All American Boys
By Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
I have not read a book that has impacted me as much as this one in a long time. I was shaken while reading this book, shaken to my core. This novel by Reynolds and Kiely is powerful, raw, eye-opening, and thought-provoking. The novel is written from two perspectives, Rashad Butler and Quinn Collins, a black teen and white teen respectively. Rashad is a high schooler, a part of R.O.T.C. because of an obligation to his father. He’s your average student and has a passion for creating comics. He’s also violently beaten by a trigger-happy cop who assumes he’s shoplifting. The reader is able to experience the beating and subsequent arrest with Rashad as it happens. Then they’re offered Quinn’s experience as he witnesses the violent act. Quinn, who is a family friend of the arresting officer and has grown up with this man as a father figure in his life. The novel switches between the two boy’s perspectives as they try and process what has happened. Both must learn to live with this new reality and decide how they want to act moving forward.
I am a young white woman. I openly acknowledge that I have white privilege. I don’t get to control how others treat me because my skin is pale in complexion. What I can control is how I decide to live my life. Do I stand by and watch as those around me are oppressed and treated differently because of their skin color? Or do I speak up and advocate for all to receive equal treatment? These are the questions that plague Quinn after he witnessed Rashad’s beating. Unlike me, Quinn is not only white, but a white male, therefore increasing the innate privilege bestowed upon him by U.S. society. I was able to relate to Quinn because we’re both white. I haven’t seen police violence in person and seeing Quinn’s internal struggle over what to do in this situation is overwhelming. It’s hard not to feel judgmental of him for not instantly reporting what he saw, yet at the same time, you feel bad for his internal conflict. What I loved most about Quinn’s perspective was how he grew by the end of the novel. It gives people like me, who were born with privilege, ideas on how to combat this privilege. Just because I have it, doesn’t mean I can’t fight for others and stand up against it.
We’ve heard their names all over the news and even though it’s only recently that they’ve received national attention, people of color have been victims of racial profiling and wrongful shootings for a long time. Rashad’s beating may be fictional, but his story and experience rings with truth and realism. Reading Rashad’s perspective is hard. If you’re an empathetic person like me, you feel anger, outrage, sympathy, and pride for him. It allowed me insight into something I will never experience. I am not black. I will never know what it’s like to be treated like Rashad, but reading his perspective was a small window into what it must be like. I cried during this book. I cried a lot. This book is so powerful and educational for everyone from all walks of life, white or black. This novel is especially pertinent in our current political atmosphere and after the recent attack in Charlottesville, North Carolina. Just to give you a taste of this novel, here’s one of my favorite quotes:
“As I heard them, my mind sort of split in two – one part listening, and the other picking up the ideas I’d been kicking around in my head all day: Would I need to witness a violence like they knew again just to remember how I felt this week? Had our hearts really become some numb that we needed dead bodies in order to feel the beat of compassion in our cheats? Who am I if I need to be shocked into my best self?”
(pg.296, All American Boys)
All American Boys is a novel that everyone could benefit from reading no matter what age, race, or positionality. This novel is a modern, realistic, and impactful tale that is extremely relevant to today. If you read this novel and love it as much as I do, come out to the Texas Teen Book Festival at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX on October 7th, 2017!!! Jason Reynolds is this year’s keynote speaker along with Marie Lu. I’ll be there and excited to see these amazing authors; I hope you will be there too!!