All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kiley
Published September 29, 2015 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
“Zoom in. Zoom in more. A little more.” With these words that begin All American Boys, the authors ask us to focus on two lives. The first, a black teenage boy, unjustly accused of stealing and brutally beaten by a cop. The second, a white teenage boy who witnesses the beating and personally knows the cop that did it. As the story progresses, the voices of Rashad and Quinn alternate their perspectives and report on the perspectives of those around them. A mother who wants the whole thing to be over. A brother who demands the beating become part of a cause. A family who will stand by their son no matter what the truth reveals. In this book we get an up close look at how something like this can happen, how it affects a community, and what kind of impact reactions and actions can have.
A Coretta Scott King 2016 honor book, the novel has earned a place among other outstanding works that “demonstrate an appreciation for African American culture and universal human values.” And the timing for this story couldn’t be more relevant. Calls for social justice for the continued killings, beatings, incarcerations, and fear imposed upon minorities by police in the U.S. have rung loud and clear over the past few years. If the Black Lives Matter campaign hasn’t touched you on a deeper level, the life and trials of Rashad will. Many of the questions and opinions that are voiced in our media, as well as many that are not, find their way into All American Boys. A dark history lurks, loyalties come into question, right and wrong are not so black and white.
“Zoom out.” In the middle of stunning last scene the authors ask us to zoom out, to absorb what’s happening in the story and in our nation. Rather than a tidy conclusion, we are left where we are left in real life: police brutality still going on, people calling out to be seen and heard, and the reactions and actions we all have to consider for ourselves.