All American Boys

“Nobody says the words anymore, but somehow the violence still remains. If I didn’t want the violence to remain, I had to do a hell of a lot more than just say the right things and not say the wrong things.”

Title: All American Boys

Authors: Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Series: Standalone

Publication: September 29th 2015 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

Pages: 316

Source: Library

Summary from Goodreads:

Rashad is absent again today.

That’s the sidewalk graffiti that started it all…

Well, no, actually, a lady tripping over Rashad at the store, making him drop a bag of chips, was what started it all. Because it didn’t matter what Rashad said next—that it was an accident, that he wasn’t stealing—the cop just kept pounding him. Over and over, pummeling him into the pavement. So then Rashad, an ROTC kid with mad art skills, was absent again…and again…stuck in a hospital room. Why? Because it looked like he was stealing. And he was a black kid in baggy clothes. So he must have been stealing.

And that’s how it started.

And that’s what Quinn, a white kid, saw. He saw his best friend’s older brother beating the daylights out of a classmate. At first Quinn doesn’t tell a soul…He’s not even sure he understands it. And does it matter? The whole thing was caught on camera, anyway. But when the school—and nation—start to divide on what happens, blame spreads like wildfire fed by ugly words like “racism” and “police brutality.” Quinn realizes he’s got to understand it, because, bystander or not, he’s a part of history. He just has to figure out what side of history that will be.

Rashad and Quinn—one black, one white, both American—face the unspeakable truth that racism and prejudice didn’t die after the civil rights movement. There’s a future at stake, a future where no one else will have to be absent because of police brutality. They just have to risk everything to change the world.

Cuz that’s how it can end.


My Thoughts:

All American Boys is about All-American racism. It is about police brutality, what it means to choose a side, and how not choosing a side makes you part of the problem. All American Boys offers contrasting views of the same incident – both from the victim and from a bystander. This is a story of troubles those with privilege would never likely think twice about. It is a story about choosing to take a stand when everyone around you tells you you’re wrong. It is about honesty, responsibility, and how perceptions can be both subtle and out in the open yet be equally problematic and hurtful.

All American Boys is the story of Rashad, a young African American teen who is brutalized by a white officer after being wrongfully accused of trying to steal a bag of chips. All American Boys is also the story of Quinn, a young Caucasian teen who witnesses the beating outside of the store and must decide what he is going to do about it. Rashad is in the hospital; Quinn is on the basketball team. Rashad was ROTC, almost a straight A student, and the son of a veteran and police officer. Rashad was absent again, and Quinn must come to terms with what he saw versus what everyone is saying happened. All American Boys is a powerful examination of how being quiet still makes you part of the problem and what different ways we can try to fix the issue of racism in this country.

One of my favorite things about this book was how it showed two very different sides to the same story. We have Quinn, “All-American” golden boy who was practically raised by the officer involved in the beating. We have Rashad, a young man trying to make his father proud, who loves art, and who believes there has to be more for him than life in a blue or green uniform. Each of the characters was so well rounded out – they had flaws, they had good sides and bad sides, things you didn’t like and things you could root for. There were so many subtle threads within them and their individual narratives, yet each thread was woven together to paint a larger picture in the end.

There are some parts of the book I disliked, too. I didn’t like how short it was. There was so much more that could have been said, that needed to be said. I wanted to see more of Rashad after he leaves the hospital. What is the effect of the march? What about his trial? WHAT HAPPENS! There were a lot of loose ends that weren’t tied up at the end, and I think the authors missed out on making an even more powerful sort of statement. In addition (and hate me all you want for saying this) I don’t think the book did a very good job of portraying the other side of law enforcement. Practically everything in this book is about how police are horrible, and I can agree with that in the context of the book – but as someone reading it, I would hate for someone to walk away thinking that was all there is. There are good cops, bad cops, and cops in the middle. There is a grey area that was left practically unmentioned. It’s unrealistic. Like I said, I get that in the context of this novel and in the story the authors were trying to tell that the bad cop-esque fit more. There are two sides, and though this book is about opening your eyes to them both – the authors left out something equally important to discuss.

All American Boys is powerful, poignant, and timely. This is the type of book everyone should read. It is the kind of book that makes you examine yourself and how you view other people. It brings up questions of privilege, racism, right and wrong, and what it means to take a stand when everyone is trying to knock you down. While some things should have been explored further, and some things should have been added in to make for a more well rounded narrative, I think All American Boys has done something impossible to ignore.

“Because racism was alive and real as shit. It was everywhere and all mixed up in everything, and the only people who said it wasn’t, and the only people who said, “Don’t talk about it” were white. Well, stop lying. That’s what I wanted to tell those people. Stop lying. Stop denying. That’s why I was marching. Nothing was going to change unless we did something about it. We! White people!”


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