Wednesday, December 2, 2015

All American Boys

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is a timely and necessary novel. It is the story of two boys, one white and one black, and the experience of and aftermath of police brutality.

All Rashad wanted was a bag of chips. What turned into a quick stop at the local bodega became the worst day of his life when an accidental collision with another patron results in Rashad being accused of shoplifting and dragged from the store by a white police officer. He wakes up in the hospital with broken ribs, a bruised face, and a host of emotions he now has to sort out and overcome.

Quinn was just trying to score beer to share with his friends and chill on a Friday night. Instead he comes up on his best friend's older brother, who has always been like his own brother and hero, beating up a black kid in handcuffs on the street. Quinn gets away as fast as he can, but escaping what he witnessed isn't that easy especially when he realizes the kid on the sidewalk is his classmate.

As Rashad's days in the hospital stretch out, the events occurring in the community escalate. People are taking sides. Protests are being organized. Rashad sits in his hospital room trying to come to terms with what happened to him and how it is affecting his family. Quinn goes to school every day trying to come to terms with what he saw and what it means about himself and the world in which he lives.

All American Boys covers a topic that is hotly debated every day in this country. It covers an incident similar to ones we've seen over and over again. The events unfold exactly as you would imagine from having seen those news stories and the resultant news and online commentary. Alternating between both boys' points of view the story covers every angle of the issue. Being in Rashad's head, the reader sees what it is like to be afraid for your life simply by being who you are. In Quinn's head the reader sees what it means to confront the ugliness that exists underneath in the world and people you love. Through both of them the reader sees the reality of profiling, the mistakes and prejudices of good cops, the reality of bad cops, the politics of media representation, and how the choices we make daily, no matter how small they seem, makes us into the people we are. I loved the relational impact the situation had on both boys too, how it affected every relationship in their lives for good or bad and helped them forge new relationships with people too.

The first half of the book was perfect in every way for me. The voices and characters were strong and so were the theme. As the book progressed, the message overtook a lot of the other literary elements, but it was still incredibly strong. After all the message is an important one, and one it is clear people need to have explained to them. I know this from being on Facebook.

Some Favorite Quotes:
I gotta admit, there was a part of me that, even though I felt abused, wanted to tell him to let it go. To just let me heal, let me leave the hospital, let me go to court, let me do whatever stupid community service they wanted me to do, and let me go back to normal. I mean, I had seen this happen so many times. Not personally, but on TV. People getting beaten, and sometimes killed, by the cops, and then there's all this fuss about it, only to build up to a big heartbreak when nothing happens. the cops get off. And everybody cries and waits for the next dead kid, to do it all over again. That's the way the story goes.

Maybe for this one practice we were all thinking only about the team: one unit, one thing, no parts, one whole, no problems, just one goal for one team, none of us thinking about race or racism, all of us color-blind and committed like evangelicals to the word "team", just like Coach wanted. 
Maybe. But I doubted it. That's what I wanted to think, but it wasn't what was in my mind or gut. Instead I k new there was a problem, and I was beginning to think I was part of it-whether I was in the damn video or not. 

But here are the words that kept ricocheting around me all day: Nobody says the words anymore, but somehow the violence still remains. If I didn't want the violence to remain, I had to do a hell of a lot more than just say the r right things and not say the wrong things. 

I also love the title All American Boys and everything it symbolizes and represents.

I highly recommend this to everyone. I already liked Jason Reynolds before reading this and I now want to read more by Brendan Kiely too.

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