All American Boys (by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely)

#RashadIsAbsentAgainToday

This was the hashtag that went viral only days after Rashad, a black high school senior in Springfield, NY, was beaten at a corner store by a cop who thought he was stealing.

This is a narrative that we hear so often in the media, to the point where it can become distant and unaffecting. I know this has happened to me on more than one occasion.

However, in All American Boys, we get up close and personal with this story–into the minds and hearts of all those involved, through the eyes of two teenagers coming from opposite sides of the fence.

On one side, we get to hear from Rashad–we experience the police encounter from his eyes, feel his pain, and follow his recovery and revelation about what it means to grow up black in America.

On the other side, we hear from Quinn–a white senior at Rashad’s school, who witnesses the attack first-hand. But Quinn recognizes the cop as the man who took care of him and his little brother after their father died. He fights between an ideal of justice and loyalty to family and community.

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As a person of color, I easily identified with Rashad. Reading his story was a reflective mirror into my own adolescence in America. His dad is one of those cutthroat respectability black men, who thinks that kids who sag their pants are asking for problems with the law; Rashad grew up with the same talk that I got frequently as a kid: “keep your hands up, keep your mouth shut” when the cops pull you over.

I also learned a lot from Quinn, as a window–learning why people who aren’t immediately involved support the cops, don’t step in, think that issues like this can be ignored or resolved on their own, or feel like it isn’t their battle. As Quinn begins to get “woke” over the story, I began to see how we can support others and teach them the reason behind Black Lives Matter.

I met the authors, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, at a conference in fall. They wrote for Rashad and Quinn respectively. Their goal in writing the book was to create the weapons for social justice, that we in the classroom as readers and students get to use in the daily fight against injustice and oppression.

For these reasons, I strongly recommend All American Boys.

By Kashmeel McKoena

Reynolds, Jason, and Brendan Kiely. All American Boys. New York: Atheneum for Young Readers, 2015. Print.

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