Here’s a great Young Adult book about the overt and subtle racism in our country, its far-reaching effects on a community and what it means to be an all-American boy. Two high school boys, one black and one white, and an entire community face complicated moral decisions after the black teenager is brutally beaten outside a convenience store.
Rashad and Quinn don’t know each other, but the events outside the store soon connect them. When the manager at Jerry’s accuses Rashad, a black ROTC student, of stealing a bag of chips, Rashad denies it. He wasn’t. In a split second, a white police officer makes a judgement and takes Rashad outside. He handcuffs the boy and pins him down on the sidewalk. Then he beats him and sends him to the hospital. Quinn, considered the town’s finest all-American boy and one of the stars on the basketball team, sees it happen. And worse, he recognizes the police officer. It’s his best friend, Guzzo’s older brother, Paul. Paul has been a mentor to him ever since Quinn’s father died in Afghanistan. How can this be the same person?
Video of the beating goes viral and the mixed community of Springfield divides. Most are outraged by what they see. Others defend the police officer who say he was just doing his job. As Rashad recovers in the hospital, he wonders if he should just move on. “I wasn’t sure what to do about any of it, or if I even wanted anyone else to do anything on my behalf,” he says.
His father agrees, but his older brother, Spoony, won’t let it drop. Too many others have been brutalized for looking a certain way.
Meanwhile, Quinn must confront his own conflicted beliefs. Should he step forward and tell police what he saw? Paul, worried about his job, reassures him, “This just comes with the job,” he says. In the beginning, Quinn tentatively agrees. But some of Quinn’s teammates are friends with Rashad, and Quinn begins to see their side. Should Quinn turn his back on Guzzo and Paul? “I knew there was a problem, and I was beginning to think I was a part of it,” he says.
Soon a mysterious graffiti tag appears on school grounds: “RASHAD IS ABSENT AGAIN TODAY,” the first sign of protest. When classmates organize a march, Quinn knows what he must do, even if his friends are not behind him.
All American Boys is a 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor book, and recipient of the Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature. It’s a great way to invite readers to consider the complex issue of deeply-rooted racism and police brutality. Reynolds and Kiely show how even good people who mean well get trapped into making assumptions about other races and how more should stand up for what is right.
I recommend this excellent Young Adult book to all readers because of its relevance today and because of how well the authors show the many hidden sides of racism.
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