Title: All American Boys
Author: Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
What's it about?
Rashad is a typical teenaged boy trying to get through school, make his parents happy and proud and have some fun. And then he goes to the corner store and reaches into his bag to get his cell phone in the wrong spot, catching attention when a woman accidently trips over him and starting it all in motion. A cop sees the woman fall and Rashad with chips in his hand and bag open and assumes that Rashad is trying to steal from the store, unwilling to hear any of the protests Rashad and the woman try to utter before his face meets the cement. He wakes up in the hospital in pain and confused, left to stay in his hospital room for days to heal and try to make sense of all this madness.
Quinn is ready to party on Friday night, but his enthusiasm fades when he turns the corner to see his best friend's older brother, someone who's been a big brother and role model to him, too, wailing on a kid who's not even trying to fight back. He thinks he can just turn around and walk away like he didn't see anything but he can't seem to get the image of Paul beating that kid out of his head. And, to make matters worse, that kid's (Rashad's) closest friends are on on Quinn's treasured basketball team. How he's left to watch the aftermath unfold all around him and to decide for himself what is right and what man he wants to be.
Favorite Character: I think my favorite characters were Jill and Quinn, and both for similar reasons. They had to face some of the hardest philosophical terrain. Rashad had the most obvious hardship, and I don't want to minimize what he went through but Jill and Quinn had to ask themselves some really hard questions. They had to look at themselves and admit some really hard truths and then they had to choose, do they sit quietly knowing that they didn't agree with things happening around them, or do they stand up against the most important people in their lives. Maybe this choice also has to do with the fact that I, myself, was asking myself some of these same questions around the time I read this.
Least Favorite Character: I know you're expecting me to say Paul. But I'm not. I didn't agree at all with what he did, but I don't think he was a bad person, either (we'll talk more on that later). My least favorite person was Rashad's dad. Now, I don't think he was a bad person, either, but I didn't like him. In fact, I usually wanted to shake him, or even smack him, when he was around.
Favorite Part: The end becuase it was beautiful, touching and made me cry. However, I do wish that that wasn't where it ended, as I think there's more story to tell and many more questions to answer.
Least Favorite Character: One of the most important parts of the book, when Paul beats Rashad at the store. It's one of those situations where it does it's job. It's uncomfortable and hard to read, just as it should be, but it needs to be there. I has to be included in order for this story to hit you in the gut (and it did hit me in the gut).
Favorite Quote: "But here are the words that kept ricocheting around me all day: Nobody says the words anymore, but some how the violence still remains. If I didn't want the violence to remain, I had to do a hell of a lot more then just say the right things and not say the wrong things." (pg. 218) I do believe that words have power, a lot of power, but we need to put those words to work. We need to believe them, question them, live the and show their meaning to the world. It's not always easy and we don't always even know how to do it, but we need to try. Always try.
I expected a book about race, a book where the idea and the inequalities of race are in your face. That wasn't what I got. I got a book that was, first and foremost, a conversation starter. Yes, race is a huge topic in this book, but I also feel like it addresses so much more, like how we, for so many reasons, think that a, b and c ALWAYS equal D, so we jump to those beliefs even though we don't always realize it. It addresses that not all police officers are great, honorable and upstanding cops, but not all of them fail to be that, either. It addresses that being in the position of, say, a cop, is hard and there's lots of room for mistakes but that doesn't make them a bad person anymore then it makes their actions acceptable, right or even justifiable. And, it addresses the very hard truth that no matter how much we want to say we aren't racist and all, most of us have prejudiced ideas and beliefs that we may not even realize are there, and those very same thoughts do effect our choices and our actions.
I appreciated the fact that this story wasn't cut and dry. There were many different sides to the story, and they were all right in some ways, and wrong in others. Paul was a generally good person. He was a family man, he wanted to do good and he protected those he loved. But he had some thought processes that he didn't address and some pent up frustration and the result was poor choices and tragedy which was only made worse by a need to be right and a refusal to listen. I can't help but to wonder if part of the reason he didn't listen was because if he did, he might be faced with a reality that he didn't know how to live with.
The story's not perfect. I would have liked to know about how Rashad appeared to be reacting to be being beaten from Quinn's perspective. I would have liked to know what happened after the story ended and what happened to the characters we just met. I didn't love the way Quinn was introduced (I really didn't like him and his friends at first) and some of the cursing could have been cut out but the effect of all of it together left me in tears and asking myself some really hard and uncomfortable questions. I made me think about my own beliefs that I may not realize lurk in the back of my mind, effecting the choices I make. And that's exactly what tells me that this is a great book. It made me think, analyze and question. It made me angry and sad and proud and happy. In short, it made me feel.
What I rate it:
I give this a
10 bleeding noses
But that's just what I thought. What did you think? Did it make you think? Did it make you take another look at yourself? Does it scream police brutality or does it call for equality? Let us know what you thought below.