Sunday, March 20, 2016

All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

A 16-year-old black man, Rashad Butler, is mistaken for being a thief at a convenience store and is brutality beaten by a police officer, Paul Galluzzo. The incident divides the school as students protest. Rashad's best friends play basketball and a big game is coming up with scout's recruiting for colleges. The coach won't discuss the Rashad beating and tells the players to leave it at the door. But they can't ignore it as fellow basketball players Quinn, best friend to Galluzzo's younger brother fight on the court. Quinn witnesses the brutal beating and must decide to pretend that he didn't see it, or not talk about it like the coach, or engage in the protest.

The alternating viewpoints give an outsiders perspective in the white man, Quinn and an insiders look in the black voice of Rashad. Quinn struggles with where his loyalties lie. Galluzzo's family has done much for Quinn's after his dad was killed in Afghanistan, particularly the cop Paul Galluzo. Quinn has to decide what's right even if it means alienating his hero, Paul. If someone is being oppressed or their human rights abused, is it right to stand by silently or is it better to humanize the victim and engage in the battle? Quinn's dilemma is in stark contrast to Rashad the victim dealing with the physical and physchological struggle; the young man who lives in a culture where parents teach children how to behave around the police out of fear. Right after the beating while in the hospital, no one believes that Rashad didn't steal a bag of chips. He tries to come to grips with racial injustice, his launch into the media spotlight, and dealing with the trauma through drawings.

This is an excellent story to engage in the conversation of police brutality and I recommend Ta-Nehisi Coates book, "Between the World and Me," that captures the fear of police and drugs and shows how religion and slavery create a complex African American culture. I thought the father in this book captured what Coate's describes quite well (although his past as a cop distracts from it). Coate's book captures the anger and is quite authentic in voice; whereas, this book felt forced in spots.

Quinn and Rashad never meet at the end. Their dialogue is side-by-side as they lock eyes and Quinn wants him to know that he is not invisible to him any more; that he is willing to act. This shows how the two communities need to engage in conversation. Dialogue is where it starts. I've been reading a spat of history books where populations did not have the right to protest over injustices brought on by institutions. Institutions run on fear are counterproductive to freedom and human dignity. A great start to a necessary conversation.

4 Smileys.

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