What would you do if you witnessed a man beating a teenage boy? What would you do if that teenage boy was black and the man was a police officer? What would you do if you realized that the teenage boy was a classmate and the police officer was a surrogate brother that looked after you when you father was killed?
The answers are not so easy, but it is what the reader is forced to deal with in the book All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The book is told through the viewpoint to two young men: Rashad, an artist, a junior ROTC cadet at high school, and a black, young man whose wrongfully accused of attempted stealing of a bag of chips and beaten so badly by a police officer who happened to be in the store that Rashad ends up in a hospital for several days; and Quinn, a basketball star, son of a army hero killed in action, and a white male who witnesses the beating of Rashad as he is being taken into custody by his best friend's brother and a man that Quinn had admired and looked up to after the passing of his father.
This books allows us to explore the issue of systemic racism in our society and in our lives from two completely different angles. I really enjoyed that the book allowed for the characters to explore what they were feeling and how they were confused about the world that they thought they lived in. Both Quinn and Rashad discover information about people in their life that force them to evaluate how they must face life. I want to gush and gush about all of the moments that we as a reader must also ask ourselves about our own preconceived prejudices, but I don't want to give away anything. If you are thinking that this is a book that will preach to you how to think and feel, you would be incredibly wrong.
At a time when the news is filled with images of police brutality and shootings of unarmed men and women, this book hits on a note that, for me, struck very true. First, it doesn't matter if you are a young, black man or a police office risking your life on the streets, everyone is a human being. It is when we make people something other than human (thug, hero, troubled, white-trash...) that we all ourselves to do harm. Second, that when we don't speak out against wrong doing, we allow that behavior to continue. The saddest thing right now is that as I write this review, the country is dealing with shootings and violence that have happened in Minneapolis (Philando Castile), Charlottesville (Heather Heyer), and Saint Louis (Anthony Lamar Smith), and years from now, we will unfortunately have a much longer list of new examples of racism to fight until we all decide to take a stand.
In the end, this is a book everyone should read. It is not just for YA, it is not just for people living in a big city, it is for everyone.