Whether you think racism ended after the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s or you are already well aware of its existence, you should read All American Boys. This story, about two teenage boys, one black and one white, reveals that racism, prejudice, and police brutality are very much alive today.
Co-written by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, All American Boys is told from the alternating perspectives of Rashad, who is black, and Quinn, who is white. The novel explores how their lives change when Rashad, falsely accused of stealing a bag of chips, is severely beaten by a white police officer. While Rashad is recuperating in the hospital, he misses many days of school. Those in the community who support Rashad use the rallying cry and hashtag “Rashad is Absent Again Today.” And, when a witness’ video of the beating goes viral, the school, community, and even the nation is divided by racial tension.
Rashad did not ask for any of the attention created by his tragic beating, but nonetheless he finds himself at the center of a fierce campaign against police brutality. Despite his reluctance to be the center of attention, Rashad grows stronger by creating art in the midst of the racial strife.
Meanwhile, Quinn, a white high school basketball star who witnessed Rashad’s beating, struggles to decide what to do about what he has seen. Since the white police officer who beat Rashad is Quinn’s best friend’s brother and is like a father to him, he would rather forget the whole incident. But soon Quinn realizes that racism exists all around him–on his basketball team, in the school cafeteria, and in the country-at-large–leading him to take a public stand.
Through the lives of these two “All-American” boys, the authors help us reflect on how every American is implicated in the effects of structural racism so evident in the horrors of police brutality. Read this book not only because it is an important reflection on racial injustice, but also read it for all the black lives who have died unnecessarily at the hands of police. This book may make you cry, but it will also leave you with hope that injustice can stop if we work together.
~ Jeanelle Wheeler
Kiely, B., & Reynolds, J. (2017). All American Boys. Turtleback Books.