By: Hannah Rapp, Teen Librarian
Sometimes, you read a book that instantly grabs you, holds you, wrings your emotions, and in the end, makes you want to do it all over again because it was that good. This book was one of those for me.
What I Just Read: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
What’s It About (Jacket Description): 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 Galuzzi, 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.
Do I Like It: I already bought a copy for myself, that’s how much I loved it!
Thoughts: I read All American Boys in one day – most of it in one sitting on a plane trip. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. Rashad, Quinn, the real-world events, and the powerful prose all kept me glued to the page. But that description doesn’t really describe experience of reading All American Boys. I loved it so much that when I did have to take a break from reading it, I took the opportunity of a bookstore stop to buy it, before I had even finished reading it.
One of the biggest strengths of the book is that both Rashad and Quinn are great and compelling narrators and characters. Neither outshines the other, though of course, Rashad’s experiences take center stage in the book. Rashad’s anger, fear, and sense of injustice are palpable and understandable, but it is his relationship with his family and friends, his difficulty processing what has been done to him, and his courage to face up to injustice that really make him relatable and an outstanding character. And much like Rashad, Quinn is also defined more by his strong loyalty to his family and moral convictions than by his confusion and distress, though he struggles throughout the book with what his morals are and mean, and where his loyalties really lie.
Both boys are smart, unique characters struggling with issues we see every day in the news. But for Rashad and Quinn, the issues aren’t just in the news – they are in their lives, in their bodies, in the community they have grown up in and loved. And that’s what makes All American Boys so powerful. It makes huge, important issues deeply personal for the characters, and by extension, for the readers. And not only do Reynolds and Kiely not sacrifice characterization, plot, or good writing to do this, but in fact go above and beyond with all of these elements. Even without thinking about the big issues, All American Boys is a wonderful book about growing up, strength of character, friendship, family, and community.
Ultimately, I’m finding it hard to write about this book. I still don’t feel like I’m doing justice to what reading this book was like for me. What I will say is that if you want a book that deals with current issues, this is your book. If you want a book with fully fleshed out and appealing main characters, this is your book. If you want a book featuring strong relationships between characters, this is your book. If you want a book that explores a community, this is your book. And if you want a compelling, page-turning read, this is your book. All American Boys was one of my absolutely favorites reads of 2015, and I hope you all get as much out of it as I did!