjoy reading this book. It might be a good book club option, since there is SO MUCH to talk about!

      • KrystiYAandWine October 2, 2017 at 8:29 pm

        Ooh, great suggestion! We’re actually posting our vote for first quarter 2018 books this week, so I’ll have to add this one! I’m so glad you mentioned that.

        • Jackie B October 8, 2017 at 7:32 am

          I hope it gets selected! I’d love to hear not only your opinion, but what else the book club has to say!

          • KrystiYAandWine October 9, 2017 at 9:41 am

            I will definitely let you know! We’re voting for first quarter books this week.

  • Dani @ Perspective of a Writer October 1, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    I LOVE books with alternating perspectives done well… just the fact you could relate to Quinn’s POV says a lot about the book! I know guys who work in a prison and law enforcement in a Texas and it’s a HUGE, MEGA no-no to manhandle prisoners. So a cop who acts like this is in the wrong on so many levels that CANT be justified in any way. ♥️ Compelling review Jackie!

    • Jackie B October 6, 2017 at 10:44 pm

      Thanks, Dani! It’s a really intriguing book. What I enjoyed most about it is that All-American Boys gave my book club fuel to talk about these issues without getting too heated or political about it. It made the emotional side of these issues less prominent somehow.

      What are some of your favorite alternative perspective books?

  • theorangutanlibrarian October 7, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    Great review!! I think the quotes from this book speak for themselves- so powerful!

    • Jackie B October 9, 2017 at 5:21 pm

      Oh yes– I was given a lot of food for thought when it came to this book. Do you guys have anything like #BlackLivesMatter over in the UK? I’m sure unconscious racism is a problem everywhere. I just don’t know what form it takes!

      • theorangutanlibrarian October 10, 2017 at 8:29 am

        Hmm interesting question- the one time I can remember BLM doing something here, they held up traffic on the way into Heathrow airport (don’t know what the point of that was tbh, it’s not like ethnic minorities don’t use airports) So short answer is no, but I’m aware of the movement in the US.

        • Jackie B October 13, 2017 at 10:15 am

          That’s actually really cool– cool that the movement has made waves in other parts of the world, even if it’s not quite the same. I wonder why they held up traffic on the way into Heathrow? I bet Cheeto Mussolini (President Trump) was probably there. O_o

          • theorangutanlibrarian October 14, 2017 at 2:32 pm

            hehe perhaps, it doesn’t seem as relevant here to be honest. There wasn’t really a reason- and it was just uni students holding preventing working class people from going to work, so no one was impressed

            • Jackie B October 16, 2017 at 9:32 pm

              Sigh. How annoying. I mean, I’m all about protesting when it matters. But protesting for the sake of protesting? Not cool, man. People have lives here.

  • Sarah @ Reviews and Readathons October 9, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    I’ve had this book on my TBR for awhile. I did not, however, realize that it was written by a black author and a white author together. That’s really interesting and makes me want to move it up in my reading list (not that I really have an organized reading list). I’m really interested in all perspectives I can gobble up surrounding this problem in our society–because I just don’t know where to look for solutions. Understanding perspectives different from my own white existence seems a good jumping off point. Thanks for sharing this review.

    • Jackie B October 13, 2017 at 9:44 am

      I can definitely relate to an unorganized reading list. I am such a mood reader, I can barely stay focused on my book club reading.

      Yes! I am also interested in gobbling up as many perspectives on these issues as I can. I recently overwhelmed my TBR by adding a TON of books about #BlackLivesMatter. I am most excited to read How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina (a graphic novel!) and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. But, the alternating view points for All-American Boys was a really good starting spot for me. It helped me make connections to my own experiences in conjunction with non-white experiences.

      I will keep an eye out for more posts from you digging into these issues. I wish you all the best our this journey!

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