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

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Sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking to buy a bag of chips at the corner store when he’s mistaken for a shoplifter and ends up the victim of serious police brutality.  Immediately the community is divided: was Rashad resisting arrest?  Was the cop, Paul Galuzzi, acting out of racist rage?  People’s opinions are split, but there are witnesses to the crime: Quinn Collins, a classmate of Rashad’s and best friends with Galuzzi’s little brother, saw the whole thing go down.  And there’s cell phone video of the beating, too.  Quinn is sure that Galuzzi acted right, because how could someone who practically raised him do something so horrible?  But then Rashad is absent from school again and again.  And as people start to take sides and tensions flare, Quinn has to confront some harsh truths about life and consequences of choices.

Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds each take one character and tell this story from both perspectives.  Each chapter alternates the perspective of one of the boys, and the result is a fast-paced, thoughtful piece of fiction whose aim is to examine the state of race relations and police brutality in America.  The good news is that it mostly succeeds, due in large part to the talents of both authors, who craft realistic characters and offer readers thoughtful nuance to the issue and the people facing the problems.

As with most “problem novels” (for lack of a better term), there is some visible moving of the set pieces around.  The novel takes an issue that is at the forefront of most Americans’ minds these days and crafts a fictional story that feels all too real.  But what’s commendable here is that both Kiely and Reynolds keep it fictional enough so that readers have a bit of distance from similar real-life situations, allowing them to take the time to really think about and consider the entire event.

On the whole, this is a compulsively readable story about two boys who end up having more in common than they think.  It offers readers no easy answers, isn’t overly didactic, and is absolutely one that will spark a great deal of discussion.  Both Kiely and Reynolds give this hard topic the care and consideration it deserves.

This ripped-from-the-headlines story told in dual narration offers readers a fresh, fictional perspective on an issue that’s important, timely, and difficult.  Recommended.

All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Atheneum: 2015. Library copy.

 

 

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