By Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction
Reading Level: 7th grade
Interest Level: 9th-12th grade
Awards: Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, The Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature, and many more (see below “Challenge Resources).
Teaser: Rashad and Quinn are not friends. They just go to the same high school. Until one violent night something happens that will change their lives forever.
Summary: Rashad is just a normal high school teenager. He likes kicking it with his friends English, Shannon, and Carlos, going to parties, and drawing in his sketch book. But one night a simple trip to the convenient store turns into a terrible nightmare; Rashad is beaten by Paul, a cop who assumes that Rashad is stealing. The injustice done to Rashad sends a shockwave through the high school and the community, including a senior named Quinn who witnessed Rashad become a victim to a man he admired most of his young adult life. Despite Quinn’s closeness to Paul, he feels uneasy about his unchecked violence against Rashad and does not want to choose a side in the issue. However, he quickly learns that he cannot escape it. The duel-narrative format allows readers to see the changing perspectives of a young black teenager and a young white teenager as they reflect on their place in the bigger fight against racism and police brutality. Both young men endeavor to overcome their fears and both are forced to make a choice that will, undoubtedly, affect their future.
Information about the Authors: According to Simon & Schuster, “Jason Reynolds is crazy. About stories. After earning a BA in English from The University of Maryland, College Park, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where you can often find him walking the four blocks from the train to his apartment talking to himself. Well, not really talking to himself, but just repeating character names and plot lines he thought of on the train, over and over again, because he’s afraid he’ll forget it all before he gets home. Jason is the author of critically acclaimed When I Was the Greatest, for which he was the recipient of the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent; the Coretta Scott King Honor books Boy in the Black Suit and All American Boys (co-written with Brendan Kiely); and As Brave as You, his middle grade debut. You can find his ramblings at JasonWritesBooks.com.”
Also according to Simon & Shuster, “Brendan Kiely received his MFA from the City College of New York. He is the author, with Jason Reynolds, of the Coretta Scott King Author Honor book All American Boys. His debut novel, The Gospel of Winter, has been published in eight languages, was selected as one of the American Library Association’s Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults 2015, and was a Kirkus Reviews selection for the Best of 2014. He is also the author of The Last True Love Story. Originally from the Boston area, he now lives with his wife in Greenwich Village. Find out more at BrendanKiely.com.”
Critical Evaluation: Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely do an amazing job of depicting two transformations in this dual-narrative. Both boys are equally represented in the text, however, I did feel that Quinn’s narrative was more internal than Rashad’s. The book depicts Quinn’s inner struggle with choosing between doing what’s right and staying loyal to someone who has been a second father to him. Rashad’s narrative seems to be focused on more of the interactions he’s having with his family and friends while in the hospital. This could have been intentional since Rashad seems reluctant to fully face and recognize his part in the movement since he knows that his life will continue to change once he steps foot out of the hospital. I would have liked to see Rashad’s inner struggle because I was surprised by some of his actions like when he so quickly agrees to Spoony’s actions when he had gone along with his father to avoid conflict in the past. Another aspect of the book I appreciated was the use of young dialect. Some examples of the dialect used between Rashad and his friends “What’s good, E?” (11) and “Everybody in here know I got more game than you” (13) reflect the current culture and language. The language used by Quinn and his friends is also in young dialect, but is still different than the language used by Rashad and his friends. Quinn and his crowd use words like “dude,” (31) and “man” (32) often, which is still very popular today. This is just another way that the authors have expressed the differences between the two young men without having to explicitly say anything. Overall, this book does a great job of showing the cultural and personal differences between these two boys to show that two very different people can come to the same conclusion: all humans are equal and if no one stands up, black people will continue to fall victim to the whims of racist and backward police practices.
Curriculum Ties: Civil Rights Movement, Cultural Diversity, Political Science
Booktalk Ideas: Create a front page article about what happened to Rashad. Have readers work together and research to make a timeline that begins in the civil rights era and ends in present day that depicts several of the unlawful shootings of unarmed black people by police officers.
Challenge Issues: Racism, Violence
Challenge Resources: Rationale for Including in Collection (see below “Why Did I Pick This”), All American Boys Awards, Book Discussion Guide, A History and Background on the Black Lives Matter Movement, ALA Bill of Rights on Intellectual Freedom
Why Did I Pick This: I picked this book because it is a young adult novel with realistic characters that live out a story critical to major issues still happening in the United States. This book is a way for teens to look outside of their own story and perspective. They can see multiple sides of an issue and start forming their own opinion.
Reynolds, J. & B. Kiely. (2015). All American Boys. New York, NY: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books.