Monday, October 12, 2015

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

“Nobody says the words anymore, but somehow the violence still remains” (218).

Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely wrote All American Boys together, an act of unity sorely necessary in the fragmented streets and schools of America. These two men have written a passionate story of what happens when power, anger, and privilege intersect. Of what happens when racial biases and assumptions are questioned, when loyalties are tested, and when whom you’ve stood with contradicts what you now stand for.

Rashad’s innocent misstep at the local store leads to a beating by the police officer responding. One side says it’s just the police doing their job; the other says racial bias led to the hospitalization of an innocent teenage boy. A video of the beating leaks to the Internet, and the case is tried online, in local neighborhoods, in schools, and even in families before it ever reaches the courts.  Even Rashad’s own family is conflicted, with his older brother urging public protest and his father, a former police officer himself, urging restraint.

Quinn finds himself a witness to the beating, and what’s more, he recognizes the officer as the older brother of one of his friends and teammates on their high school basketball team, the same high school that Rashad attends. However, this officer is not just someone from the neighborhood—he had been a father figure to Quinn after his own father was killed. The color lines say Quinn needs to stand with his own, but he can’t forget what he saw and what the video shows.

Reynolds and Kiely alternate narration between these two all American boys, Rashad and Quinn.  One black, one white. One a junior ROTC member, one a basketball player looking for a college scholarship. Both young men trying to figure out how to be a man and how to, like Spike Lee asked us decades ago, do the right thing. But what is the right thing when nobody says the words anymore, but the violence still remains? Though All American Boys doesn’t pretend to have all the American answers, its clear message that complicit silence cannot be justified needs to be read and heard. 

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