I don’t watch the news consistently, but I’ve been keeping up with it enough to have a recurring feeling–our country is tearing itself apart. Politics (need I say more?), racism, shootings, social media attacks and tangents–every day seems to bring a new disaster that piles onto those before. It’s disheartening, frustrating, and sometimes just downright scary. And as an educator, I feel called to help my high school students dig through the crazy and find some hope.
This book–All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely–is a necessary read right now. Certainly for my teens but even for adults. It takes on the very current issue of police brutality on black citizens and raises questions that sometimes I’ll admit I’m afraid to ask myself.
Let’s discuss why YOU need to read it.
1–This may be fiction, but it’s based on real life.
Like I said, this book centers on the violence of police officers toward black citizens. Now I know that every situation is debatable, but I personally find the trend in the U.S. of weaponless men being targeted and even killed by law enforcement devastating. The book’s protagonist, Rashad, is an African American teen enrolled in ROTC; he is attacked by a white police officer when a woman trips over him at a convenience store. The officer claims Rashad was stealing from the store and beats him relentlessly on the ground. But even if Rashad had been stealing, would such behavior deserve such a response? And was it all because of Rashad’s skin color?
Again, this plot relates to what we have been seeing in the news and encourages readers to recognize that it should not be the norm. It puts another face on the problem.
2–It is told by a dual perspective.
Part of the story is told by Rashad; as you can imagine, that makes the story very powerful. You see what he intended from his visit to the convenience story and what actually happened. You see his emotional strain as he tries to process what happened and what steps he takes from here.
But the story is also told by Quinn, one of Rashad’s white classmates. Quinn doesn’t know Rashad well, but he witnesses Rashad’s beating and is horrified by it. Horrified not only by the amount of violence involved but also because his best friend’s older brother is the police officer involved. Again, a powerful and intense point of view as Quinn struggles to decide how he feels about the situation and if there is anything he can do about it. What power does a young white man have when he feels unfairly privileged?
3–It raises many many questions…and conversations.
Some of the questions are vague, such as why American is so often connected with whiteness or when it is necessary to redefine our loyalties. But others are more specific–why aren’t teachers in Rashad’s school encouraging a discussion for their students? Why does the basketball coach require players to leave Rashad’s situation at the door? It is impossible to read this book without considering these underlying questions or wanting to have a conversation.
I can’t imagine a book more valuable for our future leaders to read than this one! If we aren’t willing to dig into the discuss our society, how will we ever make it change?