"All American Boys" Book Review
Author: Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Genre: YA Contemporary
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is a novel about a 16-year-old black boy, Rashad, who is beat up by a police officer for a crime he did not commit and the white boy, Quinn, who witnesses it. With alternating POVs, the novel gives us insight into two very different perspectives. By doing so, we as readers are not only forced to consider racism within the novel, but racism within the real world. It drives a conversation many fear.
One of the biggest things that sets this novel apart from others is its use of a white perspective. Most popular novels on racial equality and police brutality today—such as Dear Martin and The Hate U Give—only provide the perspective of a black protagonist. The black perspective forces white readers to acknowledge the victim’s journey and sympathize with it. However, by adding in the white POV, it makes it more impactful on white readers, forcing them to look at this protagonist’s war inside his head and see how that relates to them. By having two authors, the voices are very different next to one another, which really heightens the 3-dimensional quality of these characters.
Both of the protagonists’ stories are so powerful, and subplots only work to strengthen the main plot and message: we need to have this conversation, and we need to make a change. Not all cops are the problem, and not all cops guilty of this violence are white. And we ourselves aren’t doing anyone favors by staying silent. You can see the emotions of the characters but also of the authors through them without disrupting those voices. There’s anger, grief, and as a reader, that’s something I absorbed and ending up feeling myself once I closed the novel. Few books make me cry. I can count them all on one hand: Dear Martin, Muse of Nightmares, and Harry Potter. Now, I can add this one to the list.
The prose helps with this. The phrasing is so powerful at times, it’s like the book itself has become a fist and is pumping into the air for justice. The last line is an example, amongst so many others. I’m taking this from the audiobook, so I’m not sure if it’s written exactly like this: “And somehow, even though I was concentrating on the play, another part of my brain recognized how stupid it was to believe Rashad’s name wasn’t on all our minds. How interconnected all these things were in our lives. How we couldn’t just separate basketball from the rest of our life, just like we couldn’t separate history from the present. Just like we couldn’t have racism in America without racists.” Or there’s this: “Had our hearts really become so numb that we needed dead bodies in order to feel the beat of compassion in our chests? Who am I if I need to be shocked back into my best self?”
There’s power on every page, and this is definitely a book I think people should read. It confronts this issue of equality honestly but also without being too ranty or harsh. With its powerful prose, creative plot, and incredibly crafted characters, it’s a 5/5 book.