Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Book Review: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

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 Galluzzo, 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.

It’s incredibly difficult to write a book about a powerful and divisive social issue such as the police brutality at the center of the story of All-American Boys. Yet Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, both authors that we are lucky enough to have at TBF this year, do so with sensitivity, attentiveness and sheer emotional strength.
The two main characters of the novel, Rashad and Quinn, are incredibly compelling. In fact, switching in and out of each of their heads was part of what made the novel so enjoyable for me to read. Both experience a good deal of self-reflection and growth about who they are and what they are willing to believe in. Watching their courage as they navigate the complexity and oftentimes bitterness of the world around them was incredibly exciting and I knew I was rooting for each character until the very last page. Besides that, the characters each contained the little details and idiosyncrasies that really take them from the page to your head. They each have their passions--for Rashad art, for Quinn basketball-- and you can really tell the focus and enjoyment both characters experience in them. They each have things that bug them-- little brothers, soggy chicken nuggets-- and they each have their fears-- which are confronted repeatedly throughout the novel.
Aside from its incredible characters, this book is also a good resource for anyone who wants to learn more about social justice issues in America. The symptoms of racism are examined throughout the novel through the perspectives of both Rashad and Quinn and the effects of racism are investigated at a personal level. Statistics and past instances of police brutality are also incorporated in a fluid way throughout the narrative, so the story contains all the information of a textbook but not the dryness so often seen as well.
In conclusion, All American Boys is definitely a great addition to your to-be-read pile. Pick it up then get ready to meet both Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds at TBF!

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