by Sharon Kane
To be honest, it would have been easier not to read All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015); and it would be easier not to write this post. The novel is about police brutality; specifically it’s about an African American male teen, Rashad, who is beaten and arrested by a white police officer after a white woman trips him and knocks him down in a store aisle. It would be easier not to be reminded of similar stories appearing in the news. It saddens me every time I learn about such abuse, especially because my father spent his career on a police force and was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. I want to believe these cases are anomalies; I want to read about more positive things; I want to move on to the next YA book, maybe a feel-good book this time.
But wait. About halfway through the book, Quinn, who witnessed Rashad being excessively beaten despite having offered no resistance to arrest, tells a friend at school he is just trying to figure it all out. The police officer, Paul, is a friend of the family; he is also the older brother of Quinn’s basketball teammate and best friend. There just has to be a reasonable explanation. Later, he reflects on his own words:
I thought about the guy who hadn’t meant to sound hurtful. The guy who was just trying to walk down the middle and not disturb anybody, basically give some meaning to what I’d seen in the street. … And here’s what I realized I was saying beneath it all: I didn’t want my life to change from the way it was before I’d seen that. … (p. 178)
The revelation is that his life actually does not have to change; he could walk away from what was happening to both Rashad and Paul in a way his friends who were not white could not. But, “What kind of a person did that make me, if I did?” (p. 179).
As a person who avoids confrontation, I was disturbed by Quinn’s revelation; I realized that I, too, have that choice to make. I watched closely as Quinn and Rashad, in alternating chapters, make decisions about what to do next. Their decisions involve paths that don’t necessarily represent the easiest answers or actions. Everyone in the story faces hard choices—teachers, parents, students, hospital staff—leaving readers questioning who will show up at the protest march. At that point I asked myself, if I were there would I take a stand? This powerful story demands that readers entertain hard questions.
So, while not an easy read, I believe this is a necessary book, and I highly recommend it.
Appropriate for high school
(current events, history, ELA, ethics)