“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” -Desmond Tutu
Almost every day, you can turn on the news to find another black man or woman was violently murdered or attacked for little to no reason by the police. With the prevalence of social media today, these crimes spread quickly throughout the internet and draws attention to the ever growing issue of police brutality. You’ll find some people arguing for hours on TV, some protesting and organizing calls to action, while others will stand in solidarity with the victims using hashtags of their names, such as #TamirRice, #Sandra Bland, and #Eric Garner. All American Boys, a book which I chose to read over the summer, is an artful fictional retelling, as well as a poignant reminder of the issue of racial injustice and police brutality in America.
The book tells the story of Rashad and Quinn, a black teen and a white teen, respectively, who attend the same high school. Rashad’s journey begins when he goes to the convenience store and a cop brutally attacks him for assaulting a white woman, an act which Rashad did not commit, and now he must watch the country in turmoil from his hospital bed. Quinn’s story begins at the same time when he witnesses this act and starts to struggle with confronting what he’s seen and his whole place in this. As the book progresses, we follow Rashad and Quinn as they are both forced to come face to face with the fact that racism is still prevalent in America today and is affecting both of them in ways they never would have thought of.
Overall, I believe All American Boys is one of the most important books kids can read today, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes reading about modern issues through fiction. After I was done reading, I realized this book impacted me in ways that youth fiction so often fails to do. The only problem I really had with it is I wish it tied up all the loose ends and gave some conclusion to both character’s stories. One of the parts that struck me the most was how it was told in different POVs, which was a perfect decision from Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Not only does it give a first-hand account on how racial profiling can affect someone’s life and how yes, it is real, but it also provides an interesting perspective from the white community. Quinn is forced to acknowledge what happened and decide whether he wants to stay silent, in turn standing with the oppressor, or use his privilege to speak up for what is wrong. Many white Americans either ignore things or want to do something about it but don’t know how, and Quinn is the perfect metaphor. Rashad did not want to be dragged into this life, but he had no choice, and while he once thought this is not something that happens anymore, it is now happening to him and he has to confront that and also use his position to speak up. This is what makes All American Boys an ideal approach to a subject very difficult to talk about, as well as a beautiful and powerfully written story of two boys living through the American reality, however unfortunate, we all live in from both sides of the story.
“Had our hearts really become so numb that we needed dead bodies in order to feel the beat of compassion in our chests? Who am I if I need to be shocked back into my best self?” -All American Boys, pg. 296